"It is a worldwide, worrisome phenomenon that faunal endemism is threatened by introduced species populating new habitats, a process that is aided by the growing globalization which makes natural dispersal barriers more permeable. One of the most successful invaders of Europe is the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), a mammal that severely affects endemic biodiversity while thriving in new environments. The species’ peculiar evolutionary history was primarily facilitated by its ability to quickly adapt. While previous research has provided some knowledge of the ecological and environmental conditions the species has adapted to, we lack crucial understanding of the genetic mechanisms that render such a dramatic expansion possible.
I propose a genetic study utilizing modern, next generation sequencing and DNA capture methods in order to investigate the underlying mechanisms that have facilitated adaptive processes in raccoon dogs. More specifically, by means of sequencing the complete transcriptomes I will determine candidate loci selection has acted upon, investigate population specific patterns of alternative splicing and lastly infer genes that are differentially expressed. In a second phase of the project I will employ targeted DNA capture on a population wide sampling of European raccoon dogs to assess allele frequency spectra of all candidate loci showing signatures of selection. In combination with additional neutral loci and the implementation of spatially explicit modeling I will develop an evolutionary model depicting how adaptive variants are spread and maintained in a changing environment. By synergizing novel molecular technologies with sophisticated modeling approaches the study pioneers the field of wildlife population genomics and will provide new, valuable insights into the biology of invasions. Moreover, the project’s scientific potential coupled with the competencies at the Turku University will help to further advance in my academic career."
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