Conservation Genetics Community of Practice

Conservation Genetics Community of Practice:
Community Accomplishments and Ongoing Activities


Website and communication

A website detailing the FWS Community of Practice is available through the FWS site. Included is information about the COP, participating labs, and information about community activities.

List Serves
Two list serves have been created and are being moderated by Community members to facilitate communication. They are publicly-advertised Mailman ( mailing lists on .

Both lists are active and have members from the Service and beyond (e.g., Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife). The lists will be expanded and additional lists will be created to address the growing needs of the community.

Conservation Genetics Community of Practice Inaugural Meeting – Ashland, Oregon 2008
In August of 2008 the Conservation Genetics Community of Practice (CoP) held its inaugural meeting at the USFWS National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. This meeting was attended by more than 25 geneticists and biologists from the Ashland Forensics Laboratory, Abernathy Fish Technology Center Conservation Genetics Laboratory, Alaska Conservation Genetics Laboratory, Dexter National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center Molecular Ecology Laboratory, Northeast Fishery Center Conservation Genetics Laboratory, Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center Conservation Genetics Laboratory, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Each laboratory gave presentations on current projects and laboratory techniques. Lab staff discussed different approaches, protocols and standard operating procedures used by each laboratory. The opportunity for lab staff at all levels (technicians, geneticists, managers and supervisors) and from across the country to meet, collaborate and socialize in person has proven to be invaluable for the CoP. It has increased the quality and frequency of communication among the members of the community and provided an extremely positive and continuing spirit of collaboration that continues to help the CoP effectively address the conservation genetic needs of the Service.


Technical Development
The interaction between laboratories in the Community has also led to cost savings for the Service through the sharing of equipment. The labs all strive to employ similar technology whenever possible; this facilitates the standardization of procedures, data, SOPs, etc. Furthermore, when one lab updates technology, they are often able to transfer the equipment being replaced to another facility. In this manner, the labs greatly reduce overall expenditures, while advancing the standardization and overall sophistication of Service facilities. Instead of purchasing new equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, some hardware can be transferred between labs for literally hundreds of dollars.

The need for identification and documentation of unique, contested, and endangered species has increased as more species become subjected to population genetic investigations for endangered species listing and delisting. The legal implications of working with endangered species or populations involved in endangered species litigation has led the Community to consider developing uniform Best Practices for handling and curating animal tissues. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory developed a workshop for the Community to introduce staff to the Chain of Custody process used to document and track legal evidence. This enables the Labs in the Community to adopt standard protocols for handling unique samples, as well as providing the USFWS Office of Law Enforcement with additional sample collection expertise in different Regions when needed for wildlife investigations.


Training activities

CoP Training details
The CoP identified as a priority the need to provide additional training opportunities for laboratory staff. These training details for laboratory staff will serve as a mechanism to share technology and resources, provide technical training, and encourage communication within the community. Laboratory staff will be submitting summaries of their training details, so check back for updates

March 2010- Detail from AK CGL to Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, OR
Cara Lewis and Ora Schlei, from the Alaska Conservation Genetics Laboratory (CGL), attended the Evidence Handling Workshop hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. This two day workshop included an extensive tour of the facility, a review of topics relating to investigative and forensic science related issues and time for discussion with Ashland’s staff concerning genetics applications. Investigative issues discussed included; the collection of evidence or samples, proper documentation of the evidence samples, and maintaining chain of custody from receipt through processing. Ashland staff demonstrated their extensive database system for tracking all evidence and maintaining a record of all hands that ever touch a particular set of samples. Forensic science topics discussed included a historical perspective on the industry definition of forensic science based on past precedence and current rulings. Further details included evidence and how these items should be tracked, stored, and archived. Other topics covered case file management using bench notes, overstrikes and errors, technical reviews, and laboratory protocols and training.

Standardized protocols that can be routinely referenced in bench notes and case files is a requirement of forensic laboratories to insure that proper procedures were followed and the data can be reproduced in the event a case goes to trial. An examination of the protocol documents at the Ashland laboratory demonstrated that by implementing a standardized protocol format, the protocols were easier to read and follow. Using this information, Cara and Ora conducted a thorough review of all existing protocols in the CGL and modified them accordingly in order to produce a comprehensive set of procedures that could be more easily referenced and followed. By using and referencing this new set of protocols researchers in the CGL will be able to create project records that are more easily interpreted and reproduced.

A clear record of investigator training and proficiency is another distinguishing factor of a forensics laboratory. Using the new standardized CGL protocols as a foundation, Cara and Ora created a new training and proficiency program for all CGL employees. As employees are trained on a new task they must demonstrate that they have understood the protocol and can follow it. This is accomplished using a set of known samples as a proficiency test project to insure that employees are obtaining the correct results. A record is kept for each employee showing which protocols they are proficient in and can apply to unknown samples in the CGL. This new system for training and testing new employees will ensure that all CGL employees are proficient at maintaining organized, accurate, and complete laboratory records and can perform all sample processing and data analyses according to CGL protocols. These measures will ensure stringent quality control over data generated in the CGL while allowing new employees to be trained in a manner that ensures their success and instills confidence in their capabilities.

February 2011 – Evidence Handling Workshop – Ashland, Oregon
The success of the CGL detail to the Forensics Laboratory has led to the scheduling of an additional Evidence Handling Workshop for Community staff to be held February 2, 2011 in Ashland, OR, sponsored by the Forensic Lab’s Genetics Team. Community staff will be given an introduction to chain of custody, evidence handling and documentation, Best Practices for maintaining bench notes, and Principles of Forensic Science. Attendees are also invited to interact with Forensic Lab employees to discuss topics of interest such as curating tissue samples and other laboratory practices.

November 2010- Applied Conservation Genetics Course-Anchorage, Alaska
The COP contributes case studies, laboratory information, and content in addition to providing an instructor to the NCTC Applied Conservation Genetics course, which will be held in Anchorage, Alaska this November. Generally taught on an annual basis, this course brings together a diverse group of instructors to provide an overview of population genetics, and how genetic tools and techniques are applied to a variety of management and conservation issues. This year, the CoP added sections to the course on sampling design and LCCs and SHC. From the CoP, instructors included Dr. Jeff Olsen from the Alaska Conservation Genetics Lab, and Dr. Meredith Bartron from the Conservation Genetics Lab at the Northeast Fishery Center.

August 2010-Conservation Genetics Workshop at the WSCS-NAC Meeting –Bozeman, Montana
Dr. Meredith Bartron participated as an instructor in a 1-day Conservation Genetics workshop as part of the World Sturgeon Conservation Society North American Chapter meeting, held in Bozeman, Montana. The workshop goal was to provide a brief overview of conservation genetics, how to understand and interpret population genetic studies for management and conservation, and genetic considerations in captive breeding. Approximately 40 sturgeon biologists and scientists attended.



August 2010-Tech Center Directors Meeting, Bozeman, Montana
The FWS Geneticists participate in the annual Tech Center Directors meeting, which was held in Bozeman, Montana, in August 2010. During the genetics meeting, discussions focused on how genetics can be utilized by LCCs and how the genetics labs can reach out to LCCs to provide information and technical support.

March 2009-Tech Center Directors Meeting, Minneapolis, Minnesota
The 2009 Tech Center Meeting was held in conjunction with the Fisheries and Ecological Services Assistant Regional Director meeting. The Tech Center Meeting provided an opportunity to hear presentations on SHC, discuss the upcoming LUA implementation and identify potential conflicts with station computer systems, primarily within the genetics labs, and discuss center activities. As part of the joint meeting, the Genetics COP provided a presentation about how genetic technologies can provide information to inform the Service’s response to climate change and support Strategic Habitat Conservation.

March 2008-Tech Center Directors Meeting, San Antonio, Texas
Providing training and outreach about conservation genetics is an important role for the CG COP. At the Tech Center Directors Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, the CG COP discussed recent training events that had been lead by Dr. Greg Moyer from the Conservation Genetics Lab at the Warms Springs Fish Technology Center. Dr. Moyer has been providing short courses in Conservation Genetics for field offices, providing an overview of conservation genetics and leading discussions about specific management or conservation questions at each office.

March 2007-Tech Center Directors Meeting, Tampa, Florida
Development of a community of practice for the conservation genetics labs was identified as a pathway to increase the communication between labs, coordinate research activities, share technology, and to increase the ability of the labs to collectively address genetics needs within the FWS. At the Tampa meeting, the groundwork was laid to develop the guiding principles and to scope a vision for the CG COP.

March 2006-Tech Center Directors Meeting, Vancouver, Washington
Interaction between labs and communication about operations and techniques was becoming more common, and the FWS geneticists met to discuss developing joint projects that would address science needs for multiple regions.

March 2005-Tech Center Directors Meeting, Davis, California
Meeting at locations other than Tech Centers provides unique opportunities to interact with other genetics labs. As part of this meeting, the FWS Geneticists met with Dr. Bernie May and his lab staff and graduate students at the University of California, Davis.

March 2004-Tech Center Directors Meeting, State College, Pennsylvania
This meeting represented the first time the FWS Geneticists met as part of the Tech Center Directors Meeting. Conservation Genetics labs had recently been established in Anchorage, Alaska; Dexter, New Mexico; Abernathy, Washington; and Lamar, Pennsylvania.



March 2010, Genetic Monitoring Working Group (GeM), Durham, NC
Dr. John Wenburg was invited to give a presentation to GeM detailing the work of the CoP, including an overview of the Service and LCCs. The Genetic Monitoring Working Group, co-led by Drs. Fred Allendorf and Michael Schwartz, consists of internationally recognized geneticists, modelers, population biologists, resource managers, and research biologists specializing in a broad range of topics and disciplines, from the theoretical to the applied. One collaborative project to evolve from this presentation is the hosting of the GeM website that is under development. The website will be hosted on the Alaska Region Conservation Genetics website in order to ensure the institutionalization and long-term persistence of the site. The website provides natural resource managers with an overview of the current state of knowledge about genetic monitoring (GeM), and gives examples of how genetic methods have been used to meet a variety of monitoring objectives. It describes proper techniques for collecting and archiving genetic material and provides practical information on criteria for selecting a laboratory to conduct genetic analyses. The glossary and references are geared toward managers who do not have a genetics background.

August 2009- Service Directorate Meeting, Great Falls, MT
Dr. John Wenburg gave a presentation to the entire Service Directorate on the CoP and conservation genetic applications in the Service. This presentation was in conjunction with Dr. Mike Millard’s overview of the FTC system and Dr. Molly Webb’s presentation on current research in physiology at the Bozeman FTC.

Meeting Attendees
Attendees at the Conservation Genetics Community of Practice training session and meeting, held August 12-14, 2008 in Ashland, Oregon at the FWS National Forensics Laboratory. More details to follow. (Photo Credit: USFWS)
Last updated: June 25, 2014

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