I am the Director of United States Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Conservation Genetics Lab.We're located in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences at Auburn University.
Freshwater mollusks are the lab's primary study organisms. One reason we study mollusks is to enhance conservation efforts. The health of many freshwater ecosystems, and therefore much of society, rely on freshawter snails and mollusks. Unfortunately, over 75% of freshwater mussels and snails are at risk of extinction, and the greatest barrier to effective conservation is a lack of knowledge. We use phylogenetics and conservation genomics to better understand freshwater mollusks.
My lab seeks to understand the patterns and processes that have contributed to animal diversification. Our primary study organisms are invertebrates. We have a number of ongoing projects on phylogenomics of freshwater mollusks and conservation genomics of animals ranging from freshwater snails to sturgeon. We are also interested in evolution of gene families, particulary those involved with invertebrate adaptation to freshwater environments.
A consequence of species decline is often a decline in population-level genetic diversity. Our research aims to understand how conservation efforts can maintain or increase genetic diversity of managed populations and species. We also seek to better understand the molecular ecology of threatened and endangered species. For this research, our lab collaborates with landowners and hatcheries. We also spend time in the field sampling at-risk, threatened, and endangered species, with a focus on rivers in the southeastern United States.
Modern genetics research requires a considerable amount of computational biology. Part of my lab's research includes designing new bioinformatics pipelines for evolutionary research. We also study the performance of different phylogenetic methods in an effort to determine which models and methods can provide the most accurate estimation of organismal relationships.
Whelan, N.V., K.M. Kocot, T.P. Moroz, K. Mukherjee, P. Williams, G. Paulay, L.L. Moroz, K.M. Halanych. (2017) Ctenophore relationships and their placement as the sister group to all other animals. Nature Ecology and Evolution. 1: 1737-1746. PDF
Whelan, N.V., P.D. Johnson, J.T. Garner, E.E. Strong. (2017) On the identity of Leptoxis taeniata – a misapplied name for the federally threatened Painted Rocksnail (Cerithioidea: Pleuroceridae). Zookeys. 697: 21-36. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.697.14060.
Tassia, M.G., N.V. Whelan, K.M. Halanych. (2017) Toll-like receptor pathway evolution in deuterostomes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114: 7055–7060. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1617722114.
Costa-Paiva E.M., N.V. Whelan, D.S. Waits, S. Santos, C.G. Schrago, K.M. Halanych. (2017) Discovery and evolution of novel hemerythrin genes in annelid worms. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 17: 85. doi:10.1186/s12862-017-0933-z.
Whelan, N.V., K.M. Halanych. (2017) Who let the CAT Out of the Bag? Accurately dealing with substitutional heterogeneity in phylogenomics. Systematic Biology. 66: 232-255. doi:10.1093/sysbio/syw084.
Johnson, P.D., A.E. Bogan, K.M. Brown, N.M. Burkhead, J.R. Cordeiro, J.T. Garner, P.D. Hartfield, D.A. Lepitzki, G.L. Mackie, E. Pip, T.A. Tarpley, J.S. Tiemann, N.V. Whelan, E.E. Strong. (2013) Conservation status of freshwater gastropods of Canada and the United States. Fisheries. 38: 247-282. doi:10.1080/03632415.2013.785396. (pdf)
Whelan, N.V., A. Geneva, D.L. Graf. (2011) Molecular phylogenetic analysis of tropical freshwater mussels (Mollusca: Bivalvia: Unionoida) resolves the position of Coelatura and supports a monophyletic Unionidae. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 61:504-514. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.07.016. (pdf)