Learn more about my lab's research!

About My Lab's Research

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.

My lab is broadly interested in relationships among organisms and the evolutionary processes that generate biodiversity.
Much of our work empahsizes freshwater conservation with a focus on mollusks.
This is Nathan's personal website. Visit my lab's USFWS website here.

  • Freshwater Mollusks

    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.

    Current Projects
  • Phylogenetics and Comparative Biology

    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.

    Current Projects
  • Conservation Genetics

    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.

    Current Projects
  • Bioinformatics and Phylogenetic Inference

    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.


Lab members

Nathan Whelan

Lab Director and Principal Investigator

CV available here.

Ashantye' Williams

Lab Manager

Conservation genomics and genetic management of aquatic organisms.

Nick Gladstone

Ph.D. Student

Evolution of life history behaviors and shell shape in freshwater gastropods. Visit Nick's website here.

Nicole Garrison (alum)


Conservation genomics of freshwater mussels. Visit Nicole's website here.

Aaliyah Wright (alum)

Undergraduate Researcher (2019 REU Student)

Conservation genomics of Leptoxis compacta.


Please email me if you don't have access to one of these papers and you would like a copy.
I'd be happy to send you a copy.

Wright, A.D., N.L. Garrison, A.S. Williams, P.D. Johnson, N.V. Whelan. (2020) Range reduction of Oblong Rocksnail, Leptoxis compacta, shapes riverscape genetic patterns. PeerJ. 8: e9789. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.9789 (PDF)

Townsend, J.P., M.G. Tassia, A. Damian-Serrano, N.V. Whelan, K.M. Halanych, A.M. Sweeny. (2020) A mesopelagic ctenophore representing a new family, with notes on family-level taxonomy in Ctenophora: Vampyroctena delmarvensis gen. nov. sp. nov. (Vampyroctenidae, fam. nov.). Marine Biodiversity. 50: 34. DOI: 10.1007/s12526-020-01049-9 (PDF)

Bogantes, V.E., N.V. Whelan, K. Webster, A.R. Mahon, K.M. Halanych. (2020) Unrecognized diversity of a scale worm, Polyeunoa laevis (Annelida: Polynoidae), that feeds on soft coral. Zoologica Scripta. 49: 236-249.DOI: 10.1111/zsc/12400(pdf)

Ksepka, S.P., J.M Rash, N.V. Whelan, S.A. Bullard. (2019) A new species of Myxobolus (Myxozoa: Bivalvulida) infecting the medulla oblongata and nerve cord of brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis in southern Appalachia (New River, North Carolina, USA). Parasitology Resarch. 118: 3241-3252.DOI: 10.1007/s00436-019-06472-x (PDF)

Bullard, S.A., J.R. Roberts, M.B. Warren*, H.R. Dutton, N.V. Whelan, C.F. Ruiz, T.R. Platt, V.V. Tkach, S.V. Brant, K.M. Halanych. (2019) Neotropical turtle blood flukes: two new genera and species from the Amazon River basin with a kay to genera and comments on a marine-derived parasite lineage in South America. Journal of Parasitology. 105: 497-523.DOI: 10.1645/19-27 (PDF)

Warren, M.B., H.R. Dutton, N.V. Whelan, R.P.E. Yanong, S.A. Bullard. (2019) First record of a species of Mermithidae Braun, 1883 infecting a decapod Palaemon paludosus. Journal of Parasitology. 105: 237-247.DOI: 10.1645/18-168 (PDF)

Strong, E.E. & N.V. Whelan. (2019) Assessing the diversity of Western North American Juga. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 136: 87-103.DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2019.04.009(PDF)

Whelan, N.V., M.P. Galaska, B.N. Sipley, J.M. Weber, P.D. Johnson, K.M. Halanych, B.S. Helms. (2019) Riverscape genetic variation, migration patterns, and morphological variation of the threatened Round Rocksnail Leptoxis ampla. Molecular Ecology. 28: 1593-1610. LINK (PDF)

Warren, M.B., C.F. Ruiz, N.V. Whelan, D.C. Kritsky, S.A. Bullard. (2019) Gymnurahemecus bulbosus gen. et sp. nov. (Digenea: Aporocotylidae) infecting smooth butterfly rays, Gymnura micrura (Myliobatiformes: Gymnuridae) in the northern Gulf of Mexico, with a taxonomic key and further evidence for monophyly of chondrichthyan blood flukes. Parasitology Research. 118: 751-762. DOI: 10.1007/s00436-018-06202-9 (PDF)

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.

Yuanning, Li, K.M. Kocot, N.V. Whelan, S.R. Santos, D.S. Waits, D.J. Thornhill, K.M. Halanych. (2017) Phylogenomics of tubeworms (Siboglinidae, Annelida) and comparative performance of different reconstruction methods. Zoologica Scripta. 46: 200-213. doi:10.1111/zsc.12201. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., K.M. Halanych, K.M. Kocot, A.B. Kohn, L.L. Moroz. (2016) Miscues misplace sponges. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 113: E946-E947. doi:10.1073/pnas.1525332113. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., E.E. Strong. (2016) Morphology, molecules and taxonomy: extreme incongruence in pleurocerids (Gastropoda, Cerithioidea, Pleuroceridae). Zoologica Scripta. 45: 62-87.doi:10.1111/zsc.12139. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V. (2016) Radular morphology of extinct pleurocerids (Gastropoda: Cerithioidea: Pleuroceridae). American Malacological Bulletin. 33: 221-226.doi:10.4003/006.033.0202. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., K.M. Kocot, K.M. Halanych. (2015) Employing phylogenomics to resolve the relationships among cnidarians, ctenophores, sponges, placozoans, and bilaterians. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 55: 1084-1095. doi:10.1093/icb/icv037. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., K.M. Kocot, L.L. Moroz, K.M. Halanych. (2015) Error, signal, and the placement of Ctenophora sister to all other animals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112: 5773-5778. doi:10.1073/pnas.1503453112. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., P.D. Johnson, P.M. Harris. (2015) Life-history traits and shell morphology in the genus Leptoxis Rafinesque, 1819 (Gastropoda: Cerithioidea: Pleuroceridae). Journal of Molluscan Studies. 81: 85-95. doi:10.1093/mollus/EYU058. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., K.M. Kocot, S.R. Santos, K.M. Halanych. (2014) Transcriptome sequencing of nemerteans reveals a diverse suite of toxin genes. Genome Biology and Evolution. 6: 3314-3325. doi:10.1093/gbe/evu258. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., E.E. Strong. (2014) Seasonal reproductive anatomy and sperm storage in pleurocerid gastropods (Cerithioidea: Pleuroceridae). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 92: 989-995. doi:10.1139/cjz-2014-0165. (pdf)

Benstead, J.P., J.M. Hood, N.V. Whelan, M.R. Kendrick, D. Nelson, A.F. Hanninen, L.M. Demi. (2014) Dietary P-growth coupling across diverse fish taxa: a meta-analysis of experimental aquaculture studies. Ecology. 95: 2768-2777. doi:10.1890/13-1859.1. (pdf)

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., P.D. Johnson, P.M. Harris. (2012) Rediscovery of Leptoxis compacta (Anthony, 1854) (Gastropoda: Cerithioidea: Pleuroceridae). PLoS One. 7:e42499. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042499. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V., P.D. Johnson, P.M. Harris. (2012) Presence or absence of carinae between closely related populations of Leptoxis ampla (Anthony, 1854) (Gastropoda: Pleuroceridae) is not the result of ecophenotypic plasticity. Journal of Molluscan Studies. 78: 231-233. doi:10.1093/mollus/eys005. (pdf)

Whelan, N.V. (2011) Species tree inference in the age of genomics. Trends in Evolutionary Biology. 3:e5. doi:10.4081/eb.2011.e5. (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)

Email me

Please contact me if you are interested in joining my lab as a graduate student or postdoc at Auburn University.

I am also always happy to answer questions about my research, freshwater conservation, or snails.