Til projektoversigt

Eline Lorenzen

Distinguished Associate Professor Fellowship

Population genomic insights into adaptation, biogeography and demographic history of Arctic whales

Why:

The Arctic has become one of the most contested geopolitical regions in the last five years due to loss of sea ice cover and the opening of seaways and anticipated impacts on arctic marine ecosystems. Despite multiple studies on the impact of climate change on terrestrial mammals in the Arctic there have been no equivalent studies of marine mammals. Using pioneering technologies at the very forefront of ecological and evolutionary genomics and ancient DNA research, we will uncover direct evidence of the response of Arctic whales to past climate change by focusing on the three species whose distributions are restricted to the Arctic, and therefore are intuitively the most vulnerable to melting ice: narwhal, beluga and bowhead whale.

How:

By integrating population genomics and ancient DNA with the palaeosciences, zooarchaeology and climate change research, we will investigate the population dynamics and demographic history of narwhal, beluga and bowhead whale, elucidating the mechanisms and events that have defined the extant species of today from genome-wide data. Specifically, my objectives are to investigate; (1) the genomic underpinnings of adaptation to life in the Arctic, (2) the past demographic history of each species using ancient DNA, (3) the biogeography and population dynamics of each species,  (4) the joint demographic history of narwhal and beluga.

What:

This project will provide the scientific basis for informed management and conservation of endemic Arctic whales, and in doing so resolve fundamental biological questions of global importance, as the clock of anthropogenic-exacerbated climate change continues to tick. In understanding the significance with which environmental perturbations affected the whale species in the past, the first informed predictions can be made of how these enigmatic creatures, and ultimately other Arctic marine mammals also, will respond to the accelerating global warming of our planet.