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Samuel K Wasser
My laboratory aims to use the best possible science to help direct wildlife conservation and management policies around the world.
We specialize in the development and application of noninvasive tools for monitoring wildlife over large landscape areas. We pioneered methods to acquire stress, reproductive and nutrition hormones, as well as DNA from scat. This enables us to monitor the physiological health of wildlife, as well as their abundance and distribution, all of which can be layered onto a Geographic Information System that also includes habitat and disturbance measures. To enhance sample acquisition, we train detection dogs to locate scat of selected wildlife species over large remote areas. These dogs can detect samples from up to 18 species at once, at distances of 0.25 miles or more from the source. These collective tools enable us to monitor multiple species over large landscape areas for abundance, distribution and physiological health without ever seeing a single individual.
Our lab also developed methods to determine the geographic origin of poached African elephant ivory. We developed methods to extract DNA from ivory. Relying on our ability to also acquire DNA from feces, we then began collecting reference DNA from elephant scat throughout Africa, used to build a geographic-specific allele frequency map for this species across 16 loci. We determine the origin of ivory by matching its genotype to this multi-locus allele frequency map. Currently, we are collaborating with the Interpol Working Group on Wildlife Crime to investigate the origins of all major ivory seizures in the recent past.
Dr. Wasser acquired his B.Sc in Zoology at Michigan State University, his M.Sc in Zoology at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and his Ph.D. in Animal Behavior at the University of Washington. After receiving his Ph.D., Wasser was awarded the first H.F. Guggenheim Career Development Award for his studies of reproductive impacts of aggression in female mammals. He then received the first Research Scientist Development Award from the Smithsonian Institution for his work on noninvasive hormone methods. During his time at the Smithsonian, Wasser also directed their Conservation and Management Training Program for African nationals. After 5 years at the Smithsonian, Wasser returned to the University of Washington as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Scientific Director of the Center for Wildlife Conservation at the Woodland Park Zoo. In 2001, Wasser became a Research Associate Professor in the UW Department of Biology and Director of their Center for Conservation Biology after being awarded the endowed chair in Conservation Biology by the University of Washington Board of Reagents.