University of Montana regents professor emeritus Fred Allendorf is being honored by a scientific journal for his contributions to a developing biology field.
The emeritus professor of biological sciences has been chosen as the recipient of the 2015 Molecular Ecology Prize by the science journal Molecular Ecology.
According to the journal, Allendorf is being honored as one of the founders of the field of conservation genetics, which applies lessons from genetic study to help solve issues of conserving plant and animal species.
“We do a lot of work with, for example, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks using genetics to try to understand hybridization between rainbow and cutthroat trout,” Allendorf said.
He said dams and dewatering efforts can cause fish populations to become smaller and more isolated, and genetics can help in determining if the population has become too small, leading to potential issues of inbreeding.
“It can let us know if we should change policies or should we be moving plants and animals in to alleviate the problem,” Allendorf said.
Another example he gave of using genetics is how researchers in Glacier National Park estimate grizzly bear numbers, by using genetics from hair samples when bears rub on trees to identify each animal and try to gauge how many are in the park.
Among biology fields, conservation genetics is still relatively young, with the movement really getting its start in the early 1980s, Allendorf said.
Part of his doctorate work at the University of Washington included studying steelhead, using genetic testing to find out how closely the fish that spawn in different streams return to their exact place of birth to spawn again, or simply come back to the general area.
UM’s program in conservation genetics is “by far the best in the world,” Allendorf said, and that as conservation policies, specifically as they relate to endangered species continue to become more important, the field will only become more important.
Allendorf is a former president of the American Genetic Association and also has been the director of the National Science Foundation’s Population Biology Program. He also co-authored a book on using genetics to conserve endangered species called “Conservation and the Genetics of Populations” with UM professor Gordon Luikart and Sally Aitken from the University of British Columbia.
The award, which includes an engraved silver platter, will be presented during the meeting of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology, which will occur in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Aug. 10-14. Allendorf said he has not yet decided if he will attend the awards in person.