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A Molecular Perspective on Conservation: Rattlesnakes as Models

Herrmann, Hans-Werner

School of Natural Resources and the Environment University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA

Nature conservation is policy driven and thus is political. Conservation science, as portrayed in the literature and to the public at large, is best described as a crisis discipline. Information to guide policy must be objective and based on science; however, contrary to this view, resources committed to nature conservation are often a result of emotions. In other words, rational decision-making must be evidence-based and scientific. Consequently, a future of conservation biology with increasing emphasis on genetic data is evident. Although the genetic technology used in conservation genetics research has become increasingly more sophisticated (next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics), costs per genetic information unit are continually falling and have become more affordable. Next-generation developments, moreover, have changed conservation genetics into the field of conservation genomics. These rapid technological advances have been merged with next-generation tools in bioinformatics, which has subsequently transformed all aspects of biological research, including conservation sciences. Today, they constitute the tools of choice to study and manage evolutionary processes in a timely manner and at competitive cost. One of the most important advantages to using these rigorous molecular methods in conservation biology is that the foundation of the research is hypothesis-driven and evidence-based. Here, I show that rattlesnakes include endangered forms, but for most species and populations we have little to no data on their true status. Nonetheless, based on what we do know, it does not appear that rattlesnakes are more threatened when compared to other reptiles. The molecular methods I describe herein have demonstrated to be useful for conservation research in rattlesnakes.

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