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Katherine Hobbs E-portfolio

This e-portfolio follows my capstone research project for my Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Conservation.​

My research focuses on identifying correlations between captive and endemic Gentoo Penguin's phylogenetic trees via analyses of their mtDNA and observable behavior, with the goal of creating more successful breeding programs which prepare Gentoo Penguins for potential reintegration into the wild.

You can also learn more about my experience and read my intellectual autobiography.

Performance Reviews

"Katherine is an outstanding writer, a thorough researcher, and a great colleague. I was very impressed with her work ethic and work product when she interned with us at WJCT Public Media!" -Melissa Ross, Host of First Coast Connect and the Florida Roundup

"Katherine G Hobbs’ passion and commitment to her work, guiding and supporting people with exceptional needs, is inspirational. During my tenure as editor-in-chief of Autism Parenting Magazine, I assigned articles and comprehensive guides to Kat which often required in-depth research. I know these online publications still aid thousands of families. Kat was always a pleasure to work with, and I hope our paths cross again someday." -Amy KD Tobik, Editor in Chief of Exceptional Needs Today

"It is my pleasure to recommend Katherine Hobbs. Her performance as an intern with Jacksonville Magazine proved that she will be a valuable addition to any publication. In my capacity as Editorial Assistant at Jacksonville Magazine, I worked with Kat on her writing, editing and proofreading, and based on her work, I don’t hesitate to say that she would make a great addition to any team. Kat distinguished herself by submitting quality work, asking questions, and quickly becoming a part of our team. She is a great writer and I suspect she will only get better. She is a pleasure to work with, a good communicator, and a hard worker. If her performance in our company is a good indication of how she would perform in yours, she would be an extremely positive asset to your program." -Jocelyn Tolbert, Editorial Assistant at Jacksonville Magazine

Intellectual Autobiography

As a young child, yet to receive my autism diagnosis, I found comfort in learning. I loved systematically adding to my compendium of fun facts, lists, and academic knowledge. My favorite topics—writing, polar animals, woodland creatures, horses, and psychology—manifested as special interests that still fascinate me today.

I carried myself through primary school proud of my abilities to learn and think critically but severely lacked the skills to apply what I knew socially. I created a world for myself that comprised of penguins, horses, journalism, and psychology. I nestled into these interests, comforted by both their familiarity and the intellectual challenges they posed.

The privilege to attend excellent private schools through junior high helped me cultivate solid study habits, develop critical thinking skills, and feel comfortable and confident in any educational setting. Small class sizes and individualized education was a gift that prepared me well for higher education.

When I entered high school, I attended a public magnet school for the arts. After a long audition process, I was accepted into the creative writing program where I worked with brilliant teachers and authors such as Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, and Christopher Vogler among others. Journalist Al Letson was a regular guest in my classes along with Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey.

Before I entered my junior year, my family moved to Boston where I enrolled in a public high school world-renowned for producing brilliant graduates. I felt out of place and struggled to find my niche in this school. I stayed a semester before becoming homeschooled as my health declined.

In my final years of secondary school, I developed diseases that would lead to years of hospital stays, some lasting months at a time, followed by prolonged diagnostic testing periods. This time away from formal education forced me to become responsible for my education. I suddenly had the opportunity to customize my studies and delve into subjects that might have only been a few weeks’ lessons in the classroom.

I adapted my favorite novels into plays and studied my favorite writers’ complete works from my hospital bed. I drafted hundreds of poems that I would circulate to staff and other patients for their feedback. The charge nurse slipped a copy of the Boston Globe under my door every day. On Sundays, the weekend staff would bring me the New York Times. I clipped my favorite articles and taped them to my corkboard. I borrowed textbooks from nursing students to study the neurobiology of trauma in early childhood, the effects of polypharmacy on adolescents, and neuroplasticity related to coping with chronic pain. A tutor available to me a couple of days a week loaned me his favorite books on Holocaust studies, which I returned loaded with sticky notes of questions for him. When I was well enough, I gathered other patients on Friday evenings to listen to presentations of what I learned that week.

Upon graduating from high school, my health stabilized enough to enroll part-time in a small college near my home. It wasn’t the education I wanted for myself. I saw my friends thriving in Ivy Leagues and producing brilliant artwork at the best art schools in the world. I plowed ahead, one class at a time while trying to manage my illnesses. A couple of semesters in, my diseases progressed.

My formal education became sporadic once again. I married my best friend in 2015 shortly before his muscular dystrophy progressed alarmingly quickly. I took several years away from higher education to seek comprehensive diagnostic testing for us both. Several publications took me on as an intern during this time despite not meeting their qualifications on paper. I had no university affiliation and only a handful of college credits. I pushed for interviews with editors and producers who, upon reading my work, offered me internships.

I slowly returned to school, taking a class or two while participating in as many extracurricular activities as was manageable. My college awarded me the 2016 Talent Grant for Excellence in Journalism, which included a full scholarship for the year following my semester as the associate editor of The Campus Voice.

Jacksonville Magazine allowed me to work as their spring 2016 editorial intern and published more than 75 of my pieces, including their annual summer cover feature. Autism Parenting Magazine offered me a year-long apprenticeship. They hired me as a permanent staff writer after several months. WJCT, an NPR affiliate station, extended my contract from four months to eight to cover the 2020 Presidential election before hiring me as their Associate Producer.

I completed an Associate of the Arts degree at Florida State College at Jacksonville confident in my abilities as a rising journalist, but I felt boxed in like I had more to offer than I was able to contribute to mainstream news outlets. After careful consideration, lots of lists, and a thorough inventory of my special interests, it became clear to me that I could do the most good by combining my love of animals with my talent for journalism.

Publications like National Geographic and media companies like BBC Earth and Disney Nature offered jobs that I didn’t dream were possible. I could combine my love of storytelling with my passion for wildlife education and conservation and my research skills to create lasting change for vulnerable species. I hope to follow in the footsteps of conservation greats like Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall to make a tangible difference in the world.

I am also excited to put my degree to use in the lab to develop solutions for problems faced by international breeding programs such as genetic variations in captive species. In the field, specifically Polar Regions and forests, I hope to be a curious and compassionate naturalist like Beatrix Potter and share my joy in nature with children who will become the next generation of compassionate scientists.

After examining my options for a university that would fit my needs and guide me towards my goals, I chose to attend Unity College because of its outstanding science education and the school’s dedication to preparing its graduates to be highly employable. I am excited to hone my skills these next few years and enter the workforce confident in my ability to create sustainable change.

Research Questions and Answers

1. How has selective breeding across multiple generations of Gentoo penguins in captivity effected the penguins’ genetics? Have subspecies developed?

In a study published by the Ornithological Society of Japan in 2021, subspecies of captive Gentoo Penguins in Japan were identified using mitochondrial DNA phylogeny for the purposed of pedigree management. Previously, wild Gentoo Penguins were classified into two subspecies, Northern (originating from the South Georgia islands) and Southern (originating from the South Shetland Islands); however, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) identified a third pedigree of unknown origins. Further phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) expand Gentoo Penguin’s natural habitat to include the Kerguelen Islands, Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. Researchers (Chinastu, Kando, et al.) studied seven Gentoo Penguins (three classified at Northern, three as Southern, and one of unknown origins) to characterize their phylogenetic relationships among subspecies. The researchers determined five mtDNA haplotype sequences and characterized their phylogenetic relationships among subspecies and geographical distributions including 56 published mtDNA sequences. Three major lineages (Kergulene Islands, Falkland Islands, and Scotia Arc/Antarctica) were present in the phylogenetic tree. Surprisingly, all five haplotype sequences were classified to the Scotia Arc/Antarctica lineage. This shows that the nucleotide sequences are all derived from Southern subspecies. This research proves that additional comprehensive genetic testing is required for the management of successful breading programs; further, phylogenetic analysis is necessary to reclassify captive Gentoo Penguins for pedigree management. (Kando, et al., 2021)

2. What behavioral challenges do captive breeding programs face when dealing with limited opportunities for natural selection?

Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Utah discovered that their behavioral observation of a mated pair incorrectly identified the pair’s chick. Due to Gentoo Penguins’ trend of mating for life, zookeepers assumed the pair exclusively mated with each other. DNA sampling of 19 Gentoos at the aquarium revealed that a male penguin socially bonded to a female penguin mated and produced chicks with another female penguin. Steve Vogel, the aquarium’s zoological operations director told the New York Times that about 20 percent of penguins who are socially bonded to a mate do not retain sexual exclusivity. The DNA tests revealed unexpected paternity for several chicks raised by their biological mother’s socially bonded male mate. Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is part of a breeding program with other facilities which hopes to diversify Gentoo genetics to ensure a strong and resilient Gentoo population in the event that wild Gentoos become critically endangered. Due to the confusion around several of the chicks’ paternity, the program will continue utilizing DNA evidence to ensure accurate documentation of familial lineages and avoid inbreeding that could be catastrophic to the success of the program. (Klein, 2018)

3. What threats to wild Gentoo Penguins face that could lead to the species becoming critically endangered?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Gentoo Penguins as “Near Threatened” with extinction. As of 2014, about 387,000 breeding pairs inhabited the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, Malvinas Islands, and South Georgia Island. While the population numbers are stable right now, scientists are concerned that the impacts of human activity could threaten Gentoos in the near future. The largest threats humans place on Gentoo population numbers include tourism (interference), habitat degradation, oil exploration, fishing (specifically krill), and egg collection. These activities impact Gentoo Penguins’ foraging ability and breeding grounds. To ensure the species’ survival, the Pew Charitable Trusts recommends a “creation of marine reserves to protect Gentoos food sources and foraging grounds, precautionary management of the Antarctic krill fishery, and appropriate management of tourism activities to prevent damage to Gentoo foraging and nesting areas.” (Kavanagh, 2014) Action from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) could include creating a large-scale, fully protected marine reserve in the Antarctic Sea.

Research Proposal

Gentoo Penguin breeding programs suffer from a lack of genetic diversity that could limit conservation efforts due to limited opportunities for natural selection and incomplete subspecies classification and insufficient phylogenetic analyses of Gentoos’ mitochondrial DNA. Successful Gentoo breeding programs seek to ensure that healthy, biodiverse Gentoo Penguins in captivity can sustain the species should they become critically endangered. The current threats to wild Gentoo Penguin colonies include krill fishing, oil mining, and habitat degradation due to tourism. Organizations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts call for action from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), an international organization consisting of 24 countries and the European Union, to exercise their authority to create large-scale, fully protected marine reserves in the seas surrounding Antarctica. (Kavanagh, 2014)

Zoos and aquariums worldwide participate in breeding programs that face challenges such as the one Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Utah discovered when DNA testing identified socially bonded in their Gentoo colony mating with other Gentoos. This revealed that behavioral observations are insufficient to prevent inbreeding and a homogenous population. (Klein, 2018) This is turn, led the Aquarium, which is partnered with other breeding programs worldwide, to reassess their documentation of familial lineages.

A lack of breeding diversity proved problematic for the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums who suspected that they identified a third penguin pedigree of unknown origins. Researchers used phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to clarify the Gentoos’ phylogenetic tree. The final study, published by the Ornithological Society of Japan, proves that comprehensive genetic testing is necessary to ensure the success of breeding programs. Additionally, phylogenetic analysis is necessary for accurate pedigree management of captive Gentoo Penguins in breeding programs. (Kando, et al., 2021)

Studying genetic variations between captive and wild Gentoo Penguins can reveal the biological changes and adaptations that occur in ex situ Gentoos. Observational evidence, such as the Gentoos studied at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, suggests that genetic adaptations affect Gentoo Penguins’ behavior in captivity. By incorporating the studies of genetics and behavioral science, a clearer picture of what Gentoo Penguins need to be successful in future conservation efforts. If Gentoos are reclassified as critically endangered, captive colonies must be genetically diverse enough to continue the species, possibly as they are reintroduced to the wild.

Conservation efforts rely on genetic and behavioral data from captive and wild Gentoos. A database for zookeepers and wildlife biologists to record phylogenetic analyses of the penguins will help conservationists and breeding programs provide the most natural habitats to encourage compatible mating pairs to produce healthy offspring. This is especially important for multigenerational selective breeding programs which require accurate phylogenetic trees. Wildlife biologists will be able to track the wild Gentoo population’s genetics to understand how subspecies evolve and which haplotypes help penguins thrive in the wild amidst climate change and ecosystem variations.

If zookeepers and biologists can study the correlation between Gentoo Penguins’ phylogenetic trees via analyses of their mtDNA and observable behavior, both in captivity and the wild, via a comprehensive database, then breeding programs will be more successful in preparing captive Gentoo Penguins to reintegrate into the wild.

References

Kando, C., Ota, N., Ono, K., Tsunokawa, M., Niino, M., Tsuda, T. T., Shiina, T., Kulski, J. K., Kita, Y. F., & Suzuki, S. (2021). Subspecies Identification of Captive Gentoo Penguins in Japan, Using Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny for Their Pedigree Management. Ornithological Science, 1, 93. https://doiorg.proxy1.unity.edu/10.2326/osj.20.93

I chose to include Subspecies Identification of Captive Gentoo Penguins in Japan, Using Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny for Their Pedigree Management in my research because it discusses the genetic implication of captive breeding. The researchers assess the problems of genetic homogony, inaccurate record keeping, and a solution—using mtDNA to create accurate phylogenetic trees. The research methods offers an excellent foundation which hope to build upon to better understand how breeding programs can ensure the survival of the Gentoo species. Additionally, the research examines the occurrence of subspecies in captive breeding and offers considerations to breed healthy, genetically diverse Gentoos who could thrive in the wild should the species ever become critically endangered. While the research was conducted on Gentoo Penguins in Japan, considerations are made for Gentoos at breeding programs worldwide. Finally, the research is current (less than a year old), peer reviewed, and cited accurately.

Kavanagh, A. (2014, October). Conserving Gentoo Penguins. The Pew Charitable Trusts https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/assets/2014/10/ccamlr/conserving_gentoo_penguins_fact_sheet.pdf.

The PDF Conserving Gentoo Penguins, published by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is an excellent source of information on wild conservation. If breeding programs need to release Gentoo Penguins into the wild, their efforts will be fruitless if there are no sustainable changes made to preserving wild habitat. This PDF provides practical ideas to ensure habitat preservation and calls on specific agencies with the power to enforce international law. The Pew Charitable Trusts has a reputation for producing well-researched, accurate information which is why I included it even though it is not a peer-reviewed publication. Finally, the PDF includes accurate and reliable citations and is overseen by qualified professionals.

Klein, J. (2018, August 16). Do Penguins Mate for Life? Not According to These Paternity Tests. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/16/science/penguins-monogamy-paternity-tests.html.

The article Do Penguins Mate for Life? Not According to These Paternity Tests by Johanna Klein of the New York Times describes a common problems that breeding programs face: unreliable behavioral observation. Klein discusses the mismatch between observable behavior and the results of genetic testing. The article discusses the problem and presents the solution of DNA testing Gentoo chicks to ensure accurate studbook and pedigree records. Klein also outlines the devastating impact inbreeding could have not only on individual colonies, but on international breeding programs and conservation efforts. Klein’s reputation, along with that of the New York Times, makes this article a reliable source.

Pertierra, L., Segovia, N., Noll, D., Martinez, P., Pliscoff, P., Barbosa, A., . . . Vianna, J. (2020). Cryptic speciation in gentoo penguins is driven by geographic isolation and regional marine conditions: Unforeseen vulnerabilities to global change. Diversity and Distributions, 26(8), 958-975. Retrieved May 16, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26919974

This peer-reviewed research presents information on Gentoo Penguin subspecies found in the wild. Factors the researchers considered include are spatially explicit ecological conditions that have limited gene flow, limited genetic differentiation, and limited speciation process. This study also utilizes haplotype sequencing using mtDNA, but on wild colonies. The importance of understanding the genetics of both captive and wild Gentoos is essential to conservation programs. In addition to providing novel research and solutions, this research is peer reviewed, well cited and sponsored by multiple universities.

William F. McComas. (1988). Variation, Adaptation and Evolution at the Zoo. The American Biology Teacher, 50(6), 379-383. doi:10.2307/4448766

Variation, Adaptation and Evolution at the Zoo by William F. McComas, describes the challenges associated with multi-generational breeding programs including the animals’ tendency to experience genetic variations and behavioral changes in captivity. McComas explains convergent evolution and the possible complications of housing species together that would not naturally cohabitate in the wild. He also presents ideas for how to predict future evolutionary trends and how to avoid problems before they arise. McComas’ writing is sponsored by the American Biology Teacher, and is well cited which makes it a reputable source of information.

Glossary

• mitochondria—membrane-bound cell organelles (mitochondrion, singular) that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell's biochemical reactions. Chemical energy produced by the mitochondria is stored in a small molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondria contain their own small chromosomes. Generally, mitochondria, and therefore mitochondrial DNA, are inherited only from the mother.

• mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)—the small circular chromosome found inside mitochondria. The mitochondria are organelles found in cells that are the sites of energy production. The mitochondria, and thus mitochondrial DNA, are passed from mother to offspring.

• DNA sequence—determines the order of the four chemical building blocks - called "bases" - that make up the DNA molecule.

• phylogeny—the history of the evolution of a species or group, especially in reference to lines of descent and relationships among broad groups of organisms.

• phylogenetic analyses—the study of the evolutionary development of a species or a group of organisms or a particular characteristic of an organism.

• phylogenetic relationship—the relative times in the past that species shared common ancestors.

• polymorphism—involves one of two or more variants of a particular DNA sequence. The most common type of polymorphism involves variation at a single base pair. Polymorphisms can also be much larger in size and involve long stretches of DNA.

• haplotype—a set of DNA variations, or polymorphisms, that tend to be inherited together. A haplotype can refer to a combination of alleles or to a set of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) found on the same chromosome.

• phylogenetic tree—a visual representation of the relationship between different organisms, showing the path through evolutionary time from a common ancestor to different descendants. Trees can represent relationships ranging from the entire history of life on earth, down to individuals in a population.

• nucleotide—the building blocks that are necessary for making new DNA and RNA. The rungs of the DNA ladder are made of a combination of two different nucleotides. The nucleotides are molecules, called guanosine and cytosine, that pair up together, or adenosine and thymidine, which also pair up together. Adenosine and guanosine are called purines. Cytosine, thymidine and uridine are called pyrimidines. A gene is a discrete sequence of DNA nucleotides, and genes are what make up our chromosomes. So, it makes sense that genes are made of DNA.

Volunteer Work

Volunteer Naturalist, Museum of Science and History, Nov 2019 - April 2020

• Conducted water quality tests in aquariums and ponds

• Cared for animals including Eastern King Snakes, Florida King Snakes, Florida Box Turtles, White Turtle Doves, Eastern Screech Owls, Gopher Tortoises, Great Horned Owls, Alligators, Snapping Turtles, Possums, Anemones, and a variety of fish native to Florida

• Fed, bathed, conducted health checks, and cleaned enclosures for every animal

• Handled animals during Naturalist Hour when museum guests can interact with animals and ask questions and led talks on various animals

• Basic first aid for injured animals

• Kept veterinary records for sick animals

• Helped design habitats for the raptors

• Logged daily findings into the museum, Local, and State databases

• Conducted research on outcomes of the museum’s rescue/rehabilitation efforts

Created By
Katherine Graham Hobbs
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Created with an image by fungaifoto - "penguins south africa cape town"