STEM Shoutout: Dr. Lisa Barrow

UNM professor studies genetic diversity of amphibians to understand impacts of environmental change on the future of species


Dr. Lisa Barrow, an assistant professor of Biology and Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Museum of Southwestern Biology at UNM, has been awarded a $970,175 grant for her project “Determinants of amphibian genomic diversity: Integrating traits, phylogeny, and geography”.


Barrow was awarded this grant from the National Science Foundation for her work on determining factors that influence amphibian genomic diversity. Her research examines critical questions about how species vary over geographic space and time and how they respond to environmental changes.


“One reason genetic diversity has been difficult to study is because there are many potential factors involved – from intrinsic species characteristics like how many offspring they have or how mobile they are, to geographic distribution and environmental variation across that distribution, to population history and how past events have affected population size,” she said.


With Barrow’s interest in the genetic diversity of various species based on geographic influences, she finds ways to investigate how landscapes continue to impact species.


“This project was designed to be quite broad and tackle a persistent question – what determines genetic diversity within species – across different scales,” Barrow said.


Her focus on amphibians and reptiles helps create a greater understanding of biodiversity over time. The project emphasizes how scientists can use existing data from natural history collections and databases to provide a global viewpoint. Although challenges of data quality and availability remain, she looks forward to conducting new fieldwork to continue building these datasets with her team.


“Another aspect of the project I am excited about is the development of a new upper-level course in Biodiversity Informatics,” Barrow said. This course will be offered for the first time in Fall 2022.


Barrow said she looks forward to teaching students about gathering data to answer comprehensive questions about biodiversity. As part of the project, she aims to provide engaging experiences that enable students to analyze repurposed data in novel ways. Barrow also looks forward to building a new research team with a postdoctoral researcher, undergraduate and graduate students, and technicians.


“This project will likely lead to many jumping off points for future projects – perhaps when we identify regions and species that need more data,” she said.