STEM Shoutout: Dr. Megan Osborne

UNM research assistant tasked to do a genetic assessment of a native New Mexican fish

Dr. Megan Osborne, a University of New Mexico research assistant in the Department of Biology, was awarded more than $12,000 in December by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department to do a genetic assessment of the Chihuahua Chub, a fish that is native to New Mexico.

A genetic assessment looks at the genetic variation and diversity of a species in order to better understand the genetic health of the species. 

“It is important to maintain genetic diversity because it is the raw material for natural selection to act upon,” Osborne said. “Genetic variation may allow a species to respond to changing environmental conditions such as exposure to new diseases and pathogens.”

According to Osborne, the Chihuahua Chub has a very small range and can only be found in a small portion of the Mimbres River in New Mexico. It is also listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. 

“Chihuahua Chub is imperiled through degradation of its habitat and impacts of wildfire. Small and isolated populations are also at risk from factors resulting from losses of genetic diversity,” Osborne said.

In 2013, the Silver Fire nearly eliminated the Chihuahua Chub Osborne said. The population has slowly been reestablished with fish raised in captivity– reducing the chubs overall genetic diversity.   

For example, the Silver Fire in 2013  burned 139,000 acres including much of the Mimbres River drainage and virtually eliminated Chihuahua Chub. The population has been re-established using individuals reared in captivity. These events have caused a reduction in genetic diversity and in the number of breeding individuals in the population

“A genetic assessment is important for species such as Chihuahua chub because when a population is reduced in both range and abundance genetic diversity can be lost, leaving it vulnerable to genetic effects associated with small population size,” Osborne said. 

In addition to conducting a genetic assessment of the Chihuahua Chub, Osborne is also pursuing research projects other fresh-water fish such as Rio Grande silvery minnows, Bonytails and Canadian river cyprinids.