Maria Wheeler

Maria Wheeler
B.A. Otterbein College 2008 
e-mail: wheeler3*at*duq.edu 

I’m a doctoral student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, co-advised by Dr. Brady Poter (Duquesne) and Dr. Todd Katzner (WVU). My research is centered on genetics of golden eagles in eastern North America, with the goal of determining the level of genetic distinction between modern and historic populations of golden eagles in the eastern North America and western North America. From 1981 until 2006, there were a series of independent translocations of western US golden eagles into the eastern US, but the fates of these ~200 birds have gone largely unknown. What I am trying to determine is how these assorted reintroductions events have affected the genetic trajectory of the eastern population. Were the two populations genetically distinct to begin with? What affect did the western birds have on the eastern gene pool? Did the western birds even enter the eastern breeding population? To answer these questions, I have acquired feather and tissue samples from modern eagles across the US to determine their current genetic diversity based on sequence phylogenies and microsatellite analysis. I currently am in the process of collecting museum samples from historic birds to provide a solid baseline of comparison of the genetic diversity of golden eagles before the translocations.

Prior to graduate school, I earned my B.A. in Life Sciences with a concentration in ecology at Otterbein College (now Otterbein University) in Westerville, Ohio. My senior thesis was on the effects of invasive aquatic plants on the ontogenetic diet shift of painted turtles, using stable isotopes in whole blood as dietary indicators. This was part of a larger project funded by the ODNR which studied the effects of invasive macrophytes on painted turtle ecology. Also, before moving to Pittsburgh, I worked/volunteered at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for seven years, and I have also volunteered at the Louisville Zoo.