Simple to raise, classically cool, and nearly impossible to contain once released into the wild, the red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) is an undisputed star of the booming global pet trade. In collaboration with Academy Research Associate James Parham, evolutionary genomics expert Brian Simison is tracking its unfortunate—and prolific—spread across North America in an effort to understand how the DNA of invasive species impacts that of native species.
“When native and invasive species hybridize, it can have a profound impact on their evolution as well as the health of local ecosystems,” says Simison. “Digging into the way invasive red-eared sliders infiltrate other turtle genomes helps us understand how new species form. When the causes of a hybrid event are unnatural, we can make protecting native turtles a top conservation priority.”