Close Window

Dr. Howard C. Rosenbaum

Title Adjunct Associate Professor
Affiliation/Department Conservation Biologist, Marine Conservation and Conservation Genetics Programs, WCS; WCS/AMNH Cetacean Research and Conservation Program
Telephone: (718) 220 5184
Professional degree Ph.D., Yale University, 1999
Research Keywords conservation genetics, cetaceans, marine conservation, molecular ecology, population genetics
Research Description Conservation Genetics
Broadly speaking, my research interests involve the application of current techniques in molecular biology to the conservation of wildlife. This conservation genetics research is focused at different hierarchical levels ranging from evolutionary relationships between taxa to determination of relatedness among individuals within populations. The results of these detailed theoretical and empirical studies are subsequently applied to guide conservation decision-making and priority setting.

My main areas of research focus on population genetics, systematics, biogeography, and conservation of cetaceans, ranging from large baleen whales to small cetaceans. One aspect of my research program involves the examination of population structure, migration links, and social organization of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) throughout the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, and more comprehensively throughout the entire Southern Hemisphere. These studies integrate genetic analyses (high-throughput sequencing and multi-locus genotyping), with extensive field surveys and life history data collected from natural populations of whales off the coasts of Madagascar, Gabon and elsewhere in these oceans. My program has similar studies in leading a worldwide effort to define conservation units among humpback dolphins (Sousa spp.).

The effects of overexploitation (whaling) on genetic variation among endangered whale populations are still largely unknown. My work on right whales and closely related species has focused on comparing samples from historical and extant populations in order to assess the impacts of whaling and climate change on levels of genetic diversity for several species over time. In order to interpret observed patterns of genetic diversity in extant populations of whales, we developed an effective and reliable technique to isolate DNA from historical whaling and archaeological specimens ranging in age from 100-10,000 years before present. These data allow us to evaluate the extent to which changes in genetic diversity may be associated with current factors effecting extant populations. The analysis of historical specimens has also enabled us to investigate genetic structure and relationships within and among populations where no such information previously existed.

Cetacean Research and Conservation Program
What began as a survey of humpback whales in Antongil Bay, Madagascar, the Cetacean Research and Conservation Program now includes projects on humpback whales and other marine mammals in Gabon, Madagascar, and Mayotte (Comoros Archipelago). This work is a collaborative effort between the American Museum of Natural History, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (AMNH CBC) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). To establish effective research and conservation measures, it has been essential to understand patterns of cetacean distribution, estimate population abundance and genetic structure, and evaluate current threats to critical habitats. In addition to the project in Madagascar, the program has been playing an increasingly significant role in participating in and developing regional conservation programs in Mayotte, Comoros (since 1997) and in the West African country of Gabon (since 1999) and has yielded significant new information about whale populations, their behavior, and migration patterns.

The Cetacean Research and Conservation Program utilizes an integrated research and educational approach that combines photographic identification, genetic and GIS analyses, shore-based, boat and aerial surveys, satellite telemetry data, acoustical censuses, toxicology analyses, regulated ecotourism development, and training for local students and scientists. Under my direction, the program coordinates and supervises graduate students from several universities in the US and abroad, undergraduate interns and post-graduate research fellows, WCS and AMNH staff, WCS regional field staff working on Madagascar and Gabon site-based programs, researchers from the government of Gabon, staff from the Marine Mammal Observatory in Mayotte, and several international cetacean researchers that directly participate in field research as part of this program.

Representative Publications: Rosenbaum, H.C. and T. Collins. The Ecology, Population Characteristics and Conservation efforts for Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their wintering grounds in the coastal waters of Gabon. In: Natural History of The Gamba Complex (in press), ed. by A. Alonso and P. Campbell. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.

Rosenbaum, H.C, Weinrich, M., Stoleson, S., Gibbs, J.P., Baker, C.S., and R. DeSalle. The effect of differential reproductive success on population genetic structure: Correlations of life history with matrilines in humpback whales of the Gulf of Maine. 2002. Journal of Heredity 93: 389-399 (Cover Article).

Razafindrakoto, Y., Andrianarivelo, N. and H.C Rosenbaum. 2004. Status of Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins in the coastal waters of Madagascar. Aquatic Mammals 30(1):103-110.

Ersts, P.J. and Rosenbaum, H.C. 2003. Habitat preference reflects social organization of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their wintering grounds in Antongil Bay, Madagascar. Journal of Zoology, 260: 337-345.

Rosenbaum, H.C. 2003. Humpback Whales of Madagascar. In: Natural History of Madagascar (in press), ed. by S. Goodman and J. Bengston. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Il. 217-221.

Rosenbaum, H.C. 2003. Marine Mammals of Madagascar. In: Natural History of Madagascar (in press), ed. by S. Goodman and J. Bengston. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Il. 213-216.

Rosenbaum, H.C. and R. DeSalle. 2003 The Role of Genetics in Conservation Biology. In: The Encyclopedia of Genetics. MacMillan Reference (USA). New York, NY.

Rosenbaum, H.C., Razafindrakoto, Y., Vahoavy, J. and C. Pomilla. 2001. Recent sightings of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) along the east coast of Madagascar. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management (Special Issue) 2: 177-180.

Razafindrakoto, Y., Rosenbaum, H.C., and D. Helweg. 2001. First description of humpback whale song from Antongil Bay, Madagascar. Marine Mammal Science 17 (1): 180-186.

Rosenbaum, H.C, Brownell Jr., R.L., Brown, M.W., Schaeff, C., Portway, V., White, B.N., Malik, S., Pastene, L.A., Patenaude, N.J. , Baker, C.S., Goto, M., Best, P.B., Clapham, P.J., Hamilton, P., Moore, M., Payne, R., Rowntree, V., Tynan, C.T., Bannister, J.L. and R. DeSalle. 2000. Worldwide genetic differentiation of Eubalaena: Questioning the number of right whale species. Molecular Ecology 9: 1793-1802.

Rosenbaum, H.C., Egan, M.G., Clapham, P.J., Brownell Jr., R.L., Brown, M.W., White, B.N., Malik, S., Walsh, P.D. and R. DeSalle. 2000. Utility of North Atlantic right whale museum specimens in assessing changes in genetic diversity. Conservation Biology 14 (6): 1837-1842.

Birnbaum, K. and H.C. Rosenbaum. 2002. A practical guide for microsatellite analysis in ecology and evolutionary biology. In: Methods and Tools in Biosciences and Medicine: Techniques in Molecular Evolution and Systematics, ed. by R. DeSalle, G. Giribet, and W. Wheeler. Birkhauser, Basel.

Doukakis, P.D., Birnbaum, K., and H.C. Rosenbaum. 2002. Analyzing data at the population level. In: Methods and Tools in Biosciences and Medicine: Techniques in Molecular Evolution and Systematics ed. by R. DeSalle, G. Giribet, and W. Wheeler. Birkhauser, Basel.

Rosenbaum, H.C. and A.S. Deinard. 1998. Caution before claim: An overview of microsatellite analysis in ecology and evolutionary biology. In: Molecular Approaches to Ecology and Evolution. ed. by R. DeSalle and B. Schierwater. Birkhauser, Basel.

Rosenbaum, H.C., Walsh, P.D., Razafindrakoto, Y., Vely, M. and R. DeSalle. 1997. First description of a humpback whale breeding ground in Baie d'Antongil, Madagascar. Conservation Biology 11(2): 312-314.

Rosenbaum, H.C., Egan, M.G., Clapham, P.J., Brownell Jr., R.L. and R. DeSalle. 1997. An effective method for isolating DNA from historic specimens of baleen. Molecular Ecology 6: 677-681.

Rosenbaum, H.C., Clapham, P.J., Allen, J., Nicole-Jenner, M., Jenner, C., Florez-Gonzalez, L., Urban, J., Ladron, P., Mori, K., Yamaguchi, M., and C.S. Baker. 1995. Geographic variation in ventral fluke pigmentation of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations worldwide. Marine Ecology Progress Series 124: 1-7.

Future Research Development of novel approaches and techniques to protect endangered whale and dolphin populations and their critical habitats. Application of analyses that better integrate molecular datasets with other information to resolve species-level conservation units for marine mammals.
Other Areas of Interest Broad application of molecular markers and analytical techniques to assist with various conservation efforts.