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Laboratory of Holly Ernest



Hummingbird genomics and disease ecology

Lab researchers: Holly Ernest, Adrienne Mackenzie, Megan Dudenhoeffer, Braden Godwin,

photo by Mark Gocke

Examining age of hummingbird. Photo by Jessica Grant

Hummingbird Health Program

Dr. Holly Ernest, runs the Hummingbird Health Program for the Rocky Mountain regions.  She has been assisted by Adrienne Mackenzie, Megan Dudenhoeffer, Braden Godwin. Collaborators include Dr. Berit Bangoura (University of Wyoming), Dr. Lisa Tell (UC Davis), Dr. Ravinder Sehgal (San Francisco State University), Andy Engilis (UC Davis), Dr. Bob Poppenga (UC Davis), the Hummingbird Monitoring Program, and others.

Hummingbirds provide vital functions to natural areas, including pollination and insectivory. As ecosystem sentinels, they travel rapidly and widely from flower to flower and prey on thousands of tiny insects. Even more special is that they are stunningly beautiful birds, with bright iridescent colors. We need to learn their population numbers, biology, and health status in order to better conserve them. There are currently very few data on diseases, population health, genetic diversity and population structure for the hummingbird species breeding and migrating through Wyoming, Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain region, and the Hummingbird Health Program is helping to change that.

We developed genomic population genetic markers (SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphism loci) that can now differentiate the hummingbird species that breed and travel through Wyoming. Identification of “populations and species at risk” is vital for disease analyses. The genetics work helps identify what a functional “population” is within each of the species, and is vital to disease monitoring and assessment work.


In the news:

Buffalo Bulletin screenshotFeatured in the Buffalo Bulletin:
Hummingbird Health
by Jen Sieve-Hicks

Rockies Audubon screenshotFeatured in Rockies Audubon:
Lab member is “Habitat Hero”: Brady Godwin guest blogs for Rockies Audubon about hummingbirds, looks for feeders to band at
by Brady Godwin

Featured in the Laramie Boomerang:
Read about PhD student Brady Godwin studying hummingbird health
by Eve Newman


Wyoming Game and Fish
Hummingbird Health Check article
by Mark Gocke

Small Wonders Article thumbnailWyoming Wildlife Magazine
Article “Small Wonders” by

Amber Leberman &  Jessica Grant | Subscribe to Wyoming Wildlife!

Brady gently lifting net to capture hummingbird

Brady gently capturing hummingbird for health exam. Photo by Mark Gocke

Conservation Genomics and Development of New DNA Tools

Using next-generation DNA sequencing and genomic research techniques, geographic information systems (GIS) to map locations, field identifications and health exams of individual birds, we are examining population biology and hummingbird health. So little is known about hummingbird ecology, diseases, and population numbers, this information is vital to determine which hummingbird species or populations are declining.

Braden Godwin (Brady) focused his graduate research on Allen’s Hummingbird along Pacific coastal California.

We are also applying conservation genomic and population health tools for study of Broad-tailed Hummingbird in the Rocky Mountain West).

Rufous Hummingbird; photo by VickiMiller

Our Publications on Hummingbird Disease Ecology and Genetics

Anna's Hbird Male photo by ManfredKusch

Hummingbird resources:

Photo: Manfred Kusch