Project title: Reconstructing the evolutionary history of sloths using ancient DNA
Summary: The sloths (Xenarthra, Pilosa, Folivora) are an endemic South American mammal group. Represented by hundreds of species in the fossil record, and once found throughout the American Continent and the Caribbean, only six species in two genera survived the end- Pleistocene and Holocene extinction waves that decimated this group.
The aim of this PhD project is to study different aspects of sloth evolution through ancient DNA methods and genomics. The molecular evolution of extinct ground sloths from North America, South America, and the Caribbean, as well as extant species will be investigated through phylogenetics. In particular, the evolution of the critically endangered pygmy three-toed sloth will be investigated to inform conservation measures. In addition, the rich collections of South American ground sloths from the Natural History Museum will be used to conduct the first population genetics study on any ground sloth, as well as the first molecular diet study and soil assemblage study on any extinct South American sloth.