US Forest Service Research & Development
Contact Information
  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
You are here: Home / People / Profile


Dr. Schwartz sampling water to detect threatened and invasive species

Michael K. Schwartz

Director, National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation
800 East Beckwith Avenue
United States

Phone: 406-542-4161
Fax: 406-543-2663
Contact Michael K. Schwartz

Current Research

My research has been focused on the fields of population, conservation, and landscape genetics/genomic, with an emphasis on research that provides practical answers to natural resource problems. I have tried to combine my molecular ecology work, which often takes place in the laboratory, with a strong field component, as I believe that we derive the best scientific understandings of species and ecosystems through the amalgamation of field and laboratory methods. When not working on solutions to management puzzles, I aim to conduct research that tries to understand how ecological and evolutionary forces interact to influence species distribution, and how these patterns interact with each other to influence local biodiversity. In general, my research has been centered on the following topic areas listed under “Research Interests”

Research Interests

Conservation Genetics / Genomics:

The vast majority of legal actions constraining natural resource agencies involve wildlife. It is not uncommon for a management activity to be halted because of the lack of information regarding a sensitive, threatened, or endangered species. One recent technological advance that has improved wildlife managers' ability to make inferences regarding wildlife populations comes from the field of molecular biology. Overall, the rapidly developing field of molecular biology has much to offer the wildlife biology discipline, thus I focus my R&D on turning population genetics theory and human medicine-based genomic technology into tools readily available for conservation.

Genetic Monitoring:

One of the principle tasks of many wildlife managers is to understand changes in wildlife population metrics (e.g., abundance, survival) as a function of changes in natural conditions or management actions. Most of these population metrics are difficult to obtain for wildlife species. The field of genetic monitoring has much to offer, as genetic indices are relatively simple to obtain and have been shown to be a strong reflection of population change. The benefit from genetic monitoring is partially due to the fact that genetic samples can be collected non-invasively. Thus, it is now possible to obtain estimates of wildlife abundance and other commonly used wildlife metrics for traditionally difficult to study species over multiple time periods. Currently, the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation is focusing on using environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling, where DNA is collected in filtered water and other environmental mediums, to develop cost effective monitoring approaches.

Landscape Genetics / Genomics

I have been interested in the statistical integration of landscape ecology principles and population genetic metrics as they fuse into the field of landscape genetics. Landscape genetics provides new ways to define animal movements, evaluate corridors, and define population substructure using molecular genetics data. Ultimately, using landscape genetic models we are be able to advise managers as to what patches of land are most valuable for each species, and if corridors function for multiple species, or are species specific. Currently, we are working on ways to simultaneously improve connectivity for multiple species while taking into account economic costs. Future work will project these landscapes forward in light of climate change to assess how genetic connectivity will change.

Ecology of Threatened and Endangered Species

I have lead field studies on several endangered species. These studies have focused on questions related to population demography, behavioral ecology, and habitat use. While these ecological studies are vestiges of my responsibilities prior to becoming the Conservation Genetics Team Leader for the Rocky Mountain Research Station, they are something I highly value; my best natural history and research insights were inspired from times when I collected ecological field data, thus I hope to continue this work.


  • Harvard, Kennedy School of Government, Senior Executive Fellows Executive Leadership 2019
  • University of Montana, Ph.D. Wildlife Biology 2001
  • American University, Washington, DC, Masters Ecology and Evolution 1996
  • Colby College, Waterville, Maine, B.A. Psychology 1991

Professional Experience

  • Director, National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation
    2014 - Current
  • Conservation Genetics Team Leader, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    2001 - 2014
  • Acting Director, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Intstitute
    2011 - 2012

Professional Organizations

  • Society for Conservation Biology, Handling Editor (2011 - Current)
  • University of Montana, Adjunct Full Professor (2001 - Current)
  • Conservation Genetics, Associate Editor (Editorial Board) (2006 - 2012)

Awards & Recognition

  • RMRS Visionary Science Award, 2011
  • National Wilderness Award - Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Research, 2009
  • Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering, 2005

Featured Publications & Products


Research Highlights


The eDNAtlas project: A national map of aquatic biodiversity

eDNA sampling provides a low-cost & sensitive method for determining which species occur in water bodies. Rapid adoption of eDNA sampling by man ...


Last updated on : 09/13/2021