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Dr Mafalda Bento Costa

Dr Mafalda Bento Costa

Research Associate

School of Biosciences

Email
costamb@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 5073
Campuses
Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX

Overview

I am a conservation biologist and geneticist interested in the biology, ecology and conservation of mammal species and their habitats. My personal research focuses on the phylogeography, introgressive hybridisation and landscape genetics of mammal species, including polecats and hedgehogs.

I am also interested in zoological biobanking and researching the best methods for collection, storage and transport of tissue, DNA and viable cells of endangered animals. These resources have a wide range of benefits for species conservation and for the research community.

Biography

I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate working for the BBSRC-funded CryoArks (www.cryoarks.org) Intiative and based at the OnE-Organisms and Environment, Cardiff University School of Biociences. I am helping to create the first UK national zoological biobank for research and conservation.

Prior to this, from 2016-2018, I was a part-time research assistant for the Frozen Ark project (www.frozenark.org) and from 2017-2018 also worked as a research administrator for the Water Research Institute at Cardiff University.

From 2012-2016, I worked with Prof Michael W Bruford as an Editorial Assistant for Heredity (The Genetics Society Journal).

I have a background in ecology and conservation biology of several mammal species. In 2014, I obtained my PhD degree (Approved with 'Distinction and Honours') from Lisbon University, Portugal, but the work was mainly conducted at Cardiff University on the extent of hybridisation between polecats and ferrets in Britain and the phylogeographic relationships between polecat lineages in Europe. 

Prior to that, I obtained a post-graduation (one-year practical course) in Conservation Biology from University of Évora, Portugal, from where I also obtained my BSc Honours Degree (full time 5-year Portuguese ‘Licenciatura’).

Honours and awards

  • 2022 [Public Engagement Grant]: WWF-Cymru Earth Hour 2022 Community Activity Grant. HogBuzz: Engaging staff and students with the Hedgehog Friendly Campus campaign at Cardiff University.
  • 2019 [Public Engagement Grant]: Wellcome Trust ISSF3 Public Engagement Proof-of-Concept Award. ‘Animal ARKS of the 21st Century: Engaging people with biobanking and species conservation’. Lead-PI.
  • 2016 [Travel Grant]: Attendance at the final ConGenOmics meeting, Porto, Portugal. 3rd - 6th May. Funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF).
  • 2014 [Travel Scholarship]: Attendance at the Spring School “Landscape genetics in transition to landscape genomics”, Bertinoro, Italy. 23rd - 29th March. Funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF).
  • 2011 [Michael Woods Student Bursary]: Attendance at The Mammal Society Conference, Nottingham. 15th - 17th April. Funded by the Mammal Society.
  • 2009 [1st Prize Winner, Poster Presentation]: 27th Mustelid Colloquium. Lisbon, Portugal, 18th - 20th November.
  • 2009 [Honourable Mention, Oral Presentation]: BEPG Symposium 2009. Cardiff, Wales, 22nd May.
  • 2008 [1st Prize Winner, Poster Presentation]: BEPG Symposium 2008. Cardiff, Wales, 6th May. 
  • 2007 [2nd Prize Winner Poster Presentation]: 25th Mustelid Colloquium. Trebon, Czech Republic, 4th - 7th October. 
  • 2007 [Travel Grant]: Attendance at the 25th Mustelid Colloquium, Trebon, Czech Republic. 4th - 5th October. Funded by Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).
  • 2006 [PhD Scholarship]: Grant Number FCT – SFRH/BD/32488/2006. Funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).
  • 2006 [Research Technician Fellowship]: Project GAPS – Gestão Activa e Participada do Sítio de Monfurado - LIFE03 NAT/P/000018 [Management of the Monfurado Natura Site]. 1st March 2006 - 28th February 2007. Funded by University of Évora, Portugal.
  • 2004 [Professional Bursary]: Professional internship at Conservation Biology Unit, University of Évora. 1st November 2004 - 31st September 2005. Funded by the Portuguese Institute of Employment and Professional Training (IEFP) and University of Évora, Portugal.
  • 2003 [Final Year BSc Project Bursary]:  February - September 2003. Funded by PRODEPIII Action 3.2 Internship Programme in Higher Education.

Professional memberships

  • Member of the Genetics Society (UK)
  • Member of the Mammal Society (UK)
  • Board Member of NGO CARNIVORA – Núcleo de Estudos de Carnívoros e seus Ecossistemas (Portugal)

Academic positions

  • 2018-present: Postdoctoral Research Associate, CryoArks. Cardiff University.
  • 2016-2018: Research Assistant at the Frozen Ark Project (part-time). Cardiff University.
  • 2007-2014: PhD candidate at Faculty of Sciences, Lisbon University (FCUL) and at School of Biosciences. Cardiff University.
  • 2006-2007: Research Technician at Conservation Biology Unit (UBC), University of Évora. Portugal.

Speaking engagements

  • 2021: CryoArks: challenges and successes of setting up the UK's first national zoological biobank. Speciforum 2021. Online. 24th February. [By invitation].
  • 2019: 33rd European Mustelid Colloquium. Lisbon University, Lisbon, Portugal. 8th-11th October.
  • 2018 (Public Talk): FutureFest. London, UK, 6th July 2018. [By invitation].
  • 2017: BUVZS - Bristol University Veterinary and Zoological Society. University of Bristol, Bristol, UK, 8th February. [By invitation].
  • 2016: WEEN-Wales Ecology Evolution Network conference. Gregynog Hall, Tregynon, Wales, 4th - 6th November.
  • 2012: 30th Mustelid Colloquium. National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, 31th October - 2nd November.
  • 2011: III Semiacuatic Mammal Species Technical Conference. Universidad del País Vasco (UPV-EHU), Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, 13th - 14th May. [By invitation].
  • 2011: The Mammal Society Easter Conference. Nottingham University, UK, 15th - 17th April.
  • 2011: 44th PopGroup (Population Genetics Group) Conference. University of Hull, UK, 5th - 7th January.
  • 2009: BEPG Symposium 2009. Cardiff, Wales, 22nd May [Honourable Mention].

    Committees and reviewing

    • Frozen Ark Scientific Sub-Committee
    • Frozen Ark Communications Sub-Committee
    • Journal reviewer for Conservation Genetics (2), Canadian Journal of Zoology (2), Annales Zoologici Fennici (1), Animal Biodiversity and Conservation (1), Evolutionary Applications (1), Mammal Review (1), Mammalian Biology (1), Conservation Genetics Resources (2), Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (1).

    Publications

    2022

    2020

    2015

    2014

    2013

    2012

    Current Projects

    CryoArks

    BBSRC BBR funded project led by Cardiff University (Mike Bruford with Mafalda Costa) to establish a zoological biobanking network for the UK. Partners include the Natural History Museum (Co-Is Aidan Emery and Tim Littlewood with Jackie Mackenzie Dodds and Kirsty Lloyd), the National Museums of Scotland (Co-I Andrew Kitchener with Gill Murray-Dickson), University of Nottingham (Co-I Lisa Yon), University of Edinburgh (Co-I Rob Ogden) and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (WildGenes lab, Edinburgh Zoo, Helen Senn also with Gill Murray Dickson). Our project has the backing and involvement of Frozen Ark, the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) Biobank and from many museums, universities and research institutes around the UK. We aim to double the UK collection of zoological specimens in three years and to make these discoverable for conservation and research using the Specify database system (http://www.sustain.specifysoftware.org) and to provide the undepinning frozen infrastructure to sustainably and responsibly manage these resources into the future. Visit our website at www.cryoarks.org to find out more. Project runs 1/7/2018 - 31/03/2022.

    Watch: CryoArks - Animal Biobanking for Research and Conservation.

    Supervision

    I am interested in supervising undergraduate, placement, and masters' students in the areas of:

    • Conservation Biology
    • Population Genetics
    • Mammal Research
    • Animal Biobanking
    • Public Engagement
    • Citizen Science

    Past projects

    PhD studentships

    • Laboratory assistance and co-supervision of a part-time PhD student. “Population structure and landscape connectivity of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) in a rural landscape”. Student: Benjamin Williams, University of Reading. 2015-2018.

    MSc Degrees

    Laboratory training and supervision of MSc students:

    • Population genetics of the European Badger (Meles meles) in Norway. Student: Patrick Olshansky. Co-supervisor: Dr Isa-Rita Russo. September 2021 – January 2022. Degree: MSc Global Ecology and Conservation.
    • Using genetic tools to inform a European polecat (Mustela Putorius) recovery project in Catalonia, Spain. Student: Evan Lohse. Co-supervisor: Dr Isa-Rita Russo. May 2021 – September 2021. Degree: MSc Global Ecology and Conservation.
    • Investigating human perceptions towards biodiversity and management measures of green areas within Cardiff. Student: Margareth Necesito. Primary supervisor: Dr Isa-Rita Russo. Co-supervisors: Dr Veit Braun, Prof Mike W Bruford, Dr Willian Kay. May 2021 – September 2021. Degree: MSc Global Ecology and Conservation.

    Professional Training Year (PTY) placements

    Laboratory/field training and supervision of PTY students:

    • Addressing Environmental Sustainability in a Biobanking Context. Student: Lydia Hudson. University of Bath. Frozen Ark Placement 2020-2021. Co-Supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford.
    • A comparative study of walked transects, camera traps and footprint tunnels as techniques to survey urban mammal presence (excluding Chiroptera) in Cardiff green spaces, UK. Student: Rhian Davies. University of Bath. Frozen Ark Placement 2020-2021.
    • A baseline study of terrestrial urban mammal presence and distribution in various green spaces within Cardiff, Wales. Student: Cléa Audin. University of Bath. Frozen Ark Placement 2020-2021.
    • The Zoo Inside A Fridge. Student: Catherine Liguz. University of Surrey. Frozen Ark Placement 2019-2020.
    • The influence of topographic complexity on the genetic structure of small mammal populations in the N’washitshumbe enclosure site, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Student: Sabrina Iqbal. University of Manchester. Frozen Ark Placement 2019-2020. Co-Supervisor: Dr Isa-Rita Russo.
    • Microsatellite analysis to determine loss of genetic diversity in a translocated orange-tailed skink (Gonglyomorphus fontenayi sp) population following eradication from Flat Island by the invasive Indian musk shrew, Suncus murinus. Student: Sam Wilmot. University of Bath. Frozen Ark Placement 2019-2020. Co-Supervisor: Dr Isa-Rita Russo.
    • Investigation of olfactory receptor variation in three rhino species. Student: Georgina Russell. University of Bath. Frozen Ark Placement 2018-2019. Co-Supervisor: Dr Isa-Rita Russo.
    • Developing and implementing a prioritisation system for species sample acquisition. Student: Sarah Jane Harwood. Cardiff University. Frozen Ark Placement 2018-2019. Co-Supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford.
    • The effect of freeze-thaw cycles on mammalian tissue and extracted genomic DNA integrity. Student: Laurie Fabian. University of Bath. Frozen Ark Placement 2017-2018. Co-Supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford.
    • The Integrity of DNA in Skeletal Muscle Over Time. Student: Andrew Beazer. University of Bath. Frozen Ark Placement 2017-2018. Co-Supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford.

    Erasmus+ programme internships

    Laboratory training and supervision of Erasmus students:

    • Estimation of genetic diversity and kinship in a Caribbean flamingo captive population. Student: Rita Afonso. Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon. January-June 2019.

    Summer Studentships

    • Supervision of an undergraduate student. Summer Studentship, Ede & Ravenscroft Funding. Involving the public with biobanking and conservation. Student: Danielle Ellis. Cardiff University. July-August 2020.
    • Laboratory supervision of an undergraduate student. Summer Studentship, Ede & Ravenscroft Funding. Develop and characterisation of novel microsatellite loci for genetics studies of the European Hedgehog. Student: Matthew Pridgeon. Cardiff University. July-August 2018.

    Final year undergraduate projects

    Laboratory work and thesis supervision of undergraduate students in their final year projects:

    • Non-Invasive methods of DNA genotyping Hedgehogs. Student: Joshua Griffin. Co-supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford. November 2019 – March 2020. Degree: Biochemistry.
    • Design and characterisation of 10 novel microsatellites in the jade tree frog (Rhacophorus dulitensis) and cross-amplification in the harlequin tree frog (Rhacophorus pardalis). Student: Aaron Sambrook. Co-supervisors: Dr Juan Manuel Aguilar Leon and Prof Michael W Bruford. Cardiff University. November 2018 – March 2019. Degree: Zoology.
    • “Isolation and characterisation of 10 novel microsatellites in the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)”. Student: Isadora Sinha. Co-supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford. Cardiff University. November 2018 – March 2019. Degree: Genetics.
    • “Detecting levels of introgression in polecats from a population in South-West England using molecular techniques”. Student: Andrew Thornley. Co-supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford. Cardiff University. October 2013 - April 2014. Degree: Ecology.
    • “Development of molecular markers to investigate the coat colour variation in the European polecat (Mustela putorius)”. Student: Janine Burnham. Co-supervisors: Dr Isa-Rita Russo and Prof Michael W Bruford. Cardiff University. October 2012 - April 2013. Degree: Ecology.
    • “Population and conservation genetics of the European polecat (Mustela putorius) in Portugal”. Student: Sara Santos. Co-supervisor: Prof Michael W Bruford. Cardiff University. October 2010 - April 2011. Degree: Biology.

    Engagement

    Projects

    • Animal ARKS of the 21st Century: Engaging people with biobanking and species conservation

    The #ARKS21stCentury project aims to raise awareness of the role of biobanks in the extinction crisis, by encouraging a dialogue with the public. 

    This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust ISSF3 Public Engagement Proof-of-Concept Award.

    With the #HogBuzz project we aim to increase awareness and create excitement among the Cardiff University community (staff, students, and their families) towards the Hedgehog Friendly Campus campaign. The campaign aims to inspire our staff and students to work together to transform the university green estate into a haven for hedgehogs and other wildlife, while also encouraging the university community to implement the same actions at home.

    The project is funded by WWF Cymru through an Earth Hour 2022 Community Activity Grant.

    Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to find out more.

    Online Events

    • A Virtual Ark: Creative Family Workshop: Animal ARKS of the 21st Century: Engaging people with biobanking and species conservation’. Cardiff Science Festival. 19th February 2021. (Host and presenter. Event led by Paul Evans).
    • A Virtual Ark: Creative Workshop - Innovation and Isolation Workshop: Animal ARKS of the 21st Century: Engaging people with biobanking and species conservation’. 5th August 2020. (led by Paul Evans)
    • A Virtual Ark: Creative Workshop - Family Workshop: Animal ARKS of the 21st Century: Engaging people with biobanking and species conservation’. 5th August 2020. (led by Paul Evans)

    The Virtual Ark can now be visited in two ways: either through a YouTube fly-through [https://bit.ly/VAshowreel] or via a web page [https://bit.ly/VAwebpage], which features links to a downloadable, interactive version of the ark and the complete archive of work produced throughout the project.

    Science Festivals

    • Delivery of engagement stand: ‘Animal ARKS of the 21st Century: Engaging people with biobanking and species conservation’. Cardiff Science Festival. Capitol Shopping Centre. Cardiff. 18th February 2020.
    • Showcase of engagement stand: ‘Animal ARKS of the 21st Century: Engaging people with biobanking and species conservation’. NERC Showcase 2020 Researcher Training. Techniquest. Cardiff. 24th February 2020.
    • Design and delivery of engagement activities related with the research conducted by our research group at Cardiff University. BBC Summer of Wildlife Event. Cardiff. 15th June 2013.

    Public Presentations

    • The Frozen Ark - saving cells and DNA of endangered animals. FutureFest. London, UK, 6th July 2018.

    Article Interviews

    Online Publications and Newsletters

    Volunteering

    • Cardiff University Hedgehog Friendly Campus. Working Group Coordinator. Cardiff. September 2020-ongoing.
    • Cardiff University ERBAP - Ecosystem Resilience and Biodiversity Action Plan. Steering Group Member. Cardiff. September 2020-ongoing.
    • Cardiff University Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab & Sir Martin Evans Building Green Impact Team. Cardiff. 2019-ongoing.
    • Volunteer at the National Museum Cardiff. Facilitation of the Natural History Insight Gallery. Cardiff. December 2011 – August 2013.