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Isa-Rita Russo

Dr Isa-Rita Russo

Senior Lecturer

School of Biosciences

+44 29208 76036
Sir Martin Evans Building, Room C/5.04, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX
Available for postgraduate supervision


Growing up in South Africa, I have always been fascinated with the remarkable biodiversity across the plant and animal kingdoms. This interest led me to study Biology focussing on two disciplines, Zoology and Genetics. My main interests are in evolutionary genetics and understanding how landscape features influence patterns of genetic diversity and structure in both small and large mammals. I am also interested in how we can use genetic studies to inform the conservation and management of animal populations. To answer this, I use a range of genetic markers which include neutral markers (microsatellites), mitochondrial DNA markers, nuclear protein coding DNA markers, SNP markers and more recently whole genome sequences. I mainly work on wildlife (African dung beetles and lacewings, black and white rhinoceros, black and blue wildebeest, African buffalo, African small mammals, fish and Mascarene Island reptiles) but I have also worked on domestic taxa (cattle, sheep and goat) investigating adaptation to climatic extremes. I use a range of analytical techniques which include phylogenetic, population genetic methods and bioinformatics.


  • Assessment Lead BI1051, 2019-
  • Degree Scheme Lead (Zoology), 2021-
  • Misconduct Committee, 2021-
  • Fieldgroup Committee, 2021-
  • PTY coordinator (Biological Sciences), 2022-
  • Module Leader BI3154, 2020/2021; 2022-
















Book sections


I am a population geneticist with experience in population and landscape genetics/genomics. My research focusses on how landscape variables affect gene flow and adaptation in a number of taxa. Knowledge of how landscape features interact with genetic variation at both the population and individual level is required to understand gene flow and adaptation to the environment. I use large-scale genetics and environmental data sets combined with population genetics/statistical analyses and bioinformatics to study the correlation between landscape features and gene flow/adaptation. I have used landscape genetics to study a variety of taxa, including brown bears, giant pandas and small mammals. These studies provide indirect information on the ecological function of animals within an ecosystem and has informed management and conservation decisions.

I am also interested in how genetic variation has been shaped due to past demographic events (population bottlenecks and expansion events) and changes in population size using Approximate Bayesian Computation and pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent methods for microsatellite/SNP and whole genome sequencing data respectively. I have used these methods on a number of taxa including white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros and brown trout.

I am also involved in a number of projects led by members of the IUCN Conservation Genetics Specialist Group (CGSG). I am leading one of these projects and the study aims to collect, collate and interpret the current knowledge of genetic composition of southern African vertebrates and make this information accessible to conservation practitioners, the wildlife industry and governments as genetic management guidelines.

My aim over the next three years is to continue my research programme focusing on molecular ecology and spatial epidemiology by applying landscape genomics to model and predict patterns of disease emergence, spread and control in sub-Saharan African wildlife. My goal is to unite the fields of animal genomics, vector biology and epidemiology using mammalian reservoir species to build predictive models for disease outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa.


Postgraduate teaching

  • Skills for Ecology and Conservation (BIT050)
  • Assessing Biodiversity and Ecosystems (BIT052)

Undergraduate teaching

  • Biodiversity and Conservation Biology (BI3154)
  • Conservation Biology (BI3114)
  • Global Climate Change Ecology (BI3136)
  • Genetics and Its Applications (BI2132)
  • Genetics and Evolution (BI1051)
  • Skills for Science: Statistics (BI1001)

Other teaching

  • DESMAN (Durrell Endangered Species Management) course which is the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s flagship Jersey-based training programme for conservationists (course validated by the University of Kent as graduate certificate)
  • University of South Wales (Conservation Genetics and Wildlife Management)



  • 2010: PhD Genetics (University of Pretoria, South Africa)
  • 2003: MSc Genetics (University of Pretoria, South Africa)
  • 2000: BSc Honours Genetics (University of Pretoria, South Africa)
  • 1999: BSc (University of Pretoria, South Africa)

Honours and awards

  • South African NRF Postdoctoral Fellowship (2010 - 2011)
  • University of Pretoria Study Abroad for Postgraduates bursary (2006)
  • SABI (South African Biodiversity Initiative) Travel Grant (2006)
  • International Theriological Congress Bursary (2001)
  • South African National Research Foundation (NRF) bursary - MSc (2000 - 2001) and PhD (2004 - 2006)
  • University of Pretoria bursary - BSc Honours (1999), MSc (2000) and PhD (2004)

Professional memberships

  • Member of the Frozen Ark Scientific Advisory Panel, 2020-present
  • African co-coordinator for the IUCN Conservation Genetics Specialist Group, 2015-present
  • Member of the Zoological Society of southern Africa, 2009
  • Member of the International Affairs Committee of the Society for the Study of Evolution, 2007-present
  • Member of the American Society of Mammologists, 2006

Academic positions

  • 2021- present: Extraordinary Lecturer (University of Pretoria, South Africa)
  • 2019 - present: Lecturer (Cardiff Univeristy)
  • 2012 - 2018: Research Associate (Cardiff University)
  • 2012 - 2013: Project Administrator for ConGRESS (Cardiff University)
  • 2010 - 2011: South African National Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship (Cardiff University)

Committees and reviewing

Journal Reviewer:

  • African Zoology
  • Biological Journal of the Linnean Society
  • Biological Conservation
  • Biology Letters
  • Heredity
  • Journal of Mammalogy
  • Phylogenetics and Evolution
  • Molecular Ecology
  • Scientific Reports

Review Editor:

  • Frontiers in Genetics (Editoral Board), Livestock Genomics
  • Frontiers in Geneitcs (Editorial Board), Evolutionary and Population Genetics

Grant Reviewer:

  • US-Israel Binational Science Foundation


Current postdoctoral fellows

  • Anri van Wyk (University of Pretoria, South Africa). Making sense of hybridisation between blue and black wildebeest in South Africa. 2020-2022.

Current PhD students

  • See list of students below for which I am the main supervisor. 
  • Co-supervisor for Stephanie Key, London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine. Pathogen pollution in critically endangered vultures in The Gambia, West Africa. 2023-2027.
  • Co-supervisor for Daniel Osmond, University of Exeter, UK. Adapting to life in metal polluted rivers: implications for conservation, genetic diversity and fisheries management in the brown trout (Salmo trutta). 2020-2024.

I am interested in supervising PhD students in the areas of:

  • Conservation genetics
  • Landsdape genetics/genomics

Current supervision

Rynhardt Le Roux

Rynhardt Le Roux

Graduate Demonstrator

Anya Tober

Anya Tober

Research student

Kyle Smith

Kyle Smith

Research student


I engage in a range of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach activties: