For her PhD in Zoology at Tel-Aviv University, Tali Magory Cohen studied various aspects of the invasion of the common myna bird, a starling that occurs naturally in south Asia and the Indian subcontinent, but has become invasive in every continent except Antarctica, due to human-facilitated introductions.
Dr. Magory Cohen collaborated with scientists in India, Australia, and Israel to describe the profile of a successful invader and the environmental characteristics facilitating its invasion.
Following that, as a postdoctoral researcher in Zoology at Tel-Aviv University and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Dr. Magory Cohen used cutting-edge genomic methods to study the factors that determine the microbiome in social insects, and whether these are controlled by nature (identity of the species) or nurture (nutrition). She also worked on phylogenetics of several bat and reptile taxa.
Her ambitious project as a postdoc at University of California, Davis, in the College of Biological Sciences Department of Evolution and Ecology, studies the potential for birds to adapt to mercury toxicity. From UC Davis, Dr. Magory Cohen’s work takes her to Peru, in the Western Amazon, where she compares data about four species of kingfisher in twelve Peruvian lakes, some of which are protected while others have significant mercury deposition caused by gold mining.
Dr. Magory Cohen investigates the correlations between mercury loads, phenotypic responses, and genomic changes over time. Her research is innovative; it draws on whole-genome sequencing methods to evaluate mercury’s effects on genome diversity and gene expression, and to account for variations in susceptibility to mercury damage. Her work also has a historical aspect, comparing contemporary birds’ genomic data to DNA from museum specimens of birds from pre-pollution times.
Dr. Magory Cohen has experience bringing awareness of invasive species to the general public, including setting up a citizen science project for reporting on the common myna in Israel, appearing on television to discuss the birds she studies, and delivering talks to biology teachers and students in her community. She hopes her latest study will generate new insights into the consequences of exposure to mercury, one of the most toxic and widely distributed pollutants worldwide.