Research

Setting traps in BC's beautiful central coast, as part of Hakai's 100 Islands Project

Getting ready to set some traps on the edge of a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean in BC’s beautiful central coast, as part of Hakai’s 100 Islands Project. Photo credit: Courtney Eichorn

How and why do species assemble in space and time? These questions are foundational to community ecology and provide the overarching framework for my research program. I use rigorous observational and experimental field studies, complemented by targeted laboratory and greenhouse experiments, to answer fundamental questions about the ways that human-mediated environmental change (e.g., invasive species, land use changes, urbanization, climate change, etc.) and natural environmental gradients (e.g., latitude, elevation, nutrient subsidies, isolation, microhabitats, temperature, etc.) affect the composition and structure of organismal communities and the ecological functions they perform. My work ultimately informs conservation and monitoring programs in diverse ecosystems.

I am currently a postdoctoral scholar at Simon Fraser University, affiliated with the Hakai Institute, and I’m the lead investigator of the invertebrate component of the 100 Islands Project currently underway in the Hakai Recreational Area in British Columbia’s beautiful central coast.  There, I will examine ways that island biogeography characteristics, marine nutrient subsidies, and interactions with other organisms shape the diversity, distribution, abundance and functional ecology of island-dwelling insects, spiders, molluscs and other critters.

Invertebrates perform critical functions on coastal islands, from the decomposition of seaweed wrack, to the pollination of endemic plants, to providing important food sources for migratory birds and small mammals. Understanding why some invertebrates exist on certain islands and others don’t will provide important insights into island food webs.

My earlier work in the Arctic seeded in me a passion for studying diversity in rugged, remote landscapes, so I am excited to continue my work in this challenging and beatiful new coastal system.

Rigorous field work is an important part of my research. Temperate forests are richly diverse ecosystems that can be used to address important questions about biodiversity. Photo credit: C. Buddle

Rigorous field work plays a big role in my research. Temperate forests are richly diverse systems that can be used to address important questions about biodiversity and community structure. Photo credit: C. Buddle

My doctoral studies at McGill University took me to Arctic Canada, a region of tremendous social and ecological significance facing serious environmental threats. Despite the fact that arthropods are critical components of northern ecosystems and perform many important ecological functions, they are poorly understood.

I used arthropod communities from Arctic Canada to study large-scale patterns of species distribution, diversity and community structure. Beetles were the principal model taxon in my research.

    The Arctic tundra is an incredibly beautiful system in which to study diversity and unusual functional community structure. Here, I am happily installing pan traps along the Dempster Highway in the Yukon. Photo credit: C. Buddle

The wide-open Arctic tundra is an incredibly beautiful and unique biome in which to study diversity and functional community structure. Here, I am happily installing pan traps along the Dempster Highway in the Yukon. Photo credit: C. Buddle

To determine the underlying mechanisms responsible for temporal patterns of biodiversity, as well as patterns on a large spatial scale, I tested whether spatial, biotic or climatic variables explained latitudinal gradients of species diversity, taxonomic assemblage structure, and trait-based functional diversity. Climate, especially temperature, appears to be the most significant driver at this cross-continental spatial extent.

What are some of the highlights of this work?

1. It’s one of the largest standardized, field-based studies of terrestrial biodiversity patterns and processes, and one of few that has tested relationships between species diversity, ecological functions, and mechanistic processes at this scale.

2.  Over 11,000 beetle specimens – including uncommon, rare, or new species – are now deposited in three internationally significant entomological research collections, and 9000 of these records are open-access (check them out here!)

3. I found all kinds of evidence that temperature is one of the most important factors influencing patterns of terrestrial arthropod biodiversity, both over time and over very large geographic areas

4. I provided evidence that niche complementarity plays an important role in shaping arthropod community structure at a large spatial scale, but it’s essentially overridden by environmental constraints (it’s super-cold!) in the high arctic

5. I show that northern arthropod communities may conform to an uncommon trophic structure known as an inverted pyramid; they’re weird and unique!

6. In a really fun, and totally unexpected side project, I did a natural history study of arctic host-parasite relationships between ground beetles and horsehair worm parasites. It’s the first of it’s kind in the world, and highlights new host associations and a new parasite species!  It also tells us more about the prey and diets of northern ground beetles, and shows that aquatic habitats probably act as important sources of food for terrestrial predators.

7. All in all, the study highlights that fact that northern terrestrial diversity is dominated by a rich and unique arthropod fauna that reflects environmental (particularly climate) changes in their diversity, distribution, and assemblage structure, making them ideal animals for targeted long-term diversity monitoring in the arctic.

My work represented a component of the Northern Biodiversity Program.

Education

Ph.D., Entomology, McGill University (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC) 2015
Thesis: “Patterns and drivers of terrestrial arthropod biodiversity in northern Canada”)”
Advisor: Dr. Christopher Buddle

M.Sc., Biology, Carleton University (Ottawa, ON) 2005
Thesis: “Host plants, biology and chemical ecology of the introduced lily leaf beetle, Lilioceris lilii Scopoli (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae)”
Advisor: Dr. Naomi Cappuccino

B.Sc. Hons., Biology, Carleton University (Ottawa,ON) 2003
Thesis: “The effects of an invasive alien vine, Vincetoxicum rossicum (Asclepiadaceae) on arthropod populations in old fields”
Advisor: Dr. Naomi Cappuccino