Conservation Genetics of Polar Bears

My research uses genomics to understand evolution in polar bears in response to climate change. Genetic variation provides the foundation for evolution to take place, and adaptation largely happens as a function of standing genetic variation. Using a combination of whole-genome sequencing, bioinformatics, and climate modeling, my research will answer the following questions: 1) What is the demographic history of polar bears? 2) Are there signals of selection and adaptation to climate change? 3) Is climate change predicted to alter population distribution and genetic structure? My aim is to use genetic information to help guide conservation strategies for preserving biodiversity in the Canadian Arctic.

Urban Evolutionary Ecology

My PhD research explored general patterns of ecology and evolution in urban environments. Cities are undergoing some of the most rapid environmental change of any ecosystem. Studies on urban ecology and evolution are growing in number, however there remain many unanswered questions. Together with collaborators, I created a roadmap for future research in the field. We identified the big, unanswered questions in the field, and highlight areas for better integration into urban management, conservation, and education. You can read more about this research here.

In addition to this research, I have studied patterns of non-adaptive evolution across species, to better understand the effects of urbanization on genetic diversity and differentiation. I have also been involved in several opinion pieces calling for the better integration of human societal factors into urban ecology and evolution.

Urban Species Interactions

While urbanization has been demonstrated to influence the ecology and evolution of species, less is known about how urbanization affects interactions among species. Species interactions play an important role in shaping ecosystems because they mediate species abundances, distributions, and habitat use patterns. Consequently, understanding how urbanization influences species interactions is critically important as the number and size of cities continues to grow.

My PhD research investigated how urbanization influences the ecology and interactions of plants with their pollinators and herbivores. I measured the effects of urbanization on plant-pollinator and plant-herbivore interactions, and found that urbanization alters interactions between Brassica rapa and its pollinators, leading to altered patterns of pollen dispersal and reproductive success in cities. Similarly, my results demonstrated that even small human settlements lead to increased seed predation rates and modified natural selection in Tribulus cistoides.

Lastly, I am currently working on a population genetics project looked at the effects of urbanization on the mating system and genetic variation of Impatiens capensis in multiple cities in Southern Ontario. Stay tuned for more updates about this work.