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Research Project Index

Submitted by watson on Sun, 04/14/2013 - 2:01pm

Research Projects

Wang, Xiaoyue, PhD Candidate, Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Supervisor: Angela Bedard-Haughn

Current and future research includes: 1) to develop a better understanding of the role of beaver as a soil forming factor; 2) to analyze the biogeochemical processes and soil nutrient dynamics in the main layers of beaver meadow and adjacent peatland not affected by beaver’s historic activity in changing climate; 3) to provide insight into how beaver activity influences the microbial community responsible for carbon and nitrogen cycling in a changing climate.

Sturdy, Christopher, Department of Psychology, Professor, University of Alberta

This research is aimed at understanding the cognitive, perceptual, evolutionary, developmental, and neural bases underlying chickadee acoustic communication. A variety of experimental techniques are used, including bioacoustic analyses, operant conditioning experiments, and in vivo electrophysiology and anatomy in several, related species of chickadees.

Reid, Mary, Department of Biological Sciences - Environmental Science Program, Professor, University of Calgary

In lodgepole pine, we are investigating relationships between tree size, growth rate, defences and phloem nutrients to better understand host choice by bark beetles.


Prescott, Cindy, Faculty of Forestry, Professor and Associate Dean, University of British Columbia

This project was established in 1984 as part of my PhD research at sites in the Lusk Creek Valley. Segments of pine, spruce, and fir were placed at the three research sites of the same names. The logs have been sampled at 2, 6, 10, 14, and 21 years and the plan is to continue collection until 30-35 years. The 21-year results were published in the following article: Herrmann, S. and C.E. Prescott (2008).

Millar, John, Department of Biology, Professor, University of Western Ontario

Our research investigates variation in reproduction and survival of small mammals in environments with short growing seasons. Under such conditions, reproduction is constrained but survival rates are high, with considerable annual variation. Previous studies of the energetics of reproduction failed to explain annual variation in reproduction and our current studies focus on nutrition, especially available protein. We are monitoring stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen as indicators of diet in natural populations of deer mice and red-backed voles.

Klassen, Peter, Department of Geography, MSc Student, University of Calgary, Supervisor: Yvonne Martin

Quaternary glacial processes are a defining feature of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and have been a driving factor in the formation and continuing modification of the landscape. Once the ice retreats the landscape is left in disequilibrium and is dominated by paraglacial processes which have an immediate and strong role in creating and remobilizing sediment in the system. My research aims to better understand how glacigenic sediments affect surface and subsurface water flow. Using numerical landscape and hydrological models I hope to demonstrate how surficial deposits control stream flow response to precipitation and tie this to the paleoenvironment to understand paraglacial processes after glacial ice retreats. 

Lein, Ross, Department of Biological Sciences, Associate Professor, University of Calgary

A long-term investigation of the function of song dialects in white-crowned sparrows at Fortress Mountain in the Kananaskis Valley was done from 1984-1992 and a study of song variation in mountain chickadees at Barrier Lake was done from 1993-1995. In 1996 a major investigation of the nature and function of song variation in flycatchers of the genus Empidonax was started. The Kananaskis region has the highest diversity of species of this genus in North America (six species), providing an ideal location for comparative studies.

Husband, Brian, Department of Integrative Biology, Professor, University of Guelph

Our research examines the process of whole genome duplication (i.e. doubling of chromosome number) as a potential mechanism of rapid adaptation and speciation. Many organisms, including vertebrates, have undergone such doubling in their evolutionary past; the phenomenon is especially common in plants. In fireweed, a common plant of the Canadian Rockies, polyploid individuals are produced on an ongoing basis and coexist alonside ancestral diploids, making this an ideal opportunity to study evolution in action.

Hargreaves, Anna, PhD candidate, Department of Biology, Queen’s University, Supervisor: Chris Eckert

All species are restricted in their geographic and altitudinal distribution, or range. We are exploring three emerging topics regarding the ecology and evolution of species’ range limits: 1) the relative importance of abiotic and biotic factors in limiting range expansion at different locations on species’ range margins (e.g. upper versus lower elevation limits), 2) the degree of local adaptation within the range and 3) the effect of gene flow in hindering or enabling expansion of range limits. The native, annual herb, Rhinanthus minor (yellow rattle), is the study species and two transects span the prairies to the alpine.


Greene, David, Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Professor, Concordia University

Conifer pollen production along an altitudinal gradient is being   examined. In particular, we ask if seed production is pollen limited near treeline. Further, we ask whether the receptivity period is sufficiently brief – relative to the rate at which the anthesis isophene travels upslope – that trees at the lower and upper elevations have little gene exchange via pollen.


 Loewen, Charlie, MSc Student, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Supervisor: Rolf Vinebrooke

Climate warming and biological invasions are among the most important stressors affecting freshwater biodiversity. Changing temperature regimes are expected to have pronounced effects on cold-adapted communities in mountain lakes and may facilitate the spread of exotic species by weakening the resistance of native communities. Exotic sportfish are already prevalent in our provincial and national mountain parks from historical stocking programs, and may considerably impact the composition and function of native freshwater communities.

As unforeseen synergistic or antagonistic interactions often complicate the net effects of multiple ecological stressors, we are conducting mesocosms experiments at the Barrier Lake Field Station to elucidate whether exotic sportfish and higher temperatures exert indirect rather than straightforward direct effects on native plankton communities. Our experiments also examine the potential for stress-tolerant colonists arriving from a regional species pool to functionally rescue stressed local communities from the effects of a novel predator and warmer summer heating events.

Judge, Kevin, Department of Biological Sciences, Assistant Professor, MacEwan University

Hybrid zones - areas of geographic overlap between two species ranges where hybridization occurs - are important natural laboratories for testing fundamental theories about the origin and maintenance of biological diversity. We are utilizing the unique breeding biology of a group of sexually cannibalistic insects in the genus Cyphoderris and their recently discovered hybrid zone to test some of these theories. Our long term objectives include: 1) large scale mapping of the Cyphoderris hybrid zone to look for other areas of hybridization, 2) measuring the rate of gene flow between the two parent species of Cyphoderris, and 3) examination of the role of environmental disturbance and nutrient availability on the extent of hybridization. Populations of C. monstrosa at the BioGeosciences Institute are of interest because of their relative isolation from populations of its congener, C. buckelli, with whom it is thought to hybridize.

Boonstra, Rudy, Department of Biological Sciences, Professor, University of Toronto

My focus is to understand how the stress axis functions in natural populations of mammals and birds to maximize fitness. The stress axis is a vital indicator of adaptation in birds and mammals and a pivotal component of the neuroendocrine system. The system is a major pathway that integrates environmental change and through which life history decisions to reproduce, to grow, or to put energy into storage are implemented. Our current focus is on species from a group of mammals—the ground squirrels. Some species, such as the Columbian ground squirrels in the mountains of southern Alberta, are long-lived. Others, such as the Richardson’s ground squirrels from the western prairies and Arctic ground squirrels from the tundra, are short-lived. We hypothesize that the stress axis plays a crucial role in these different life histories. We are examining them during the mating period when all the resources of animals must be brought to bear to ensure success. We predict that the short-lived species trade off the future for the present, whereas the long-lived species do the opposite.

Vinebrooke, Rolf, Department of Biological Sciences, Professor, University of Alberta

My research group is focusing on the cumulative impacts of multiple ecological stressors on mountain lake ecosystems. Currently, we are investigating the combined effects of invasive sportfish and climate change on planktonic diversity and function (e.g. primary productivity). Lake surveys along natural climatic/elevational gradients are used to generate hypotheses regarding how decades of introduction of exotic trout into mountain lakes have affected their responses to climate warming. These hypotheses are being tested through a series of mesocosm experiments, which are being conducted at the Barrier Lake Field Station.


Harder, Lawrence, Department of Biological Sciences, Professor, University of Calgary

Research projects on flowering plants consider: 1) the effects of floral design and the architecture of flowering stalks for pollen dispersal, and 2) the flexibility of resource allocation among reproduction, vegetative propagation, and maintenance. Related studies of pollinator behaviour assess: 1) the responses of pollinators to the three dimensional environment created by plants, and 2) the interacting effects of floral and inflorescence traits on pollinator attraction.

Matter, Stephen, Department of Biological Sciences, Assistant Professor, University of Cincinnati

Treeline elevation is rising in alpine areas throughout the world. Encroachment of forest into alpine areas is predicted to isolate and reduce the area of habitats above treeline, such as mountain-top meadows. These changes potentially threaten organisms endemic to these habitats. However, not all area above treeline is necessarily suitable for forest. Since many of these areas contain resources necessary for endemic alpine species, there is the possibility that these species may be able to persist for considerable time, despite broad changes in the elevation of treeline. We will investigate encroaching forest and its effects on the Rocky Mountain Apollo butterfly, Parnassius smintheus, an alpine meadow specialist, at three sites in the front ranges of the Canadian Rocky Mountains that have experienced considerable forest encroachment over the last 60 years. Using a combination of aerial photography, habitat mapping, and tree ring dating, we will determine areas above treeline that are not subject to forest encroachment as well as a time frame over which such chnages may occur. We will parameterize and optimize metapopulation persistence models for the butterfly using 14 years of exisitng population and dispersal data and additional data collected during this study. Using habitat areas not subject to forest encroachment, these persistence models will allow us to predict if forest encroachment will impact P. smintheus and if so when populations will be affected.