This week we are pleased to welcome Rebecca Rooney from the University of Waterloo.

Herbicide use to control invasive Phragmites: efficacy, fate and effects


European Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. Ex Steud is an aggressive invasive wetland grass that is spreading steadily across Canada.  Over the last two decades it took over coastal marsh habitat on Lake Erie, endangering a dozen or more species at risk and threatening the ecological integrity of these Carolinian biodiversity hotspots. To control its expansion, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry carried out an unprecedented aerial application of Roundup Custom for Aquatic and Terrestrial Use Liquid Herbicide, under an emergency use permit issued by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Between 2016 and 2017, this program applied herbicide to over 1000 ha of dense P. australis. Dr. Rooney, assistant professor at the University of Waterloo, has lead the environmental monitoring efforts around this marsh restoration program to evaluate 1) the efficacy of treatment in reducing the P. australis population and restoring native plant diversity, 2) the dispersal and degradation of glyphosate, and 3) the effects of the herbicide on the receiving environment.

Dr. Rebecca Rooney is a wetland ecologist, studying the effects of human and natural disturbances on community structure and dynamics in marsh ecosystems. An assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo, she has studied the effects of invasive Phragmites australis on the ecological integrity of Lake Erie coastal marsh since 2012.  She studies diverse taxa such as periphytic algae, vascular plants, aquatic macroinvertebrates, and wetland birds.  Her policy-relevant research program has informed wetland management and monitoring practices in Alberta and Ontario.

This special EEB seminar will take place this Wednesday in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:00-1:00 pm.


EEB Seminar: February 15

This week we are pleased to welcome our very own Robert Colautti.

Ecological genetics of invasive plants: Adaptive evolution, genetic constraints, and their ecological consequences

Invasive species establish and proliferate in new environments that can differ markedly the native range – for example, by escaping from ‘enemies’. Environmental changes alter natural selection regimes, which could result in rapid evolution of new adaptive genotypes. In contrast to native species, studies measuring quantitative genetic variation, natural selection, and local adaptation are rare for invasive species. Available data suggest that invasive species may benefit from fewer genetic and ecological constraints than native species. Invasions represent extreme demographic bottlenecks, but there has been little impact on population divergence for ecologically important traits. Generally, spatial autocorrelation in population divergence (e.g. geographical clines) has not been incorporated into studies testing adaptive divergence, complicating comparative studies. Studies of invasive species that apply established methods in quantitative genetics and evolutionary ecology are needed for understanding the role that rapid evolution plays in determining ecological winners and losers in the Anthropocene.

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm.


This week we are pleased to welcome Jenny McCune from Carleton University.

Rare plants and where to find them: the habitat, the landscape, and the landowners


Many of Canada’s species-at-risk are plants that grow in our most highly populated southern regions. Undiscovered populations of rare plants are undoubtedly growing unnoticed on private land, but surveying for new populations is time consuming and expensive – so how should we target the right places to search? In this talk, Jenny McCune will discuss her work using species distribution models to predict places with the right habitat for some of Canada’s rarest woodland plants. Her team has tested these models by searching over 200 woodland sites across southern Ontario. Their results show how the state of the landscape surrounding a local site, and sometimes the history of that landscape, can affect the accuracy of these models. They also tested whether land ownership has any effect on native plant richness, or the likelihood of finding rare plant species – with some surprising results. Finally, interviews and a national survey helped understand what landowners and other citizens know and feel about endangered species conservation.

J.L. McCune is an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Biology Department at Carleton University. Her research is focused on understanding how plant communities change over the long term in response to human modifications of the landscape. She got her BSc from the University of Guelph, MSc in Ethnobotany from the University of Kent (U.K.), and PhD from the University of British Columbia. In between degrees, she worked as a plant ecologist in the Florida Keys, Oregon, Catalina Island, and Maryland.

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. This week’s talk will be followed by a pizza lunch outside the seminar room.


This week we are pleased to welcome Thomas Merkling from the Friesen lab.


Ever wondered why Celine Dion has three sons and not any other combinations? Sex allocation theory considers the way parents invest in male and female functions according to their relative fitness benefits. Although successfully applied in parasitic wasps for instance, results remain equivocal in birds and mammals. During the talk, two main reasons underlying these inconsistencies will be addressed: the lack of knowledge on 1) the fitness benefits and costs of either sex and 2) the underlying mechanism(s) of sex-ratio biases. First, using a population of a seabird, the black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), he investigated both differences in energetic costs and in fitness return between sons and daughters to then predict how offspring sex-ratio should be adjusted. Then, he did a meta-analysis to test for a ubiquitous role of maternal testosterone in sex-ratio biases across birds and mammals. To finish, he will address another remaining mystery: the evolution of environmental sex determination. Using a comparative approach across lizards, he will test the recent prediction that differences in sex-specific survival to maturity can lead to the evolution of temperature-dependent sex determination.

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm.



This week the department is pleased to welcome Marc Bélisle from the Université de Sherbrooke.

Queens - 2018 - Belisle - title-1

Aerial insectivorous birds experience severe population declines in many parts of North America and Europe. Because many of these species nest above ground in or close to farmlands, the principal cause of their decline has been hypothesized to result from a decreased food availability mainly due to pesticides. Yet pesticides can have both toxicological and trophic effects on birds. Moreover, the amount and diversity of pesticides found in the environment must depend largely upon the type of agriculture performed. In turn, agriculture dictates landscape structure, which also affects insect populations and communities. This talk will present how an army of students is starting to disentangle the links among agricultural landscape composition, prey availability and contamination by pesticides, on various individual performance proxies of Tree Swallows. Most of the results that will be showed origin from a 14-year study of individually-marked Tree Swallows breeding within a network of 400 nest boxes distributed among 40 farms located along a 10 200 km2 gradient of agricultural intensification in southern Québec.

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. This week’s seminar will be followed by a pizza lunch outside the seminar room.

EEB Seminar: January 18

This week the department is pleased to welcome Dave Fifield, wildlife biologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science and Technology Branch.

Predictive Models and Petrel Declines: A Sampling of Applied Marine Bird Research in Atlantic Canada

This talk will highlight two facets of current marine bird research in the Northwest Atlantic involving Environment and Climate Change Canada and collaborators. The first, predictive spatial modelling, is part of a long-term operational program to understand the abundance and distribution of marine birds at sea where they are vulnerable to incidental harm from human activities and face a changing climate. Knowledge of their seasonal distribution is required to assess risk and effectively inform marine conservation planning and policy. To this end Dave will explore the construction of predictive spatial models to generate defensible seasonal seabird density estimates, using a case study in the Labrador Sea. The second part of the talk describes targeted research in response to the recent population decline of Leach’s storm-petrels in Atlantic Canada. This region’s colonies, hosting approximately 40% of the world’s population, have declined by ca. 30% over three generations. Dave will discuss the current state of knowledge and on-going efforts to identify the cause(s) of the decline, highlighting the use of technological innovation in an attempt to illuminate aspects of the decline.

Dave’s main work focuses on applied research to understand the seasonal abundance and distribution of birds in the marine environment using techniques including ship-based and aerial surveys, electronic tagging and tracking, and predictive spatial modelling in order to inform wildlife management, conservation policy, marine protected area design, and risk and damage assessment due to human activities. He also applies his background in Ecology and Computer Science in an attempt to provide innovative technological and analytical approaches to address knowledge gaps in emerging marine bird issues. He is interested in fostering the design and use of structured data management and analysis workflows to increase the production of reproducible research in the biological sciences.

The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm. This week there will be a pizza lunch to follow in the Room 3110.

EEB Seminar: January 11th

This week the department is pleased to welcome our own Catherine Dale for her final departmental seminar.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?  Understanding migratory strategies in western bluebirds

Cat Dale.JPG

Partial migration, which occurs when only some animals in a population migrate, is ubiquitous.  However, despite numerous studies investigating how partially migratory systems are controlled, we know relatively little about what determines whether an individual migrates.  In this thesis, I investigate ecological factors and individual characteristics shaping alternative migratory strategies in a partially migratory population of western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana).
First, I ask whether sex, age, or body size are related to variation in migration behaviour.  Using hydrogen isotopes in claw tissue to infer migratory strategy, I show that young bluebirds, particularly young females, are less likely to migrate than older birds, and that bluebirds mate assortatively by migratory strategy.  I also demonstrate that some bluebirds switch strategies between years, indicating that migratory behaviour is not under strict genetic control.  Second, I ask whether individual differences in diet could lead to variation in migratory strategy.  Using nitrogen and carbon isotopes in feathers, I show that the diet of resident males during fall moult differs from that of resident females and migrants of both sexes.  Responses to experimentally presented novel foods suggest this variation could be due to differences in behaviour: resident males are less hesitant to eat novel insects than migrant males, but the opposite is true of females.  Finally, I ask whether two personality traits, boldness and aggression, differ with migratory strategy.  I show that residents are bolder than migrants, but there is no difference between groups in aggression.  However, resident bluebirds from BC are more aggressive than resident bluebirds from California.
My results indicate that social influences, variation in diet, and personality traits may all play a role in determining whether bluebirds migrate.  They also imply that different factors may shape migratory strategies in males and females.  Overall, my research emphasizes the necessity of examining a wide variety of ecological factors and individual characteristics when attempting to determine how partially migratory systems are controlled.  The flexibility of these systems suggests they are likely to shift as a result of global environmental change.  To better predict their responses, an understanding of factors driving variation in migratory strategy is essential.


The EEB Seminars run weekly, on Thursdays, in the EEB Lounge of the BioSciences Complex, Room 4338, from 12:30-1:30pm.