M.Sc Candidate, Queen’s University
B.Sc (2013), McGill University
I began my academic career in Montreal while earning a B.Sc in biology at McGill University. I, like many bright-eyed undergraduates, dabbled in a range of subjects before landing on something that I felt eager to pursue, which came in the form of my independent study. The study was supervised by Andrew Gonzalez and Graham Bell and examined evolutionary rescue in diverse microbial communities. This was my first real taste of conducting experimental evolution in a lab setting and got me thinking much more about adaptation to a changing environment, as well as selection, competition and biodiversity more generally. That year, I also had the opportunity to dive (literally) into some field work with several field courses on Mont St. Hilaire, QC. With my project in the Nelson lab, I aim to marry my academic interests with my love for field work by conducting field experiments underlined by a strong theoretical foundation.
As an aspiring evolutionary ecologist, I seek to understand the relationship between the physical and living environment and the diversity we see in nature. Understanding the nuances of this complex relationship is fundamental to our understanding of life on this planet. To this end, a strong foundation already exists for making good predictions about the effects of multiple environmental factors (such as temperature, food availability etc.) as they contribute to the maintenance of diversity in nature. Using this foundation, recent efforts have worked towards gaining a mechanistic understanding of diversity maintenance, relating the environment to organisms and population dynamics. This work has successfully identified many potential mechanisms in nature, which can be broadly grouped into two categories: Equalizing Mechanisms (those that equalize competitive abilities between organisms) and, Stabilizing Mechanisms (those that keep intraspecific competition greater than interspecific competition). To date, much theoretical work has been done to identify and test the importance of equalizing and stabilizing mechanisms, however, there has been little work done in the field to test these theories, even less so using animals.
My project in the Nelson lab will follow this mechanistic approach in a freshwater system of naturally co-occurring Daphnia phenotypes. Through a focus on quantifying the fitness consequences of life-history trade-offs in Daphnia across multiple environmental gradients and varying diel vertical migration behaviours, I hope to identify the mechanisms maintaining the phenotypic diversity of Daphnia in Round Lake. I believe that the depth of understanding inherent in an identified mechanism is necessary for making effective predictions about complex systems in ecology, a scientific field notorious for its difficulty in forming predictions, and I hope that this project will make headway towards developing such predictive power. You can find out more about this system and the questions I am most interested in, here.