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Dr. Elizabeth Boulding

Elizabeth Boulding


Office: SSC 1464
Ext: 54961
Lab: SSC 1405/1406
Ext: 58596


My laboratory investigates the factors that determine whether a population will adapt to a change in the biological environment without going extinct. This is important because current rates of environmental change experienced by animal populations are higher than over most of the fossil record. I have short and long-term marine field experiments set up near Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre just north of the West Coast trail. I also enjoy hosting international visitors at my brand new molecular ecology research lab in the New Science Complex at Guelph. I also do work on the ecological genomics and local adaptation of wild Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick in collaboration with Canadian and Norwegian scientists. I did my B.Sc. and my M.Sc. research on selection by shell-breaking crabs on their bivalve prey at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. I then worked for Fisheries and Oceans at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography for two years where I went on cruises to Jones Sound and the Scotian Shelf. My Ph.D. research on the ecology and systematics of marine snails took place at Tatoosh Island and Friday Harbor Laboratories at the University of Washington. I then studied molecular population genetics at Simon Fraser University as an NSERC postdoctoral fellow. In 1993 I was awarded an NSERC Women's Faculty Award and chose to join the faculty of the University of Guelph. I am the editor of the Mollusc Molecular News web site MMN , a member of the International Littorina research group Littorina and a collaborator with the Atlantic salmon federation ASF. I am a member of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution, and a Councillor for the Canadian Society of Zoologists. For additional information about my work, please refer to the Boulding Laboratory Site, or contact me via email


B.Sc. - British Columbia 1980
M.Sc. - Alberta 1983
Ph.D. - Washington 1990


Extinction or Evolution of Populations after a Change in the Environment

The current rates of environmental change experienced by animal populations are higher than have been experienced over much of fossil record. My laboratory investigates the factors that determine whether a population will adapt to a change in the environment without going extinct.

Project 1:

Invasion Biology: Comparing Scales of Local Genetic Adaptation to Exotic Predators by Prey with High and Low Dispersal Potential.

Environmental change caused by human activities is allowing exotic predators and competitors to extend their geographical ranges into Canada. For example, increased sea surface temperatures during the 1997/98 El Niño allowed larvae of the subtropical lined shore crab to metamorphose on western Canadian shores and prey on four closely-related species of indigenous snails. These temperate snail species have shells that are vulnerable to the specialized shell-breaking appendages of predators from more tropical regions. Consequently, climate-driven range expansion of subtropical predator species may result in range contraction by temperate prey species unless they can quickly evolve thicker armour. This is an excellent system for studying the effect of prey migration on adaptation to subtropical predators. These four intertidal gastropods are ecologically similar but differ considerably in their dispersal potential: two species have a long-lived free-swimming larval stage and two species have lost the free-swimming larval stage and as a result disperse only by crawling.

My long term research program assesses the importance of rapid evolution in preventing populations from going extinct after changes in the environment. I am testing the hypothesis that prey species with high dispersal can only adapt to predatory crabs that invade their entire geographic range. Consequently I predict that rapid evolution may be more important in preventing poorly-dispersing species from going extinct as these have lifetime dispersal distances of a few metres. I have three short-term objectives that will all compare Littorina species with and without a free-swimming larval stage: 1) To compare the minimum spatial scale of genetic adaptation to predators, 2) To compare the length of coastline occupied by a single population, and 3) To compare the amount of phenotypic plasticity in adaptive complex traits known to form clines. I plan to parameterize an extension of our individual-based quantitative genetic model which could also be useful for understanding the effect of dispersal on adaptive population differentiation in other systems. (funded by NSERC Discovery grants).

Project 2:

Genomic selection and Association Mapping of Atlantic salmon Populations.

Aquaculture now produces all the Atlantic salmon consumed by Canadians and a significant amount for export. However, disease is a major constraint affecting the sustainability and profitability of this industry. Fortunately the rate of genetic improvement for functional traits such as disease resistance can be greatly improved by using a method of animal breeding called genomic selection. This technique uses thousands of "SNP" genetic markers to determine which of the offspring produced by a disease-resistant family have inherited disease-resistant alleles. Most salmon cultured in marine net pens in Atlantic Canada were founded from the indigenous North American subspecies so fewer genomic resources were available. In collaboration with the Norwegian CIGENE group, I have developed low cost high and low density SNP genotyping assays that are customized for North American Atlantic salmon. This new genomic technology is being implemented into a current breeding program using recommendations from fish culture and animal breeding specialists (Funding: Genome Canada GAPP:  Academic lead: myself, academic co-lead: Professor Emeritus. L.R Schaeffer (Animal Biosciences), industry lead: Dr. Keng Pee Ang and industry co-lead: Dr. J. A. K. Elliott (Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd).

Recent Publications

Journal Articles (* my students, postdocs and senior research associates)

Kess JA*, Gross J, Boulding EG. (2016). Low cost ddRAD applied to a model species (Littorina saxatilis) for studying microparapatric ecological speciation. Journal of Molluscan Studies. 82(1): 104-109.

Rickards KJC*, Boulding EG. (2016). Effects of temperature and humidity on activity and microhabitat selection by Littorina subrotundata. Marine Ecological Progress Series. 537:163-173.

Holborn MK*, Krick MV*, Pedersen S*, Hunt DAGA*, Boulding EG. (2015). Polymorphic microsatellite loci for Littorina plena show no population structure between the western and eastern coasts of Vancouver Island, Canada. Journal of Molluscan Studies. 81:407-411.

Culling M*, Freamo H, Patterson K, Berg PR, Lien S, Boulding EG. (2013). Signatures of selection on growth, shape, parr marks, and SNPs among seven Canadian Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) populations. The Open Evolution Journal. 7:1-16.

Pedersen S*, Berg PR, Culling M*, Danzmann RG, Glebe B, Leadbeater S, Lien S, Moen T, Vandersteen W, Boulding EG. (2013). Quantitative trait loci for precocious parr maturation, early smoltification, and adult maturation in double-backcrossed trans-Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Aquaculture 410-411: 164-171.

Anttila K, Dhillon RS, Boulding EG, Farrell AP, Glebe BD, Elliott JAK, Wolters WR, Schulte PM. (2013). Variation in temperature tolerance among families of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) is associated with hypoxia tolerance, ventricle size and myoglobin level. Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 1183-1190.

Read KD*, Lessard J, Boulding EG. (2013). Improving outplanting designs for the northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana): The addition of complex substrate increases survival. Journal of Shellfish Research 32(1): 171-180.

Read KD*, Lemay MA*, Acheson S*, Boulding EG. (2012). Using molecular pedigree reconstruction to evaluate the long-term survival of outplanted hatchery-raised larval and juvenile Northern Abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana). Conservation Genetics. 13(3): 801-810.

Boulding EG. (2012). Editorial: Role of phenotypically-informative SNP markers in conservation biology. International Journal of Evolution. 1:1.

Brenna-Hansen S, Li J, Kent MP, Boulding EG, Dominik S, Davidson WS, Lien S. (2012). Chromosomal differences between European and North American Atlantic salmon discovered by linkage mapping and supported by fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis. BMC Genomics 13:432.

Seamone B*, Boulding EG. (2011). Aggregation of the Northern Abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana, with respect to sex and spawning condition. Journal of Shellfish Research. 30: 881-888.

Freamo H*, O'Reilly P, Berg PR, Lien S, Boulding EG. (2011). Identification of non-neutral single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that confirm genetic structure between inner and outer Bay of Funda metapopulations of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar). Molecular Ecology Resources. 11: 254-267.

Lee HJ*, Boulding EG. 2010. Latitudinal clines in body size, but not in thermal tolerance or heat shock cognate 70 gene (HSC70) in the highly-dispersing intertidal gastropod, Littorina keenae (Gastropoda: Littorinidae). Biological Journal Linnean Society. 100(3): 494-505.

Pakes D*, Boulding EG. 2010. Changes in the selection differential exerted on a marine snail during the ontogeny of a predatory shore crab. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23: 1613-1622.

Book Chapters

Rolán-Alvarez E, Austin C*, Boulding EG. (2015). The contribution of the genus Littorina to the field of Evolutionary Ecology. Hughes RN, Smith IP, Huges DJ. Oceanography and Marine Biology: an Annual Review. (53); 157-214. Published, CRC PRESS.

Conference Publications

1. Tosh JJ*, Ventura RV, Ang KP, Elliott JAK, Kent MP, Lien S, Boulding EG, Schaeffer LR. (2014). Genomewide association analysis of harvest weight in a North American Atlantic Salmon Population. Proceedings, 10th World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production.


BIOL*2060 Ecology
BIOL*3110 Population Ecology
BIOL*4120 Evolutionary Ecology
BIOL*2400 Evolution
IBIO*6020 Topics in Advances in Evolutionary Biology
ZOO*4540 Marine and Freshwater Research
ZOO*4570 Marine Ecological Processes

Grad Students

Dussault, Forest, MSc
Holborn, Melissa, PhD
Kess, Tony, PhD

Research Associates

Tosh, Jane, IB

Former Postdoctoral Fellows and Students