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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 (with Karen Rickards and David Hunt).

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. During this grant cycle, I will test 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 (graduate students Leslie Damphousse, Christine Rochus, Stephanie Pedersen and research associate Dr. Jane Tosh.)

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. Foremost is disease in marine farmed stock. Disease has a direct impact on farm income through inventory losses and an indirect impact by influencing consumer demand. For example, some consumers are reluctant to buy farmed salmon because they believe they would be supporting an industry which is contributing to disease and parasitism in wild salmon stocks. Fortunately the rate of genetic improvement for functional traits such as disease resistance can be greatly improved by using a new 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 the disease-resistant alleles. Research using dairy bulls at the University of Guelph has shown that this technique increases the response to selection per generation per dollar spent for traits that can only be measured in the relatives of potential breeders. We are proposing to test whether genomic selection can improve growth rate in saltwater, rapid adaptation to seawater, disease resistance and delay sexual maturity relative to a conventional breeding program currently used at Cooke Aquaculture Inc. in New Brunswick. We anticipate that we accomplish this within a three year period using DNA samples and estimated breeding values (EBVs) archived over a four year period from past broodstock and their full sib relatives, as well as the performance of their harvested offspring in seawater farm cages. We can then predict genetic changes in economically important traits that would accrue from the use of genomic selection, and compare this to current selection programs. Disease resistance will be determined by challenge of post smolts by Dr. Brian Glebe in the quarantine lab at Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's St. Andrews Biological Station. The ten salmon families challenged will be those whose parents had the highest EBVs for growth. (Funding: NSERC Strategic grant: PI: myself, co-investigators: Dr. L.R Schaeffer and Dr. P.T. Schulte, collaborators Cooke Aquaculture and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada).

Project 3:

Integrating ecological research and hatchery operations for the restoration of the threatened northern abalone Haliotis kamtschatkana (with Matt Lemay and Kaitlyn Read)

The Northern abalone was once a key member of coastal ecosystems and an important economic and cultural resource in western Canada. However, over-exploitation led to dramatic population declines and the closure of the fishery in 1990. Since that time, northern abalone populations have failed to recover. This is likely due in large part to extremely low adult densities which reduce reproductive rates. Current restoration efforts involve outplanting hatchery-reared animals to boost population sizes in the wild by the Bamfield Huu-ay-aht Community Abalone Project.

My laboratory's part in this research has been to improve outplanting strategies for rebuilding wild Northern abalone populations. Kaitlyn has evaluated the success of past outplanting efforts via non-lethal genetic identification of outplanted individuals in the wild using microsatellites protocols developed by Matt Lemay. Her genotyping suggests that past larval outplanting has been successful. Her work has also shown the importance of habitat-modification and predator control in facilitating the survival of outplanted hatchery-raised animals in the wild. By using a combination of laboratory and field techniques, we have gained important insights into the biology of this species. (Funding: NSERC Strategic grant: PI: Dr. Louis Gosselin (Thompson Rivers University); co-investigators: Dr. Chris Harley (UBC) and myself. Also past AQUANET (PI myself for Matt Lemay).

Selected Publications

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. TOEVOLJ (accepted August 1, 2013).

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. J Exp Biol 216, 1183-1190.

Read KD, Lessard J, Boulding EG. 2012. Improving outplanting designs for the northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana): The addition of complex substrate increases survival. J Shell Res 32(1): 171-180.

Arroyo Gerez MJ. 2012. Differences in composition of territories in relation to behaviour, stage, and depth of the three-spot damselfish, Stegastes planifrons, in Caribbean coral reefs. SURG

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.

Boulding EG. 2012. Editorial: Role of phenotypically-informative SNP markers in conservation biology. Internat J Evol 1.1

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). Cons Genet 13: 801-810.

Wright KA 2011. Decreased ability to acquire food of a captive deaf dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): Slower reaction times and lower success rates. SURG

Seamone B, Boulding EG. in press. Aggregation of the Northern Abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana, with respect to sex and spawning condition. J Shellfish Res 30: 881-888.

Freamo H, O'Reilly P, Berg PR, Lien S, Boulding EG. 2011. Outlier SNPs show more genetic structure between two Bay of Fundy metapopulations of Atlantic salmon than do neutral SNPs. Mol Ecol Res 11 (Suppl. 1), 254-267 (Special Issue: SNP Development in Non-Model Organisms).

Naish KA, Boulding EG. 2010. Corrigendum for Trinucleotide microsatellite markers for the Zebra Mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, an invasive species in Europe and North America. Mol Ecol Res 11:223-224.

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

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). Biol J Linn Soc 100: 494-505.

Lee HJ, Boulding EG. 2009. Spatial and temporal population genetic structure of four northeastern Pacific littorinid gastropods: the effect of mode of larval development on variation at one mitochondrial and two nuclear DNA markers. Mol Ecol 18: 2165-2184.

Lemay MA, Boulding EG. 2009. Microsatellite pedigree analysis reveals high variance in reproductive success and reduced genetic diversity in hatchery-spawned northern abalone. Aquaculture 295: 22-29.

Boulding, EG, deWaard JR, K. P. Ang KP, Hebert PDN. 2009. Population genetic structure of the salmon louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis (Krøyer) on wild and farmed salmonids around the Pacific coast of Canada. Aqua Res 40: 973-979.

Boulding EG, Culling M, Glebe B, Berg PR, Lien S, Moen T. 2008. Conservation genomics of Atlantic salmon: SNPs associated with QTLs for adaptive trait differences in parr from four trans-Atlantic backcrosses. Heredity 101: 381-391.

Zahradnik T, Lemay M, Boulding EG. 2008 Choosy males in a littorinid gastropod: male Littorina subrotundata prefer large and virgin females. J Moll Stud 74: 245-251.

Boulding EG, Hay T, Holst M, Kamel S, Pakes D, Tie A. 2007. Modeling the genetics and demography of step cline formation: Gastropod populations preyed on by experimentally introduced crabs. J Evol Biol 20:1976-1987.

Lee HJ, Boulding EG. 2007. Mitochondrial DNA variation in space and time in the northeastern Pacific gastropod, Littorina keenae. Mol Ecol 16: 3084-3103.

Grey M, Lelièvre PG, Boulding EG. 2007. Naticid gastropod prey selection of shell thickness on the bivalve Protothaca staminea (Conrad, 1837). Veliger 48: 317-322.

Cassone BJ, Boulding EG. 2006. Genetic structure and phylogeography of Pachygrapsus crassipes along the northeastern and northwestern Pacific coasts. Mar Biol 149: 213-226.

Grey M, Boulding EG, Brookfield M. 2006. Measuring multivariate selection gradients in the fossil record: a naticid gastropod case study. Paleobiology 32:100-108.

Grey M, Boulding EG, Brookfield M. 2005. Borehole shape differences among three Recent species of naticids. J Moll Stud 71: 253-256.

Dalziel B, Boulding EG. 2005. Water-borne cues from a shell-crushing predator induce a more massive shell in experimental populations of an intertidal snail. J Exp Biol Ecol 317: 25-35.

Rolán-Alvarez E, Carballo M, Galindo J, Morán P, Fernández B, Caballero A, Cruz R, Boulding EG, Johannesson K. 2004. Non-allopatric and parallel origin of local reproductive barriers between two ecotypes of a marine snail. Mol Ecol 13: 3415-3424.


BIOL*2060 Ecology
BIOL*3110 Population Ecology
BIOL*4120 Evolutionary Ecology
BIOL*3400 Evolution
IBIO*6020 Topics in Advances in Evolutionary Biology
ZOO*4540 Marine and Freshwater Research
ZOO*4570 Marine Ecological Processes

Grad Students

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

Research Associates

Tosh, Jane, CGIL

Visiting Scientists

Liu, Lei, Aquaculture School at the Ocean University of China

Former Postdoctoral Fellows and Students