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Dr. Ryan Norris
Associate Professor
& University Research Chair

 Ryan Norris


Office: SSC 2451
Ext: 56300
Lab: SSC 2403/2404
Ext: 54582

Lab website


I'm an ecologist interested in behaviour, conservation, and evolution of migratory animals. Our lab addresses a variety of topics including effects of climate change and habitat loss throughout the annual cycle in seabirds and songbirds, the role of migration networks and seasonal interactions in predicting changes in population size, the development of optimal conservation plans for a range of migratory species, the costs and benefits of migration, and life-history trade-offs between different periods of the annual cycle. My research integrates behavioural and demographic field research with landscape ecology, theoretical and empirical modeling, and biogeochemistry. Our lab conducts field research in a number of locations including Algonquin Park, the BC Pacific coast, Costa Rica, the Bay of Fundy, and right here on the University of Guelph campus.


B.E.S. - University of Waterloo (1998)
M.Sc. - York University (2000)
Ph.D. - Queen's University (2004)
NSERC/Killam Postdoc, University of British Columbia (2006)


Migration represents one of the most complex and fascinating behaviours in nature. Found in a wide variety of taxa including insects, fish, reptiles, mammals, and birds, migration can span thousands of kilometres and occur over multiple life-history stages and habitats. Identifying the factors that influence individual success and population abundance requires knowledge of how events are linked throughout the migratory cycle. The primary obstacle, thus far, has been the inability to track individuals over large geographic distances, resulting in research that has been limited to isolated stages of the migratory cycle. This has made it challenging to determine how populations are spatially connected between periods and for understanding how events in one season carry-over to influence success in subsequent seasons. Novel technologies, such as stable isotopes, trace elements and radio-telemetry are beginning to bridge these gaps by providing the ability to integrate life-history and demographic information throughout the migratory cycle. The long term goals of my research are: (1) understand how events within and between seasons interact with behaviour and habitat quality to influence population abundance and life-histories, and (2) parameterize and develop a set of predictive models that can be used to test aspects of life-history evolution and population dynamics in migratory animals, (3) develop and refine sets of accurate and non-invasive methods to track individuals over large geographic distances, and finally (4) apply year-round populations models to construct optimal conservation plans that can be used for a variety of species worldwide. Below, I briefly outline four primary areas of research in our lab.

Selected Publications (for full list see lab website)

Derbyshire, R, Strickland, D & Norris, DR. 2015. Experimental evidence and 43 years of monitoring data support the food limitation hypothesis in a boreal food-caching songbird. In press: Ecology

Betini, GS, Fitzpatrick, MJ & Norris, DR. 2015. Experimental evidence for the effect of habitat loss on the dynamics of migratory networks. Ecology Letters 18: 526-534.

DeLuca, WV, Woodworth, BK, Rimmer, C, Taylor, PD, Marra, PP, McFarland, K, Bearhop, S, Mackenzie, SA & Norris, DR. 2015. Transoceanic migration by a 12g songbird. Biology Letters 11: 20141045.

Flockhart, DTT, Pichancourt, JB, Norris, DR & Martin TG. 2015. Unraveling the annual cycle in a migratory animal: breeding-season habitat loss drives declines of monarch butterflies. Journal of Animal Ecology 84: 155-165.

Betini, GS, Prodan, L, Griswold, CK & Norris, DR. 2014. Body size, carry-over effects, and survival in a seasonal environment: population consequences. Journal of Animal Ecology 83: 1313-1321.

Flockhart, D.T.T., L.I. Wassenaar, K.A. Hobson, T.G. Martin, M.B. Wunder, and D.R. Norris. 2013. Tracking multi-generational colonization of the breeding grounds by monarch butterflies in eastern North America. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 280 (1768): 20131087

Betini, G.S., C.G. Griswold, and D.R. Norris. 2013. Density-mediated carry-over effects explain variation in breeding output across time in a seasonal population. Biology Letters 9(5): 20130582.

Mouritsen, H., R. Derbyshire, J. Stakkeicken, B. Frost, O. Mouritsen, and D.R. Norris. 2013. An experimental displacement and over 50 years of tag-recoveries show that monarch butterflies are not true navigators. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 110(18): 7348-7353.

Betini, G.S., C.G. Griswold, and D.R. Norris. 2013. Carry-over effects, sequential density dependence and the dynamics of populations in a seasonal environment. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 280: 20130110.

Mitchell, G.W., M. Wikelski, A.E.M. Newman, and D.R. Norris. 2012. Timing of breeding carries over to influence migratory departure in a songbird: an automated radiotracking study. Journal of Animal Ecology 81:1024-1033.

Bairlein, F., D.R. Norris, R. Nagel, M. Butle, C.C. Voigt, J.W. Fox, D.J.T. Hussell, and H. Schmaljohann. 2012. Cross-hemisphere migration of a 25-gram songbird. Biology Letters 8:505-507.

Boyle, W.A., C.G. Guglielmo, K.A. Hobson, and D.R. Norris. 2011. Lekking birds in a tropical forest forego migration for sex. Biology Letters 7:661-663.

Harrison, X.A., J.D. Blount, R. Inger, D.R. Norris, and S. Bearhop. 2011. Carry-over effects as drivers of fitness differences in animals. Journal of Animal Ecology 80:4-18.

Miller, N.G., L.I. Wassenaar, K.A. Hobson, and D.R. Norris. 2011. Monarch butterflies cross the Appalachians from the west to re-colonize the North American east coast. Biology Letters 7:43-46.

Griswold, C.G., C.M. Taylor, and D.R. Norris. 2010. The evolution of migration in a seasonal environment. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 277:2711-2720.

Sheehy, J., C.M. Taylor, K.S. McCann, and D.R. Norris. 2010. Optimal conservation of migratory animals: integrating demographic information across seasons. Conservation Letters 3:192-202.

Boyle, W.A., D.R. Norris, and C.G. Guglielmo. 2010. Storms drive altitudinal migration in a tropical bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 277:2511-2519.

Sorenson, M.C., J.M. Hipfner, T.K. Kyser, and D.R. Norris. 2009. Carry-over effects in a Pacific seabird: stable isotope evidence that non-breeding diet quality influences reproductive success. Journal of Animal Ecology 78: 460-467.

Wilson, S., D.R. Norris, A. Wilson, and P. Arcese. 2007. Experience and density affect the ability of a temperate songbird to respond to future variation in climate. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 274:2669-2675.

Taylor, C.M., and D.R. Norris. 2007. Predicting conditions for migration: effects of density-dependence and habitat quality. Biology Letters 3:280-283.

Norris, D.R., P. Arcese, D. Preikshot, D.F., Bertram, and T.K. Kyser. 2007. Diet reconstruction and historic population dynamics in a threatened seabird. Journal of Applied Ecology 44:875-884.

Norris, D.R., P.P. Marra, T.K. Kyser, L. M. Ratcliffe, and R. Montgomerie. 2007. Continent-wide variation in feather colour of a migratory songbird in relation to body condition and moulting locality. Biology Letters 3:16-19.

Norris, D.R., and C.M. Taylor. 2006. Predicting the consequences of carry-over effects in migratory animals. Biology Letters 2:148-151.

Norris, D.R., P.P. Marra, R. Montgomerie, T.K. Kyser, and L.M. Ratcliffe. 2004. Reproductive effort, molting latitude and feather color in a migratory bird. Science 306:2249-2250.

Norris, D.R., P.P. Marra, T.K. Kyser, T.W. Sherry, and L.M. Ratcliffe. 2004. Tropical winter habitat limits reproductive success in a long-distance migratory songbird. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 271:59-64.


Whether in the field or the classroom, my philosophy is to provide students with an atmosphere that will allow them to enjoy the material and develop higher level learning skills rather than simply regurgitation material. I strive to get students to evaluate, analyze, and synthesize information while providing them with a solid theoretical background. In the classroom, I rely partly on student participation and peer learning. In the field, I allow students to develop and execute hypothesis-based research on a wide range of topics in behaviour, as well as population and community ecology.

Courses Taught
ZOO*4070: Animal Behaviour (fall term)
ZOO*4920: Ornithology (fall term)
ZOO*4410: Field Ecology in Algonquin Park

Grad Students

If you are interested in any of the research areas outlined above, please feel free to contact me via email and make sure to include a short cover letter, CV, and unofficial transcript. I am open to novel and creative research ideas and I worked closely with my graduate students to develop and refine their thesis topics. Typically, my students have a field component to their research but I will also supervise students conducting purely theoretical work as well. I strongly encourage students to write a series of publications that will eventually form the chapters of their thesis.

Current lab members:
Tyler Flockhart (LiberEro Postdoc, 2014-present)
Julia Kilgour (PhD, 2013-present, co-advisor A. McAdam)
Brad Woodworth (PhD, 2013-present)
Alex Sutton (PhD, 2014-present)
Nikole Freeman (PhD, 2014-present, co-advisor A. Newman)
Kiera Newman (PhD, 2015-present, co-advisor A. Newman)
Jesse Pakkala (MSc, 2013-present, co-advisor A. Newman)
Grace Pitman (MSc, 2015-present)
Samantha Knight (MSc, 2015-present)
Shannon Whelan (MSc, 2014-present, @UOttawa, co-advisor J. Morand-Ferron)
Ines Moran (MSc, 2015-present, @UWindsor, co-advisor D. Mennill)
Ajuli Dabydeen (Undergraduate thesis, 2015-present)
Ronena Wolach (Undergraduate thesis, 2015-present)
Blair Fitzgerlad (Undergraduate thesis, 2015-present)


Norris Lab website
Ecology @ Guelph
Migration Interest Group: Research Applied Towards Education
Queen's Facility for Isotope Research
Centre for Applied Conservation Research
Centre for Wildlife Ecology - SFU
Advanced Facility for Avian Research