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Dr. M. Alex Smith
Assistant Professor, Integrative Biology

Alex Smith


Office: SCIE 2464
Ext: 52007
Lab: SCIE 2409/2410
Ext: 56718


I am passionate about integrating both molecular and field techniques as a molecular ecologist. I am currently working on multiple programs that include the molecular estimates of biodiversity and the distribution of phylogenetic diversity (using ants as a model system) the co-evolutionary ecology of host/parasitoid/symbiont relationships (using parasitic wasps and flies as a model system) and the phylogeography of both ants and amphibians. In addition, I am interested in testing the spatial population ecology and long term ecological monitoring of threatened species and areas from a biogeographic and phylogeographic perspective using both molecular and traditional ecological tools (here using temperate amphibian and ant species). My research is hypothesis-based and many of these hypotheses have been directed by prior experiments in molecular discovery using a preliminary single gene survey of a taxa or an area. Indeed, I see the complementary and iterative interactions of discovery-based and hypothesis-based science as one of the most unique features of ecological research where there is a molecular component.


PhD McGill University 2004 (David M. Green)
MSc Trent University 1998 (Michael Berrill and Carolyn Kapron)
BSc Trent University 1996


Ecology of parasitoids, hyperparasitoids, symbionts and hosts

Work in this program has already allowed a more accurate direct understanding of patterns of host-specialization amongst several families of parasitoid insects. We are now in a position to examine co-evolutionary relationships amongst the hosts, the parasitoids, their own parasites (hyperparasitoids - Taeniogonalos sp.) and bacterial symbionts (Wolbachia). We discovered several cases where parasitoids expected to be host generalists were, in fact, morphologically cryptic specialists. The inverse of this discovery is a unique capability to more precisely examine the causes and consequences of those remaining truly generalist parasitoids - prior work on these taxa and in this tropical area regarding host-generalist parasitoids dealt with a bad data due to the inclusion of morphologically cryptic specialists! Highly collaborative work with Dan Janzen, Winnie Hallwachs (collections and ecology), Monty Wood, Norm Woodley, Jim Whitfield, Josephine Rodriguez, Michael Sharkey, David Smith and Andy Dean (taxonomy, ecology and phylogeny).

Biodiversity assessment in a molecular age

"Species are the currency of biology" - Agapow et al 2004 - and molecular techniques for enumerating and comparing areas and faunas should allow the rapid enumeration of 'total biodiversity'. To date, work in this area has been published for a test-data set from Madagascar, and further analyses in Mauritius will soon be published. This work is also highly collaborative involving Brian Fisher, Paul-Michael Agapow and Ross Crozier and independent work where my lab provides both field collections and genetic expertise. Ant fauna of the Malagasy region provide a model system to examine the co-evolution of endemic and invasive species.

Biogeography, phylogeography and spatial ecology of temperate amphibians and ants

"PhylogeographyÖan integrative endeavor that lies at an important crossroads of diverse micro- and macroevolutionary disciplines" - Avise 2000. For many species in the Great Lakes region of North America the principal determinants of contemporary phylogeography are the historic distance from southern refugia during Pleistocene glaciation. Population genetic studies of freshwater species have demonstrated significant genetic structuring in disjunct habitats (such as river basins), however anthropogenic change (e.g. pollution and dams) have reduced many formerly continuous habitats into subdivided islands. Within amphibian species native to Ontario I am interested in investigating local and regional processes of population isolation (dispersal, metapopulation ecology) coincident with hydrogeographic isolation. Within the ant species of Ontario, I am interested in an inter-specific comparison between those species with winged vs. wingless queens and the geographic distribution of genetic variation, and a comparison of the genetic variation of endemic vs. native species where they co-occur.

Selected Publications

Smith, M. Alex, Rodriguez, J. J., Whitfield, J. B., Deans, A. R., Janzen, D. H., Hallwachs, W., and Hebert, P. D. N. (2008) Extreme diversity of tropical parasitoid wasps exposed by iterative integration of natural history, DNA barcoding, morphology, and collections. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105 (34):12359-12364.

Fisher, B. L, and M. Alex Smith (2008) A Revision of Malagasy Species of Anochetus Mayr and Odontomachus Latreille (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). PLoS ONE 3(5): e1787. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001787.

Smith, M. Alex (2008) Using DNA barcodes to assess identity and diversity of Dendropsophus minutus: Failure? Zootaxa 1691:67-68.

Smith, M. Alex, Poyarkov, N., and Hebert, P. D. N. (2008) CO1 DNA barcoding amphibians: take the chance, meet the challenge. Molecular Ecology Resources: 8(2)235-246. doi:10.1111/j.1471-8286.2007.01964.x.

Smith, M. Alex, Wood, D. M., Janzen, D. L., Hallawachs, W. and Hebert, P. D. N. (2007) DNA barcodes affirm that 16 species of apparently generalist tropical parasitoid flies (Diptera, Tachinidae) are not all generalists. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104(12):4967-4972.

Smith, M. Alex, Green, D. M. (2006) Sex, isolation and fidelity: unbiased long distance dispersal in a terrestrial amphibian. Ecography. 29: 649-658.

Hajibabaei, M., Smith, M. Alex, Janzen, D. H., Rodriguez, J. J., Whitfield, J. B., and Hebert, P. D. N. (2006) Identifying specimens with degraded DNA using minimalist barcodes. Molecular Ecology Notes. 6: 959-964.

Smith, M. Alex, Woodley, N. Hallwachs, W. Janzen, D. H. Hebert, P. D. N. (2006) DNA barcodes reveal cryptic host-specificity within the presumed polyphagous members of a genus of parasitoid flies (Diptera: Tachinidae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103(10):3657-3662.

Smith, M. Alex, Fisher, B. L., and Hebert, P. D. N. (2005) DNA barcoding for effective biodiversity assessment of a hyperdiverse arthropod group: the ants of Madagascar. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: B. 360:1828-1834.

Smith, M. Alex, Green, D. M. (2005) Dispersal and the metapopulation paradigm in amphibian ecology and conservation: Are all amphibian populations metapopulations? Ecography 28(1): 110-128.

Smith, M. Alex, Green, D. M. (2005) Bufo fowleri (Fowler's Toad): Predation. Herpetological Review 36(2):159-160.

Smith, M. Alex, Green, D. M. (2004) Phylogeography of Bufo fowleri at its northern edge of range. Molecular Ecology 13(12): 3723-3733. (Link to Journal - subscription required)

Smith, M. Alex, Berrill, M., and Kapron, C. (2002) Photolyase activity of the embryo and the ultraviolet absorbance of embryo jelly for several Ontario amphibian species. Canadian Journal of Zoology 80:1109-1116

Smith, M. Alex, and Green, D. M. (2002) Bufo fowleri: Predation. Herpetological Review 33(2): 125

Smith, M. Alex (2002) Pseudacris triseriata triseriata: Reproduction. Herpetological Review 33(2): 127

Smith, M. Alex, Kapron, C., and Berrill, M. (2000) Induction of photolyase activity in wood frog (Rana sylvatica) embryos. Photochemistry and Photobiology 72:575-578.

Smith, M. Alex (2000) Problems utilizing enzyme sensitive site assays for photorepair of exogenous DNA with cell free extracts made from amphibian embryos. Canadian Journal of Zoology 78:1869-1872.

Crump, D., Berrill, M., Coulson, D., Lean, D. R. S., McGillivray, L., and Smith, M. Alex (1999) Sensitivity of eight species of amphibian embryos, tadpoles and larvae to enhanced UV-B radiation in natural pond conditions in Southern Ontario. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77:1956-1966.

Smith, M. Alex, and Bidochka, M. (1998) Bacterial fitness and plasmid loss: the importance of culture conditions and plasmid size. Canadian Journal of Microbiology 44: 351-355.


Grad Students

Thanushi Eagalle (M.Sc)
Kate Pare (M.Sc)

Lab Members


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