My research group takes empirical approaches to understanding the evolution and ecology of wild organisms. Natural selection and evolution occur within an ecological context, so a major goal of our work is to examine the ecological circumstances associated with contemporary evolution. Humans represent an increasingly important component of the ecology of many wild organisms, but the direct and indirect effects of human activities on evolutionary change are still poorly understood. As a result, while we continue to investigate the process of evolution under relatively pristine conditions, we are also interested in the role of humans as a contemporary evolutionary force. Information on some ongoing projects is provided below.
Evolutionary interactions between red squirrels and white spruce.
One of the main research directions in my lab investigates the importance of spruce cone abundance to life history adaptations in a natural population of red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). In this work we combine field experiments with the analysis of long-term pedigree data (1989-present) to quantify heritabilities, genetic correlations and selection gradients as well as changes in phenotypes and breeding values across generations. More recently we have started to investigate the corresponding selection pressure that red squirrel seed predation imposes on spruce cone production. For more information on recent and ongoing red squirrel work, including an ongoing experiment to test mechanisms of adaptation in this population visit the red squirrel page (redsquirrel.ca).
Humans as a contemporary evolutionary force
The ecological circumstances experienced by many wild organisms are increasingly influenced by human activities. In many fish and game populations humans have replaced natural predators as the primary source of mortality. In addition, humans intentionally and unintentionally move organisms outside their native range, changing the selective environment for both exotic and native species. Finally the effects of climate change on the seasonal timing of events have now been documented in a wide range of species. We are interested in investigating the impacts of these direct and indirect human disturbances on contemporary patterns of natural selection and anthropogenic evolutionary change in harvested populations, invasive species and species impacted by climate change. Understanding how organisms have evolved in response to human activities will hopefully allow us to make wiser decisions regarding the management of these systems.