Amy Newman

Amy Newman
Associate Professor and Interim Chair
Phone number: 
519-824-4120 x56595
SSC 2480
SSC 1407/1408

My research and training lay at the intersection among ecology, physiology, and neuroendocrinology. I am broadly interested in stress biology and the wide-ranging effects of the early life environment; research in my lab is focused on investigating and understanding the effects of the early life environment on the development and function of the stress axis in natural populations. We investigate how early life stress exposure influences physiology, behaviour and, ultimately, fitness. We use a variety of approaches from large-scale manipulations in the wild to controlled laboratory experiments. I am excited by integrative questions that span levels of biological organization and encourage students in my lab to explore questions from evolutionary, ecological, physiological and molecular perspectives.

  • B.Sc. - Queen's University (2004)
  • Ph.D. - University of British Columbia (2009)
  • NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Guelph (2010-2012)

Generally, I apply an integrative approach to combine field and laboratory techniques to examine the impact of a wide range of stressors using wild songbirds and small mammals as animal models. I investigate proximate and ultimate questions related to the effects of naturally relevant stressors at the molecular and neuronal level and how these effects translate to neuroendocrine development and function and, finally, the subsequent effects on adult neuroplasticity, behaviour and, fitness.

Stress and glucocorticoids have well-known effects on the development and function of the nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis affects a range of integrated biological processes including immune function, life-history and breeding biology, development and aging, and neurogenesis. Nonetheless, the mechanisms governing the interaction between the environment and phenotype remain elusive. A growing body of biomedical research suggests that the connection resides in the epigenome, a fundamental mechanism that connects genes and the environment and the emerging area of ecological epigenetics is one research focus of my lab.

One of my primary study systems is a long-term marked population of wild Savannah Sparrows on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy. A key feature of this population is that individuals born on the island have relatively high rates of natal philopatry, providing the unique opportunity to examine multigenerational effects in the wild. Using this songbird model system, I am conducting eco-physiological studies and currently testing the effects of post-natal stressors and the early life environment on juvenile survival, HPA responsiveness in adulthood, and fitness.

I have also been collaborating with the Kluane Red Squirrel Project to experimentally induce prenatal stress on wild red squirrels in order to understand the long-term effects on the offspring HPA axis, behaviour and fitness. Understanding the mechanisms and long-term effects of early-life stress on individual physiology and behaviour in a natural context is paramount to predicting the consequences of stress exposure on wild populations.

  • Newman AEM, Edmunds N, Ferraro S, Heffell Q, Merritt G, Pakkala JJ, Schilling C, Schorno S. 2015. Using ecology to inform physiology studies: implications of high population density in the laboratory. AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 308: R449-R454.
  • Wada H, Newman AEM, Hall ZJ, Soma KK, MacDougall-Shackleton SA. 2014. Effects of corticosterone and DHEA on doublecortin immunoreactivity in the adult song control system of song sparrows. Journal of Developmental Neurobiology,74: 52-62.
  • Fiske JA, Gannon D, Newman AEM. 2013. The effects of repeated investigator handling on growth rate and the acute stress response in Leach's Storm-Petrel chicks. Journal of Field Ornithology, 84:425-432.
  • Dantzer BJ, Newman AEM, Boonstra R, Palme R, Boutin S, Humphries MM, McAdam AG. 2013. Density cues trigger maternal stress hormones that increase adaptive offspring growth in a wild mammal. Science, 340: 1215-1217.
  • Newman AEM, Zanette LY, Clinchy M, Goodenough N, Soma KK. 2013. Stress in the wild: chronic predator pressure and acute restraint affect plasma DHEA and corticosterone levels in a songbird. Stress, 16:363-367.
  • Pakkala J, Norris DR, Newman AEM. 2013. An experimental test of the capture-restraint protocol for estimating the acute stress response. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 86: 279-284.
  • Williams H, Levin I, Norris DR, Newman AEM, Wheelwright, NT. 2013. Three decades of cultural evolution in Savannah sparrow songs. Animal Behavior, 85: 213-223.
  • Mitchell GW, Newman AEM, Wikelski M, Norris DR. 2012. Timing of breeding carries over to influence migratory departure in a songbird: an automated radio tracking study. Journal of Animal Ecology, 81: 1024-1033.
  • Kupferschmidt DA, Newman AEM, Boonstra R, Erb S. 2011. Antagonism of cannabinoid 1 receptors reverses the anxiety-like behaviour induced by central injections of corticotropin-releasing factor and cocaine withdrawal. Neuroscience, 204: 125-133.
  • Newman AEM, Soma KK. 2011. Aggressive interactions differentially modulate local and systemic levels of corticosterone and DHEA in a wild songbird. Hormones and Behavior 60:389-396.

Graduate students in my lab are expected to form creative and independent hypotheses. My goal as a mentor is to work closely with students to refine their thesis topics while also challenging students to develop research and critical thinking skills and to achieve their academic potential. Students are strongly encouraged to write a series of publications that will form the chapters of their thesis. My students typically have a field and laboratory component to their research and there are opportunities to work on a variety of songbird and small mammal systems. If you are interested in pursing graduate studies in this integrative and multidisciplinary environment, please feel free to contact me via email. Make sure to include a short cover letter describing your interests, a CV, and an unofficial transcript.

  • Kiera Newman (PhD, 2015-present) - Co-advised by R. Norris
  • Nikole Freeman (MSc, 2014-present)
  • Helmi Hess (NSERC USRA, 2015-present)
  • Jesse Pakkala (MSc, 2013-present)- Co-advised by R. Norris