Ryan Norris

Associate Professor
Phone number: 
519-824-4120 x56300
SSC 2451
SSC 2403/2404

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.

  • For full list see www.norrislab.ca

  • Burant, JB, Betini, GS & Norris, DR. 2019. Simple signals indicate which period of the annual cycle drives declines in seasonal populations. In press: Ecology Letters
  • Knight, SM, Pitman, GM, Flockhart, DTT & Norris, DR. 2019. Radio-tracking reveals how wind and temperature influence the pace of insect migration. Biology Letters 15:20190327.
  • DeLuca, WV, Woodworth, BK, Mackenzie, SA, Newman, AEM, Cooke, H, Phillips, LM, Freeman, N, Sutton, AO, Tauzer, L, McIntyre, C, Stenhouse, I, Weidensaul, S, Taylor, PD & Norris, DR. 2019. A boreal songbird’s 20,000 km migration across North America and the Atlantic Ocean. Ecology 100(5): e02651.
  • Gow, EA, Burke, L, Winkler, DW, Knight, SM, Bradley, DW, Clark, RG, Belise, M, Berzins, L, Blake, T, Bridge, ES, Dawson, RD, Dunn, PO, Garant, D, Holroyd, G, Hussell, DJT, Lansdorp, O, Laughlin, AJ, Leonard, ML, Pelletier, F, Shutler, D, Siefferman, L, Taylor, CM, Trefry, H, Vleck, CM, Vleck, D, Whittingham, LA & Norris, DR. 2019. A range-wide domino effect and resetting of the annual cycle in a migratory songbird. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 286:20181916
  • Mennill, DJ, Doucet, SM, Newman, AEM, Williams, H, Moran, IG, Woodworth, BK, Thomas, IP & Norris, DR. 2018. Wild birds learn songs from experimental vocal tutors. Current Biology 28:3273-3278.
  • Knight, SM, Bradley, DW, Clark, RG, Gow, EA, Belise, M, Berzins, L, Blake, T, Bridge, ES, Burke, L, Dawson, RD, Dunn, PO, Garant, D, Holroyd, G, Hussell, DJT, Lansdorp, O, Laughlin, AJ, Leonard, ML, Pelletier, F, Shutler, D, Siefferman, L, Taylor, CM, Trefry, H, Vleck, CM, Vleck, D, Winkler, DW, Whittingham, LA & Norris, DR. 2018. Constructing and evaluating a continent-wide migratory songbird network across the annual cycle. Ecological Monographs 88(3): 445-460.
  • Elliott, KH, Betini, GS & Norris, DR. 2017. Fear creates an Allee effect: experimental evidence from seasonal populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London: Biological Sciences 284:20170878.
  • Woodworth, BK, Wheelwright, NT, Newman, AEM, & Norris, DR. 2017. Local density regulates songbird reproductive success through effects on double-brooding and nest predation. Ecology 98:2039-2048.
  • Betini, GS, McAdam, AG, Griswold, CK & Norris, DR. 2017. A fitness trade-off between seasons causes multigenerational cycles in phenotype and population size. eLife 6:e18770.
  • Woodworth, BK, Wheelwright, NT, Newman, AEM, Schaub, M & Norris, DR. 2017. Winter temperatures limit population growth rate of a migratory songbird. Nature Communications 8:14812.
  • Flockhart, DTT, Brower, LP, Ramirez, MI, Hobson, KA, Wassenaar, LI, Altizer, S & Norris, DR. 2017. Regional climate on the breeding grounds predicts variation in the natal origin of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico over 38 years. Global Change Biology 23:2565-2576.

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 regurgitating 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

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:

  • Samantha Knight (Weston Family Science Program Manager 2019-present)
  • Elizabeth Gow (LiberEro Postdoc, 2018-present)
  • Marjorie Sorenson (NSERC Postdoc 2018-present)
  • Julia Kilgour (PhD, 2013-present, co-advisor A. McAdam)
  • Alex Sutton (PhD, 2014-present)
  • Nikole Freeman (PhD, 2014-present, co-advisor A. Newman)
  • Joseph Burant (PhD, 2016-present)
  • Alana Wilcox (PhD, 2017-present, co-advisor A. Newman)
  • Elora Grahame (PhD, 2017-present)
  • Matthew Fuirst (PhD, 2018-present
  • Nathaniel Quarrel (MSc, 2018-present)
  • Hannah Clyde (MSc, 2018-present)
  • Roxan Chicalo (MSc, 2018-present)
  • Angela Demarse (MSc, 2019-present)
  • Karl Heide (MSc, 2019-present)
  • Kayla Martin (Undergrad thesis, 2019-present)
  • Eric Heisey (Undergrad thesis, 2019-present)
  • Leo Custode (Undergrad thesis, 2019-present)