Our work focuses on understanding the origins and distributions of biodiversity from the level of local adaptation and limiting gene flow in single landscapes, through the genetics of entire species' ranges, to understanding the causes of diversification of entire clades. Much of our research focuses on quantifying the impacts of human activities (e.g. habitat fragmentation, climate change, contaminants) on species at risk. We work mostly on amphibians and reptiles but also have work on birds, mammals (polar bears), and fish (char and whitefish). Recent additions to our work include developing and using environmental DNA to quantify species occurrences and whole assemblages of species in wetlands, lakes, and rivers.

Under construction

Conservation Genomics of Snakes

For over three decades, we have worked on quantifying the distribution of genetic diversity of at-risk and other snakes across their respective Ontario ranges and beyond, including eastern foxsnakes, eastern hog-nosed snakes, massassauga, Butler’s gartersnakes, gray ratsnakes, northern watersnakes, and eastern gartersnakes (for the latter two, focussed on island populations). Many snake species on Ontario (alas) face common threats including habitat loss and degradation, road mortality, persecution, and disease all overlain by rapidly changing climates. Our work has shown significant impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation leading to population isolation, diminished genetic diversity, and inbreeding. We continue to refine our ‘maps’ of genetic diversity and, using new genomics data, will map adaptive diversity of isolated, wild populations of multiple species at risk, seek better ways to inform ex site management, and develop and validate new genomics tools for ex site management and conservation.

BearWatch. Monitoring Impacts of Arctic Climate Change using Polar Bears, Genomics and Traditional Ecological Knowledge

BearWatch seeks to create an alternate way to monitor polar bears across the Canadian Arctic using non-invasive genomics tools and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. BearWatch is a partnership among northern communities in Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, HTAs in Gjoa Haven and Coral Harbor, the Inuvialuit Game Council, the governments of Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon, the Canadian Rangers, and researchers and students at Queen’s University, University of Toronto, University of Calgary, Trent University, McGill University, University of British Columbia, University of Northern British Columbia, and the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique. Check out the BearWatch web site for publications and other resources. We have developed a scat-based toolkit that allows us to genotype individual bears (identity and sex), assess their diet using metabarcoding, quantify elves of some contaminants (including microplastics and methyl mercury), and are working on additional tools including digital PCR for testing for pathogens and parasites using scat.

Environmental DNA for surveying species at risk & aquatic ecosystem health

Snapping turtle. Photo Stephen C. Lougheed.

Aquatic environments globally face human-caused threats including pollution, invasive species, overharvesting, drainage, and climate change. A recent UN report estimated that 1 million species are at risk of extinction. The 2018 WWF Living Planet Report2 indicates a biodiversity loss of 60% since 1970, threatening global delivery of $125 trillion of ecosystem services, including drinking water, food, flood control, and carbon sequestration. Freshwater species have been disproportionately affected, declining by 83% in the last 40 years, more than terrestrial or marine species. The WHO estimates that 2 billion people use contaminated water (feces, algal blooms). Two-thirds of Canadians rely on drinking water from surface waters, mostly provided by forested watersheds that are themselves under threat. In Canada in 2015, freshwater biodiversity supported a recreational fishery that contributed $7.9 billion to local economies.5 Over 200 aquatic invasive species occur or will soon occur in the Great Lakes region alone, posing threats to local ecology, human health, and the economy. We are developing a suite of tools to survey aquatic biodiversity using quantitative PCR, digital droplet PCR and DNA metabarcoding. Focal species for eDNA work include temperate turtles of Eastern Ontario, chorus frogs, native and invasive mollusks, and fish of the St. Lawrence River.

Speciation in frogs

Chorus frogs – to come Spring peepers – also to come







Climate change and breeding phenology of frogs

To come