Research Projects

My research uses genetic approaches to study the ecology and evolution of wild populations, with a particular focus on marine and aquatic study systems.

Marine Microbial Ecology

Marine macroalgae (i.e. seaweed) are foundational species in coastal ecosystems. They provide the dominant structural habitat for intertidal communities of fish and invertebrates, and make a significant contribution to marine primary production. Within intertidal food webs, microbial organisms mediate the transfer of energy from photosynthetic macrophytes to higher trophic levels.  Based on the myriad roles that host-associated microbes play in other ecosystems, it is predicted that the impact of macrophyte-associated microbes extends far beyond simple trophic linkages. Thus, characterizing patterns of microbial diversity is essential for a comprehensive understanding of coastal marine ecosystem dynamics.

My research examines how microbial communities are assembled and structured among closely related host species, providing a community-scale examination of the interaction between microbes and and their macroalgal hosts. 

Collaborators: Dr. Laura Parfrey (postdoctoral research advisor, UBC), Dr. Patrick Martone (UBC), Dr. Patrick Keeling (UBC), Dr. Katy Hind (UBC), Hakai Institute.

Marine macrophytes on Calvert Island, BC. Photo by Katy Hind

Ecological Genomics

Local adaptation to different environmental conditions can lead to reproductive isolation and ultimately speciation, yet the genetic mechanisms underlying this process remain poorly understood. Fish inhabiting post-glacial lakes provide an ideal system for studying the genetic basis of adaptation. For many of these species the rapid evolution of divergent ecotypes has occurred as fish radiated from glacial refugia to fill available niches in newly formed lakes.

My PhD research used next-generation DNA sequencing (RNA-seq and RAD-seq) to measure genome-wide variation in divergent kokanee salmon populations. These data provide a genome-scale assessment of molecular divergence between kokanee ecotypes and are being used to develop genetic markers capable of fine-scale mixed-stock assessment to inform conservation and management.

Collaborators: Dr. Michael Russello (PhD supervisor, UBC Okanagan), and Dr. Paul Askey.

Spawning colours of female (top) and male (bottom) kokanee salmon. 
Photo form Wiki Commons.

Conservation Genetics

The northern abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana, is a broadcast spawning marine mollusk with a patchy distribution from California to Alaska. Historically, northern abalone supported an important commercial and indigenous fishery, however massive population decline lead to a full ban on harvesting in 1990. Despite this closure, illegal harvesting has exacerbated the population decline, and the northern abalone was subsequently listed as an endangered species in Canada. To assist with abalone recovery, the Bamfield Huu-ay-aht Community Abalone Project (BHCAP) was created as a captive breeding and reintroduction program to supplement wild populations. During my MSc research I used a combination of molecular genetic and pedigree reconstruction tools to assess the ability of this project at preserving genetic diversity among captive-bred offspring; maintaining adequate genetic diversity is essential for the long-term survival of the species as it ensures the evolutionary potential required for adaptation to future environmental changes.

Collaborators: Dr. E. Boulding (MSc supervisor, University of Guelph), Bamfied Huu-ay-Aht Community Abalone Project, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.

Northern abalone shell. Photo from Wiki Commons.