Meet our Experts
Coordinator, MSE Research Symposium
Dr. Anthony Ricciardi is an Associate Professor in the Redpath Museum and the McGill School of Environment. He received his Ph.D. from McGill in 1997 and did his postdoctoral work at Université Laval (as an NSERC Fellow) and Dalhousie University (as a Killam Fellow), prior to joining the McGill Faculty of Science in 2001. He was awarded a FQRNT Quebec Strategic Professorship in 2002. Currently, he is the Associate Director of Research for the School of Environment. For the past 20 years, his research has aimed to develop a predictive understanding of the ecological impacts of invasive species. He is an Associate Editor for the journal Biological Invasions and the journal Diversity and Distributions. He also serves on the scientific committee of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network – a national research group that assesses the risks of invasion in Canada’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters.
Biological Invasions and Biosecurity
Driven by expanding human travel and trade, thousands of species of plants, animals and microbes are spreading into new regions faster and farther than at any other time in Earth's history. These biological invasions can disrupt ecosystems, alter the availability of natural resources, threaten human and animal health, and contribute to biodiversity loss. Canada has experienced an increasing number of harmful invasions in recent decades. For example, shellfish farms on the east coast are being smothered by 'sea squirts' – gelatinous invertebrates that foul aquaculture stock. Various species of invasive beetles are killing trees in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta. On the prairies, farmers are battling leafy spurge – a weed that is toxic to cattle. Western city-dwellers are witnessing the spread of Dutch elm disease. The multibillion dollar fishery in the Great Lakes is threatened by the impending arrival of Asian carp. The economic damage caused by a dozen well-documented non-native pests to Canadian fisheries, agriculture and forestry exceeds $180 million per year, whereas the projected future cost of invaders is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars per year. Climate change is expected to have a major influence on the success and impact of non-native species across all biomes in Canada. We can predict 1) increased coastal invasions, particularly in northern regions, where melting sea ice is expected to facilitate human-mediated transport of non-native species to the Arctic by opening shipping channels and extending the length of the shipping season; 2) increased occurrences and a broader distribution of insect vectors of disease (such as the Asian tiger mosquito, which can transmit a variety of pathogenic viruses); 3) increased occurrence of ‘sub-tropical’ disease pathogens in some parts of the country; and 4) a greater frequency of interactions between invasive species and other stressors, including climate change, contaminants and land use, leading to unpredictable synergistic effects. Given the scope and magnitude of these socioeconomic and ecological impacts, biological invasions should be treated as a national security issue.
Dr. Elena Bennett is an Associate Professor in the McGill School of Environment and the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University. She earned her PhD in Limnology and Marine Sciences in 2002 and her MSc in Land Resources in 1999, both at the University of Wisconsin under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Carpenter. She was a postdoc on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment from 2002-2005, helping the Scenarios Working Group think about the possible global futures for ecosystem services. Her research focuses on interactions among ecosystem services and managing ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.
Coping with Environmental Surprise: Adaptations and Precautions in a Complex World
The most significant issues facing Canada in the coming decades will be those that are surprising, especially those with cascading effects or long legacies (both of which often lead to surprises), and those that involve complex social-ecological interaction. These might include: melting permafrost, which will lead to hydrologic changes as well as increased release of C to the atmosphere; ice free arctic shipping, which will bring massive ecological change to the arctic (through development, invasive species, fishing, etc.); the increased proportion of native people in our population, which might lead to changes in treaties and in environmental governance; over-fertilization of agricultural soils, which will have impacts on freshwater systems for decades, if not centuries. Since, by definition, we cannot prepare for any particular surprise, I offer my best guidance on how to prepare for surprises in general. (1) Be fast on our feet. We need to have the flexibility to respond quickly to a variety of situations. We can generate this flexibility. through nested networks of action. (2) Be prepared. Of course, we can't prepare for any one event, but we spend some time imagining cascading surprises, how we could respond effectively, and what might get in the way. This will help, even if the surprise that happens isn't the one we imagined. (3) Be educated. A population that is science literate and cares about science can go a long way toward better environmental decision-making.
Dr. Bill Freedman, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, is an ecologist and environmental scientist and has taught at Dalhousie since 1979. The conceptual framework of his research and writing is the influence of environmental stressors on biodiversity and other structural and functional attributes of ecosystems. Bill’s research has examined the environmental effects of a wide range of industrial activities, particularly forestry practices, but also acidification, eutrophication, metals, pesticides, and sulphur dioxide. Other interests include carbon storage in ecosystems, urban ecology, arctic ecology, the biodiversity of Sable Island, the design of environmental monitoring programs, and ecologically sustainable systems of resource harvesting. More than one hundred refereed publications in journals have resulted from this work, plus several hundred book and encyclopaedia chapters, research reports, and other documents. Bill is also engaged in developing curriculum materials in support of higher education, and as part of that work he has written several textbooks: Environmental Ecology (2nd ed, 1995; Academic Press), Environmental Science; A Canadian Perspective (5th ed, 2010; Pearson Canada), and Ecology: a Canadian Context (1st ed, 2010; Nelson Canada). Bill served on the national Board of Directors of the Nature Conservancy of Canada from 1992 through 2010, was the Chair of that Board in 2007-2009, is still on the Atlantic Regional Board, and published A History of the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2013 (Oxford Canada). In 2006, Bill received a Canadian Environment Award, Gold Medal Level, in the category of Community Awards for Conservation, from the Canadian Geographic Society. In 2007, he received a Career Achievement Award from the Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs. Bill is an enthusiastic naturalist and traveller, and loves to spend time in wild places.
Canada and Ecological Sustainability
An ecologically sustainable Canadian economy would have the following major attributes: (1) it would be stable and ultimately based on the prudent use of renewable natural resources so that potentially it could run forever, even while (2) natural heritage and environmental services are maintained at viable levels of abundance. However, the development of the Canadian economy is posing large challenges to this vision of sustainability. For one thing, the economy is still rapidly growing, which is a dynamic that cannot be sustained forever. The population has recently been increasing at about 1% per year, which could result in a doubling to about 70 million in 70 years, with 85-90% of the people living in urban areas. In addition, much of the recent economy has been based on an aggressive extraction and depletion of non-renewable resources, and most of the commercial energy supply is based on non-renewable fossil-fuel and nuclear sources. Although agriculture, forestry, and fishing are potentially sustainable activities, in actual fact they are causing extensive degradations of their resource base and capacity for renewal. Finally, much of the natural heritage of Canada is threatened because of losses or endangerment of indigenous species, natural ecosystems, and wilderness values. Nevertheless, if the popular and political will can be mobilized to do so, these challenges can be addressed through a process of ecologically sustainable development. Key aspects of that process will be rapid shifts to much greater reliance on renewable sources of energy and materials instead of non-renewable ones, the implementation of sustainable management practices on “working” landscapes and seascapes that are directly serving the human economy, and the designation of a comprehensive system of protected areas to accommodate the needs of biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
Jean-Sébastien Landry is a PhD candidate in the Depart of Geography, McGill. He obtained both his B.Sc. in physics and M.Env. in environmental management from Université de Sherbrooke. During his undergraduate studies, he performed theoretical research on high-temperature superconductivity. After completing his graduate degree, he co-founded a consulting firm in environmental management, for which he acted as the Director of Technical Services, Finance, and Human Resources. Subsequently, he worked as a Policy Analyst with the Canadian Forest Service, in which he helped developed the National Forest Pest Strategy, and then as an Economist with Environment Canada, where he evaluated the socioeconomic benefits of improved air quality. For his doctoral research, he uses process-based modelling to study the interactions between climate, vegetation, and disturbance (fire, insects, and logging) in the Canadian boreal forest.
Challenges Facing the Canadian Boreal Forest (and For Society Relying Upon It...)
The boreal forest covers a large fraction of Canada’s landmass and is present in most provinces and territories. This ecosystem provides various goods and services, including timber supply, carbon storage, water cycling, habitat for wild plants and animals, and recreational opportunities. Changes in temperature and precipitation regimes across the country will likely modify the occurrence and intensity of drought, fire, and insect outbreaks. The resulting impacts are difficult to forecast with confidence, especially when considering the interactions among multiple stressors. Could drought and defoliators transform vast tracks of the southern boreal forest into prairies? Will the mountain pine beetle damage the boreal forest as severely as it has affected the non-boreal forests of British Columbia over the last decade? Do insect-killed forest stands show a substantially higher risk of fire? We cannot definitively answer these and similar questions about the serious threats facing the Canadian boreal forest. Yet we have reasons to believe that the ecosystem is unlikely to collapse over the coming years. What appears more at risk in the short term is the capacity for the Canadian society—from resource-dependent small communities to major corporations—to rely upon the boreal forest to keep providing the same level of goods and services, in all places and at all times.
Dr. Damon Matthews is Associate Professor and Concordia University Research Chair in the Department of Geography Planning and Environment. He obtained a B.Sc. in Environmental Science from Simon Fraser University in 1999, and a Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences from the University of Victoria in 2004. Prior to joining Concordia University in January 2007, he held a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary, and worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford. Dr. Matthews currently teaches courses on the climate system, climate change and environmental modelling at Concordia University. His research is aimed at better understanding the many possible interactions between human activities, natural ecosystems and future climate change, and contributing to the scientific knowledge base required to promote the development of sound national and international climate policy. Dr. Matthews holds several current research grants for projects to investigate the uncertainties associated with current sinks and sources of greenhouse gases in the context of expected future climate changes. He has published a number of research papers in the area of global climate modelling, with particular emphasis on the role of the global carbon cycle in the climate system, estimating allowable emissions for climate stabilization, and understanding our commitment to long-term climate warming. Dr. Matthews was a recent member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "Committee on Stabilization Targets for Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentrations," and was a contributing author to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Anticipated Global Climate Changes and Impacts for Canada
Continued human greenhouse gas emissions are expected to lead to increasing global temperatures, as well as changes in precipitation and other climatic conditions, for the foreseeable future. Given our Northern continental location, Canada is expected to experiences larger changes than the rest of the world. These anticipated climate changes will have a profound impact on our experience of Canadian climate -- from changing patterns of weather and weather extremes, to warmer winters and consequent deterioration of outdoor skating conditions. Additionally, the imperative of decarbonizing our economy will carry both costs and opportunities as we are forced to move away from fossil fuel energy resources and develop the potential of renewable energy sources. In this talk, I will give an overview of what global warming means for Canada, what we have to do to slow and ultimately stop this warming trend, and how a changing climate might affect the environments we live in.
Dr. Navin Ramankutty is an Associate Professor of Geography at McGill and Canada Research Chair in Land Use and Global Environmental Change. His research program aims to understand how humans use and modify the Earth’s land surface for agriculture and the implications for the global environment. Using global Earth observations, numerical ecosystem models, and some targeted field work, he aims to find solutions to the problem of feeding humanity with minimal global environmental footprint.
The Future of Agriculture in Canada
The Prairie Provinces are the Grain Belt of Canada today, but they are predicted to become drier with climate change. At the same time, climate warming is predicted to make some northern regions more suitable for cultivation. What are the constraints and drivers that will govern potential shifts in agricultural land use in Canada in a changed climate? While climate change modifies the constraints on cultivation, actual production shifts will be influenced by the changing demand for agricultural products, and other competition for land. How are these likely to change? What are the potential stabilizing forces and destabilizing positive feedback in the system? These are some of the questions I hope to address in my talk.
Dr. Boris Worm is a marine biologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He received his Ph.D. in biological oceanography from the University of Kiel. His research interests focus on the ecosystem effects of fishing, associated changes in marine biodiversity, and the conservation of marine ecosystems on a regional and global scale. Large predators are of particular interest to him, particularly tuna, billfish and sharks, which support valuable fisheries and play an important role in the functioning of marine ecosystems. Dr. Worm has authored or coauthored more than 70 research papers on these subjects, many of them published in top-ranking international science journals. His research has been featured numerous times in media outlets worldwide, including CNN, BBC, CBC, The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Globe and Mail, among others, and he has been invited to present these findings to policy makers in the United States and Canada. Dr. Worm has received numerous national and international awards, most recently an 2011 E.W.R. Steacie Award from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and a 2011 Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America.
Current and Future Environmental Challenges for Canada’s Oceans
Canada is an extraordinary maritime nation, boasting the longest coastline in the world, and access to three oceans. Commercial fishing is currently having the largest impacts on these ocean ecosystems, with rapidly expanding impacts in the Arctic, and stable or declining impacts in the Atlantic and Pacific. Key challenges here are the absence of rebuilding plans for depleted species, and the unresolved problems with incidental bycatch of sensitive species, such as sharks and rays. Impacts from waste disposal, particularly sewage, are likely declining due to improved treatment, but impacts associated with offshore oil and gas are increasing due to an ongoing expansion in industrial activity. An emerging threat is the pollution with macro- and microplastics, yet little is known about their ecosystem impacts. Climate change is another emerging threat, which is already leading to large ecosystem changes in the Arctic Ocean, and is likely impacting productivity of all the North Atlantic and Pacific negatively. Increasing ocean acidification is causing severe problems in the North Pacific, which will only intensify in the future. A key challenge lies in addressing the cumulative impacts of these varied environmental challenges. This is exacerbated by the ongoing dismantling of Canada’s ocean monitoring capacity.
Dr. Norman Yan’s long-term goal is to understand the separate and interactive impacts of multiple environmental stressors on Canadian lakes, particularly on their animal plankton. Yan completed his MSc and PHD research on the effects of acid rain on phytoplankton, and the regulation of toxic metal accumulation in zooplankton. After working for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) for 25 years, he joined York University in 2000, and he now splits his time between the MOE’s Dorset Environmental Science Centre and York University. Yan’s current main areas of research are: 1) determining the impacts on lake ecosystems of invading predators, and changes in the climate, metals, acidity, lake water calcium and nutrients; and 2) quantifying the regulators of recovery of lakes from past acidification and metal pollution. Yan has co-authored over 200 publications, a body of work that has been acknowledged with both provincial and national awards for excellence in applied and basic research on lakes. He was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada in 2012.
Emerging issues for northern lakes: The increasing threat of multiple stressors at a time of reduced oversight in Canada
This is a time of unprecedented rates of change in the physics, chemistry and biology of Ontario’s inland lakes. Their waters are warming and ice-free seasons are lengthening. Acidity, calcium and phosphorus levels are falling, while dissolved organic carbon and road salt levels are rising, and invading alien species are spreading across the landscape. Using animal plankton as a model community, I will show that many of these stressors interact, eg. falling phosphorus levels increase vulnerability to rising road salt, and falling calcium increase vulnerability to predators. There is growing threat of regime shifts, eg replacement of calcareous by jelly-clad taxa, providing a new threat to water supplies. Over the next 25 years, the pace of ecological change may well increase as thresholds are breached. As waters warm, the biota of small and shallow lakes will be most at risk, given their lack of cold-water refuges. Nutritional support for food webs may well suffer as seston C:P ratios rise and concentrations of essential long-chain fatty acids fall. Rising human populations will elevate inputs of salt and pharmaceuticals in lakes, while Ca levels continue to fall, because of logging/afforestation cycles and changes in acid deposition. Given the widespread and complex nature of the potential changes, it is unfortunate that the Canadian government has chosen this time to reduce its research and monitoring of the state of and threats to Canada’s lakes, while the Ontario government is again under threat of resource cuts.