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Boreal Ecology PHD

Admission Procedures:

Applicants must possess a GPA of at least a B (3.0) and a M.Sc. degree from a Canadian or recognized international institution by the intended start date of the Ph.D. program.


Step 1

The student contacts the Department, Graduate Coordinator (currently Dr. J. Gunn, or an individual faculty member about the possibility of joining the Ph.D. Program. If they contact the Department or Graduate Coordinator, they are encouraged to carefully examine faculty member’s research profiles. Contacting a faculty member directly leads to discussions on potential thesis topics, availability of funding and an opportunity to explain the Laurentian University programs.


Step 2

Once the student indicates a desire to apply, they are requested to go directly to Laurentian University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies on-line application site and apply on-line.


Step 3

As well as the general application materials specified by Graduate Studies, students must obtain 3 letters of reference, provide a C.V. or resume, and compose a 2p (max) statement of interest that outlines their research interests as well as fit with their intended supervisor and the Boreal Ecology PhD program. Once the Admissions Office receives this information and the application is deemed complete, it is sent electronically to the Department, which then forwards the dossier to the potential supervisor.


Step 4

The potential supervisor gives a copy of the application and completed Admission Form to the Graduate Coordinator who forwards it to the Ph.D. oversight committee for their consideration. At this stage an in-person or videoconference interview with the committee is usually required to seek approval. Once the oversight/acceptance committee deems the applicant acceptable and confirms that financial and other research support is in place through the potential supervisor the Graduate Coordinator signs the form and submits it to the Graduate Studies Office. Graduate Studies checks the dossier and if satisfactory, they accept it and the Office of Admissions sends the student an offer letter.

The Ph.D. Program requires that students take the mandatory seminar-based course (BIOL-6056EL – Doctorial Seminars) and thesis (BIOL-6000EL – Doctoral Thesis) plus 2 additional 3-credit courses for the Ph.D. degree with consultation from the Research Advisory Committee.

For the Ph.D. degree, either a “standard thesis” or a “chapter thesis” format will be acceptable (BIOL-6000EL – Doctoral Thesis). Typically a thesis by chapter format contains chapters that represent at least three potential refereed publications on completion. In this format, the thesis must also contain a separate General Introduction and Summary covering the entire project.


All Ph.D. students will be required to take the course BIOL-6056EL – Doctorial Seminars a course designed to assist students in preparing for their comprehensive exam and the academic career that follows. Students will learn how to present an effective seminar, develop a research proposal, write a NSERC Discovery grant or PDF application, and will discuss such topic as intellectual property, ethical research behaviour, authorship rights, etc. and will engage in a mock comprehensive exam.

Every student in the Ph.D. Program in Boreal Ecology will be required to successfully complete a Comprehensive Examination. The examination must take place within the first 18 months of entrance to the Ph.D. Program. Failure to complete the Comprehensive Examination within the required time limit will preclude continuation in the doctoral program, unless there are valid reasons. The purpose of the Comprehensive Examination is to ensure that the student has a solid background in his/her area of expertise, and to ensure that the student’s general knowledge outside the area of his/her thesis is adequate. The Examining Committee will assign a grade of pass or fail. In the case of a failure, the student will be given the opportunity to repeat the Comprehensive Examination; however, a second failure will be grounds for dismissal from the Ph.D. Program.

Outstanding students in the M. Sc. program at Laurentian University with projects that can be expanded into a Ph. D. in the area of Boreal Ecology can apply for a transfer. Such transfers should be considered by only exceptional students who have a high academic standing, and have shown greater than average aptitude for scholarship, designing and undertaking research projects, active participation in the scientific community, and writing. It is expected that applicants will have made presentations (or presented posters) at national meetings in their chosen field and have an acceptable publication record. The time line to request a transfer is 12-18 months from start of the M.Sc.

Students will be required to present a public seminar and subsequently to undergo an in camera oral defence of their thesis. The Ph.D. thesis evaluation procedure will be established for the University through the office of the Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies. However, the general features of this procedure are as follows. The Examination Committee for the Ph.D. degree will be composed of a Chair (non-voting), a minimum of two members of the Research Advisory Committee, an examiner external to the Program, and an examiner external to the university. The Examination Committee will then meet in the absence of the student to discuss his/her performance. The Committee will decide whether the thesis is acceptable for the degree and whether corrections are required before the final approval of the thesis.

Laurentian University in Sudbury is located at the southern apex of Canada’s largest ecozone, the Boreal Shield, a massive U shaped area underlain by ancient Precambrian bedrock. This area, often called the “Canadian Shield”, contains much of Canada’s freshwater, its forestry and mining resources and a rich biodiversity of terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Our Ph.D. signature program in Boreal Ecology takes its inspiration and focus on science issues related to this magnificent landscape, but the scope and breadth of the research studies are not strictly confined to these geographic limits. Instead, Boreal Ecology is defined as the study of all aquatic and terrestrial aspects (genetic, physiological, morphological, behavioral, and ecological) of boreal and associated ecosystems at micro- and macro-habitat scales, with emphasis on stressed systems, impacts of disturbance, restoration, and species sustainability and conservation.

The Ph.D. Program in Boreal Ecology will provide academic and research opportunities for exceptional students and will prepare them for careers in academia, resource-based industries, and environmental enterprises in the private and public sectors.”


This field deals with research associated with freshwater aquatic systems, primarily those of the Boreal Shields and Hudson Plains Ecozones. It builds upon the excellent research records and databases (e.g. >40 years of extensive lake monitoring) developed through the collaborative work of the Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit (CFEU), a partnership between Laurentian University, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (OMOECC), the City of Greater Sudbury, and the mining industry that began in 1989. As Sudbury has in excess of 300 lakes within the city boundaries and Northern Ontario has many thousands of freshwater lakes, rivers and wetlands, the opportunity to specialize in this area is unlimited. Research topics in this focal area include climate change, acid precipitation, metal loading, invasive species, impacts of exploitation, habitat effects from industrial development, etc., and studies of freshwater biotic systems at all trophic levels from prokaryotes to vertebrates. The focus in this field of study has in recent years extended further and further north as climate change alters northern ecosystems and industrial development expands into remote areas, such as the “Ring of Fire” mining region on the edge of the Hudson Bay Lowlands.


This field deals with terrestrial ecosystems, primarily those of the Boreal Shield and Hudson Plains Ecozones. It builds on the research record and databases developed through collaborative work between Laurentian University, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and the forestry, mining, ecotourism, and trapping industries. Some of the research topics in this area include the sustainability of woodland caribou populations, impacts of forestry practices on stream ecosystems, reintroduction of elk into Ontario, ecology of parasites in boreal mammals, genetic distribution of fauna and flora, ecology of insects associated with shrubs and trees, and the impact of both natural and anthropogenic disturbances on boreal ecosystems, and studies on the impact of climate change on terrestrial floristic and faunal communities.


This field focuses on natural and disturbed ecosystems within the Boreal Shield and the Hudson Plains Ecosystems. It builds on the internationally-recognized research that spearheaded regreening of the Sudbury region, through collaboration by Laurentian University, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the City of Greater Sudbury, and the mining industry. As Northern Ontario provides access to many mining sites and stressed ecosystems, there are unique opportunities for those specializing in this field. Research in this focal area includes studies on acid mine drainage, radionuclide contamination, impacts of toxic trace metals, soil microbiology, revegetation and recolonization of damaged industrial lands, identification of acid/metal tolerant species, conservation of vertebrates and invertebrates in aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and the modelling of recovery and other system dynamics. This focal area recently has been greatly strengthened and extended beyond the study of rehabilitation, with more emphasis on conservation and protection of habitats and species through the recent establishment of a the Centre for Evolutional Ecology and Ethical Conservation ( CEEEC) at Laurentian University.

BIOL-6000El – Doctoral Thesis
BIOL-6056EL – Doctoral Seminars

Optional Graduate Courses
Graduate courses at the 5000 and 6000 levels currently available in the Department of Biology, Chemistry/Biochemistry, and Earth Sciences can be taken by Ph.D. students, with agreement from the Supervisor, Research Advisory Committee and Graduate Coordinator.

BIOL 5017 E – Population Genetics
BIOL 5026 E – Advanced Microbiology I
BIOL 5027 E – Advanced Microbiology II
BIOL 5066 E – Selected Topics in Evolutionary Biology I
BIOL 5067 E – Selected Topics in Evolutionary Biology II
BIOL 5086 E – Topics in Community Ecology
BIOL 5106 E – Experimental Design and Methods of Analysis
BIOL 5316 E – Ecophysiology of Plant Stress
BIOL 5376 E – Ecological Aspects of Land Reclamation Practice
BIOL 5387 E – Selected Topics in Soil Biology and Soil-Plant Relationships
BIOL 5396 E – Ecology of Ecosystems Disturbed by Humans
BIOL 5727 E – Advanced Entomology
BIOL 5747 E – Topics in Behavioural Ecology
BIOL 5747 F – Questions Sur L’écologie Comportementale
BIOL 5766 E – Population Ecology
BIOL 5767 E – Graduate Limnology
BIOL 5786 E – Topics in Animal Physiology
BIOL 5797 E – Advanced Environmental Physiology

Alarie, Y. Ph.D. (University of Montreal).
My research emphasizes the study of larval morphology of water beetles. In regard to systematic studies, data about immature stages are likely to improve adult classifications, since larvae may be considered as a different expression of the same genotype. My research originated in devising a system of nomenclature of larval chaetotaxy and porotaxy which led to a reconsideration of the phylogenetic relationships within some members of the family Dytiscidae. I intend to extend this system to the study of other water beetle families.

Bailey, J. Ph.D. (University of Western Ontario).
My research interests are focused on bioassessment and biomonitoring of aquatic systems in northern Ontario exposed to and recovering from multiple stressors. Current research includes: i) comparison of the rate and nature of recovery of lakes contaminated by mine tailings with lakes contaminated by atmospheric deposition; ii) evaluation and improvement of statistical methods used for development of benthic invertebrate bioassessment models; iii) examination of the spatial and temporal application of GIS-derived landscape-scale data for aquatic bioassessments; iv) the determination of biotic indicators of low-level effects of stressors, including invertebrate community structure changes and sub-lethal effects on invertebrate individuals; and v) examination of cumulative effects of multiple stressors on lake and stream benthic invertebrate community structure.

Basiliko, N. Ph.D. (McGill University).
My work explores the microbial role in wetland and forest biogeochemistry. In particular I focus on microbial responses to human-induced environmental changes that have consequences for greenhouse gas fluxes, nutrient, pollutant, and carbon dynamics, as well as broader ecosystem sustainability. Most of my current research projects are in applied settings (e.g. in managed forests) with important private sector and governmental research partners. However I have also an interest in exploring more general controls on microbial diversity in soils, links between diversity and activity, and am interested in how different soil microbial communities transform plant tissues into soil organic matter and then subsequently decompose this organic matter to mineral products, including greenhouse gases. Field research sites span the north temperate (Great Lakes St Lawrence Forest) and boreal forests of eastern and central Canada and peatlands (globally important carbon-accumulating wetlands with organic soils) across Canada and the USA.

Belzile, N. Ph.D. (University of Quebec, Rimouski).
My main research interests are focused on the biogeochemical behaviour of toxic trace elements such as antimony, arsenic, mercury, selenium and tellurium in natural systems. It involves the development of analytical techniques for the analysis and speciation of environmental samples for studying the cycling of those trace elements and their bioavailability in stressed aquatic systems. I am also working on the reactivity of sulfidic mine tailings and the revalorization of mine wastes and recovery of valuable metals.

Campbell, D. Ph.D. (Université Laval, QC).
I have broad research interests in ecology and environmental science, but they generally converge towards 1) the restoration of degraded ecosystems and 2) the ecology of wetlands. Recently, I have focused on the rehabilitation of lands and wetlands disturbed by mining in northern Ontario.

Gunn, J. Ph.D. (University of Guelph).
My research focuses on understanding the processes by which severely damaged lakes and stream ecosystems repair themselves, and how management actions can aid the recovery process in the face of multiple stressors (e.g. climate change, invasive species, urbanization, acidification, metal contamination). Much of our work is concentrated in the Sudbury area, home to one of the largest mining complexes on earth, and a UN award winning land reclamation program. Here we are engaged with national and international collaborators to assess the effectiveness of air pollution control programs and in novel land management practices, tracing through laboratory and in-situ experiments, and long term monitoring studies (30 years +), the benefits of environmental improvements to whole aquatic ecosystems through studies of water chemistry, microbes, invertebrates and fish. Recently we have also begun extensive studies (including Hg studies) and pre-disturbance biodiversity assessments in the watersheds of the Far North of Ontario (includes Hudson Bay Lowlands) to aid in the protection of this globally significant area in the face of rapid climate changes and industrial development.

Hamr, J. Ph.D. (Innsbruck University, Austria).
Dr. Hamr is a professor in the School of Engineering Technology and Environmental Studies at Cambrian College and is the longest serving Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biology at Laurentian. He conducts wildlife research on deer, black bear and wild turkey and is keenly interested in the restoration of elk in Ontario.

Johnston, T. Ph.D. (University of Manitoba).
I am a fish ecologist with the Aquatic Research Section of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and an Adjunct Professor in the Biology Department at Laurentian University.
My primary research interests are in the reproductive and trophic ecologies of fishes in the boreal shield region of northern Ontario. Current research projects in my lab are examining i) the role of maternal effects in shaping egg and offspring quality, ii) the factors driving phenotypic divergence and evolution of life history strategies in fishes, iii) the ecology of burbot in boreal lakes, iv) spatial and temporal patterns of mercury bioaccumulation in fishes, v) effects of water clarity on the trophic niches of smallmouth bass and walleye, and vi) how the choice of sampling gear may influence the interpretation of fish community survey data.

Lesbarrères, D. Ph.D. (University of Angers, France).
In the broadest sense, I am interested in theoretical and applied questions about the evolution and ecology of amphibian populations and communities. For the past 6 years my research program centered on population genetics in human dominated landscapes, focusing on gene flow interruption and its consequences for amphibian populations. Part of this research also investigated the fitness consequences of phenotypic and genetic variation. My work integrates intense field work coupled with molecular approaches (microsatellite DNA markers) for the analysis of parentage and population genetics, and laboratory experiment to estimate measures of fitness. Future work will investigate factors – such as habitat fragmentation by roads – that influence genetic variability by exploring the relationships between road density, population size fluctuations, gene flow reduction and population isolation. In particular, my ongoing research will address broad issues such as adaptation to changing environmental conditions in order to improve our understanding of the global amphibian population decline.

Litzgus, J. Ph.D. (University of South Carolina, USA).
My research program combines field and lab-based approaches, and basic and applied science. Projects in my lab address questions in the areas of evolutionary ecology and conservation biology of reptiles, including examination of the adaptive significance of life history variation at geographic extremes (e.g., at northern range limits), and the application of these data to the design of conservation plans. Recent and current research examined/examines variation in the life history and ecology of federally-listed turtle and snake species, with emphasis on maternal investment, spatial ecology, road ecology, and habitat selection. The physiological research examines questions about the adaptive bioenergetic, fitness, and thermoregulatory consequences of certain behaviours, particularly summer and winter dormancy, in reptiles.

Mallory, F.F. Ph.D. (University of Guelph).
Behaviour and predator/prey relationships of mammals in boreal and arctic terrestrial ecosystems; study animals include wolves, arctic fox, lynx, marten, caribou, white-tailed deer and lemmings; marine mammals studied are beluga whales and seals. This program is heavily oriented towards field work and the establishment of data sets.

Martinez, M. Ph.D. (Université Laval, QC).
My research interests focus fundamentally on animal physiology, and specifically on individual variation of physiological traits and adaptive mechanisms by which animals survive in changing environments. I prefer to combine physiological, biochemical, behavioural and ecological data in order to examine how energetic metabolism in animals is affected when abiotic or biotic factors in their environments change. I work mostly with fish, but I am equally interested in vertebrates in general. My recent interests include the physiology of locomotion in fish and their response to food availability and hypoxia at different stages of development.

Merritt, T. Ph.D. (University of South Carolina, U.S.A.).
Determining the rules that govern the connection between genotype and phenotype is a fundamental challenge in this “post-genomic” era of modern genetics. By addressing control on a network-wide basis, one can elucidate interactions and interconnections that would not be apparent in individual gene-by-gene examinations. Metabolic pathways, with their intrinsic interactions among multiple enzymes and metabolites, are excellent systems for the study of the control of genetic networks. Research in my laboratory reaches across the fields of bioinformatics, biochemistry, and population and evolutionary genetics and uses an experimental approach to investigate the evolution and metabolic control of the enzymes that reduce nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP) using wild and engineered lines of Drosophila melanogaster and other Drosophila species.

Mykytzcuk, N. Ph.D. (Laurentian University).
My research interests combine aspects of microbiology, molecular biology, and environmental science with an emphasis on extreme and disturbed habitats and ecosystems. The microbial communities that occupy such sites harbour a range of physiological and biochemical characteristics useful for understanding the limits to life, biogeochemical processes in the environment, and in uncovering special metabolic properties with important applications in biotechnology and industry. Within the context of extreme environments my work includes looking at microbial adaptation mechanisms both in terms of individual species and functional metagenomics/metaproteomics analyses of communities and their roles in these environments.

Nkongolo, K. Ph.D. (Université Laval, QC).
Environmental Genetics: Genetic and physiological adaptations of plants to soil metal contamination in Northern Ontario; Monitoring land reclamation in the Greater Sudbury region using molecular markers.
Conifer genome: Molecular evolution, genome mapping and organization in Pinaceae.

Omri, A. Ph.D. (Université à Montréal, QC).
My research program is centered on the design, formulation, development and characterization of drug and vaccine delivery systems; particularly those based on liposomes. A special focus on the site-specific targeting, controlled release, drug resistance, pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, metabolism and toxicity of free and liposome-encapsulated biological active agents. Current research interests include: 1. Liposomal delivery of antisense oligonucleotides, 2. Liposomal delivery of antimicrobial agents towards resistant bacterial pathogens: pulmonary and systemic infections, 3. Liposomal formulations of drugs and vaccine for oral delivery.

Ramcharan, C. Ph.D. (University of Toronto).
My research focus is the food webs of freshwater lakes. This includes everything from algae to fish. Mostly, I study the recovery of Sudbury-area lakes from long-term industrial damage. It’s a fascinating area to work in because the lake food webs are all damaged but in very different ways. I also do a lot of work on cyanobacteria (bluegreen algae) and exotic invaders such as Eurasian milfoil. Recently, I have started to work on river ecosystems and I also have a climate change project with research on Baffin Island in Canada’s high arctic.

Ryser, P. Ph.D. (ETH, Zurich).
Plant functional traits which determine the performance of plants in different environments, and the consequences of these traits at population, at community and at ecosystem levels. The focus of my studies lies in turnover characteristics, i.e. on the one hand growth rate and resource acquisition, and on the other hand organ life-span and resource conservation.

Saleh, M. Ph.D. (University of Toronto).
My main research interest is protein secretion in prokaryotes. These systems, primarily the general or Sec-dependent system, are crucial for the survival of all prokaryotes. They function at the interface between the cell and the environment. They are required to assemble and maintain extracytoplasmic structures and allow the cell to acquire nutrients. In pathogens, whose environments are their hosts, secretion systems contribute to the survival of the pathogen in the host and cause a variety of toxic and immunological reactions by secreting virulence factors.

Schulte-Hostedde, A. Ph.D. (University of Western Ontario).
Evolutionary and behavioural ecology; fitness consequences of phenotypic and genetic variation in vertebrates; population and conservation genetics as it relates to gene flow, inbreeding and population structure

Spiers, G. Ph.D. (University of Alberta).
Remote environmental monitoring technology development; environmental chemistry; stressed ecosystem rehabilitation and aquatic system quality control.