This Week in Research: The renewal of Dr. Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde’s Canada Research Chair, Tier II in Applied Evolutionary Ecology.
A leader in the field of behavioural evolutionary ecology, Dr. Schulte-Hostedde spoke to us about his position as Canada Research Chair Tier II in Applied Evolutionary Ecology, and provided details about his current projects. Dr. Schulte-Hostedde has held the CRC in Applied Evolutionary Ecology since 2011, and since then he has established the Centre for Evolutionary Ecology and Ethical Conservation (CEEEC – see http://ceeec.ca) with colleagues in Biology and Philosophy (including CRC Crozier). In addition, he developed collaborative relationships with the Toronto Zoo, which culminated in the awarding of the NSERC CREATE grant, ReNewZoo. This graduate training program incorporates researchers from Laurentian and 5 other Canadian universities as well as 5 research-intensive zoos and aquariums from across Canada. His research interests range from sexual selection and host-parasite interactions to the effects of human activities on the stress ecology of wildlife and the evolutionary ecology of captive populations.
- What is the function of a Research Chair, and how did you come into the role?
The Canada Research Chair is meant to provide a focus for the university’s strategic research plan, and to provide leadership for research on campus. This ultimately will boost the reputation for our programs, and increase research productivity. Laurentian in particular has a strong emphasis on the environment and conservation. My job is to conduct research that will enhance the universities’ recognition .in these areas.
- How does having Canada Research Chairs at Laurentian help build institutional capacity and research intensity? Give examples for your own experience.
The Canada Research Chair is directly responsible for the creation of CEEEC. The resources provided, including financial resources and time (in the form of teaching release) definitely have provided the kind of environment where this kind of interdisciplinary research group can form. Our success in terms of events, public outreach and research grants is directly related to the support of the CRC program.
- What are your areas of expertise and what research have you done thus far?
My research began with answering very basic questions, for example aspects of sexual selection in mammals, looking at quantifying natural selection in the wild, working on host/parasite interactions, but that all led me to applied questions of conservation interest, and that was the motivation behind my appointment as research chair. Essentially applying the principals of evolutionary ecology to conservation efforts, and public health matters. For example, I work on a project with the Ministry of Natural Resources, looking at the consequences of mink escaping from mink farms, and the effects they have on wild mink populations. This is part of a longstanding partnership with the government supported by the Chair. We also are taking a look at zoo’s and their methods of conservation, and research, particularly the Toronto Zoo. We also are working on a zoonotic bacterium that causes a disease called Q-fever in humans and is found in goat and sheep farms. We discovered this bacterium in wildlife, and so we are interested in how this beacterium jumps from the natural environment to the agricultural environment. All of our research is highly collaborative – the questions we ask often need various technical expertise that we need help with.
- What interests you the most about the research that you do?
I hate being bored, and my research tends to reflect this. Right now, I enjoy applying the ideas of evolutionary theory to conservation issues. For example, realizing that captive populations of zoo animals are evolving in a way that leads to inadvertent domestication is fascinating to me. The ways that human activities alter the patterns of reproduction and survival (Darwinian fitness) of wildlife is also very interesting. How do humans affect the evolution of wildlife? These are interesting issues and questions that I enjoy working on.
- Tells about your plans for your second term of your CRC appointment:
The first term of my CRC accomplished a few things – the formation of CEEEC, the development of the relationship with the Toronto Zoo that led to the CREATE grant, for example. This term, I hope that CEEEC will become even more involved with the university’s research mandate, and that we will lead the integration of ethics/philosophy with conservation on the national stage. We need to roll out the NSERC CREATE grant program, ReNewZoo and ensure that is running well. I also need to expand my work on questions related to resource extraction and urbanization, and their effects on the evolutionary ecology of wildlife.
- The NSERC CREATE Grant, how will this help you bring your research further?
The CREATE grant program is designed to facilitate the training of graduate students, and provides funding to enhance the graduate student experience. In this instance it is a partnership with a half dozen other universities, five zoos and aquariums across the country, in a program called RenewZoo. ReNewZoo has many academic partners, and these partners will be supervising the graduate students in the program. My own research goals will be furthered insofar as I will supervise some of the students in ReNewZoo, but point of the program is not so much to move my research interests forward, rather it is to train graduate students to become conservation professionals that can enhance the conservation work that zoos and aquariums already do. With 10 other researchers as part of the grant, there are lots of research directions to be explored.