Who are you and what do you do?
I am a professor in the Department of Zoology at UBC.
Through my research, I strive to understand the mechanisms animals use to cope with environmental stressors, such as those associated with climate change and habitat alteration. Most of my work focuses on fish, and I am particularly interested in understanding the causes and consequences of variation among individuals in the response to temperature change. I seek to answer questions such as: Why are some individuals resilient to environmental challenges such as increasing temperatures, while other individuals struggle? By answering these questions, I hope to be able to help sustain healthy fish populations in natural environments for years to come.
When did you begin working at UBC?
I first came to UBC back in the 1980s as an undergraduate student and then left to pursue further education. I returned to UBC in 2001 as an assistant professor.
What motivates you personally to undertake your research?
I was initially motivated to become a scientist by a need to understand the way the world works. I like solving puzzles, and science is one of the greatest puzzles of all. My specific research questions also have important practical implications for helping to predict how fish will respond to climate change, and this is also a strong motivating factor for my work. As the impacts of climate change and habitat destruction become ever clearer, I hope that my work will help provide ways to preserve and sustain fish populations into the future.
When did you know you were going to focus on this area? What was your "aha!" moment?
I think it would be more accurate to say that my scientific career has been a whole series of “aha” moments. As an undergraduate, I was introduced to the field of animal physiology (the study of how animals work), and I became fascinated with the adaptations that allow animals to live in different environments. At the same time, scientists were starting to be able to sequence genes, and I wanted to solve the puzzle of how the instructions written in the genetic code of each individual allow an animal to function in complex natural environments. As a master’s student, I studied the mechanisms fish such as salmon use to perform the extreme athletic feats that allow them to migrate upstream to spawn. During my experiments, I noticed how much difference there was between individuals. Some were very athletic, but others were not nearly as impressive. I started to wonder what kinds of things might be causing these differences, and this general question has been motivating my research ever since.
What is the ultimate goal of your research program?
The ultimate goal of my research program is to understand the mechanisms that fish use to cope with environmental change, and how these mechanisms vary among individuals and populations, with the aim of being able to predict which fish populations are likely to be the most affected as our climate changes.
How does your work with animals advance the research you are doing?
I work with fish in order to characterize their ability to cope with environmental change. This allows me to identify how genetic variation and environmental variation come together to shape the responses of these animals to environmental change.
Why is the use of animals necessary in your research?
My research focuses on the animals themselves, and would not be possible without using animals in an experimental setting.
Outside of your research, if I want to engage you in conversation, what should I ask you about?
I am interested in many things outside of my research. I’m always happy to talk about politics and about environmental issues. I am also a very active classical singer both in choirs and as a soloist, so I love to chat about classical music, especially vocal music. I am also very interested in undergraduate education, and have done substantial work on ways to improve undergraduate teaching in the sciences, and I love to have conversations about this and gain good ideas from others who care about science education.
Research involving animals can be an emotive topic. What do you say to people who are unsure how to feel about it?
I think the most important thing to remember about research involving animals is that it is never undertaken frivolously and researchers work hard to maintain the health and welfare of the animals under their care, and to minimize the use of animals wherever possible. But research involving animals can help us address really important questions and to develop solutions to many of the problems that plague the modern world.