Dr Brent Sinclair
Insect Low Temperature Biology
Visit Dr Sinclair’s website
Will winter halt invasions?
An alien invasion threatens Canada’s agriculture, forestry and ecosystems, and research conducted in the Department of Biology aims to find out whether winter could be our friend in this battle. The aliens include insects that devour crops and trees, the Zebra and Quagga mussels that have taken over the Great Lakes, and even common birds like European Starlings. Dr Brent Sinclair is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, and his lab focuses on how insects survive cold weather.
Dr Sinclair has had a long interest in insect biology in cold places – he has been to the Antarctic eight times – and one of the key questions in all of these studies is the reason low temperatures affect the distributions of insects. “In an era of climate change” says Sinclair, “it is really important to know how much of species ranges are dependent on temperature, and how these differ between native and introduced species. Currently, most research on insects has focused on their performance in the summer, but most insects in Canada spend more than half their lives hunkered down for winter. Climate change affects winter conditions as well as summer, and we are trying to get a handle on what impact these changes will have.”
One consequence of these changes may be increased success of invasive species that have hitherto been limited by winter conditions. The students and postdocs in Sinclair’s lab group are investigating how temperature limits insects and how those limits may change. They use everything from ‘model organisms’ like fruit flies to simulate climate change effects in the lab, to field studies of butterflies and beetles. Sinclair says that “an important aspect of our approach is that it is integrative – some people work on the molecular mechanisms of low temperature performance, while others worry about patterns of temperature change across Canada.” Sinclair’s group also collaborates with other researchers in Canada, the USA, France, South Africa and New Zealand, giving the research a global reach.
In Ontario, though, one project has immediate relevance: In collaboration with researchers at the University of Waterloo and Canadian Forest Service, Sinclair’s lab is working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to understand how far the Emerald Ash Borer might spread. “The overwintering biology of this species is completely unknown, and we don’t know whether it is able to handle anything the Canadian winter can throw at it, or if its success will change as winters are altered with climate change.” Sinclair hopes that the work will allow a better understanding of the potential winter biology of other new forest pests as well.
As well as his research, Sinclair teaches physiology to 2 nd year students, biology to 1 st year non-scientists and Insect Biology to graduate students. He contributes to winter biology and invasive species teaching in Let’s Talk Science’s ‘Virtual Researcher on Call’ (VROC) programme, whereby students from outlying schools can interact with researchers via internet link.
To read more about about Brent Sinclair's contributions to VROC click here.
To find out more about the Virtual Researcher On Call program, click here.
Check back to this page regularly as we will be highlighting news breaking research/awards by other members of our Biology Department. To find out about other research in our Department please follow the links to individual faculty web sites
This page was last updated on
November 5, 2010
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