FEATURED FACULTY MEMBER
One of Dr Beth MacDougall-Shackleton’s research interests is the way that philopatry (returning to the breeding grounds where it was hatched) affects the evolutionary success of songbirds. Ironically, philopatry of a sort describes Dr MacDougall-Shackleton’s career: she grew up in Dundas, Ontario, and after spending time studying in the USA has returned to SW Ontario, and to the field site where she had her first research experiences as an undergrad at Queen’s. Looking back, Dr MacDougall-Shackleton recalls how her first summer at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) changed her life: “I’d always been interested in birds, but like many students, studied biology with the intention of going to medical school. It wasn’t until I spent a summer on an NSERC USRA [Undergraduate Student Research Award] that I realised that people actually get paid to study birds for a living!”
Picking up the joys of science (and presumably a pretty mean GPA), Dr MacDougall-Shackleton headed to Princeton to do a PhD with every intention of studying physiology. The lab where she was working provided a lot of intellectual freedom and “somehow I ended up studying evolutionary biology”. Field experiences again come to the fore – this time studying white-crowned sparrows high in the Sierra Nevada (“anything to escape New Jersey” laughs Dr MacDougall-Shackleton), and shaped her move back to Ontario to do a postdoc on old world leaf warblers at McMaster. When she started at Western in 2005, Dr MacDougall-Shackleton also returned to doing her fieldwork at QUBS, and every spring a large contingent of her lab now travel up there to work on song sparrows.
Dr MacDougall-Shackleton’s overall research interest is in understanding how genetic diversity in a population is maintained and shaped by behaviour. Members of her lab often combine field work, song recordings and molecular biology to address questions at the heart of our understanding of animal behaviour. One advantage of the focus on song sparrows at QUBS is that Dr MacDougall-Shackleton’s group have now established a long-term study. They know a lot about each individual song sparrow’s age, song repertoire, breeding history – even which pairs have divorced! This allows the MacDougall-Shackleton lab group to ask much deeper questions, and to look at long-term trends that allow them to investigate broader issues, like the effects of climate change on host-parasite interactions.
Five Questions for Dr MacDougall-Shackleton:
When I was growing up I wanted to be... A veterinarian. But working with animals in the field, in their natural environment, is even better than my five-year-old self would have predicted.
My favorite organism is... the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus). I could watch those things all day!
My first publication was about... mate guarding in Great Crested Flycatchers.
My favorite piece of research was... Dominique Potvin, a recent graduate of my lab, found that birds adjust their amount of parental care based on how similar genetically they are to their mates. This is exciting because it suggests that what we usually think of as a straightforward, genetic ‘heterozygote advantage’ can actually be amplified by parental behaviour.
Biology at Western is... a great place to work hard, think hard and play hard.
FEATURED STAFF MEMBER
When Kim Loney moved to London from Sudbury, ON to study genetics, she may not have realised it was a long term move. After completing an honours degree in Genetics, Kim did a Masters degree with Dr Shiva Singh in the Biology department, and went on to become a research technician in Dr Singh’s lab. After a break to have a child, Kim returned to Biology to take up a position as a teaching technician, where she provides support for two third year laboratory courses, ‘Genomics and Beyond’ and ‘Techniques in Physiology and Biochemistry’.
Although she misses the thrill of new discovery, Kim enjoyed her TA duties as a grad student, and carries that enthusiasm into her current job. “It’s energising being around the students, and helping them to learn”. Kim’s job includes preparing the teaching labs – a fairly straightforward job for genetics, but more challenging for physiology, which uses live plants and moths. “I’m not really a bug type” Kim confesses – she’s usually the one to shout ‘eek!’ when there are spiders in the house. However, when she gets to work “the biologist hat goes on, and I don’t have a problem rearing the moths at all – even the squirmy pupae”.
Kim admits that she does miss research a bit – but says “I love my job so much, only a project I can be really passionate about will get me back to grad school.”
Five Questions for Kim :
When I was growing up, I wanted ... so badly to become an author. I just never thought that it would be in the field of science!
My favourite organism is ... most anything that is soft and furry. That is, excluding the insect variety...no offense to the entomologists!
The strangest thing I’ve seen in this job is ... a female moth come away from a mating episode with the male reproductive organs still attached. A most unfortunate incident for the male moth I think...
When I’m not at work, I also ... spend time with my husband Steve and two sons, Gordon (4 yrs) and Oliver (1 yr). Admittedly, I also watch what might be considered as too much television.
The best thing about being in Biology is ... most definitely the people! But also the knowledge that I belong to the most intellectually fascinating department on campus.
LINKS TO PAST FEATURED FACULTY and STAFF
- Dr. Robert Cumming and Jacqui Griffin
- Dr. Irena Creed
- Dr. Amanda Moehring
- Dr. Brent Sinclair
- Dr. Jack Millar
- Dr. John Wiebe
- Dr. Brent Sinclair
- Dr. Greg Kelly
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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