Three graduate student positions (MSc, PhD) in population and community ecology, University of Calgary

Program: Biological Sciences

Location: University of Calgary

Start date: Sept. 2021 (preferred; start date flexible)

Stipend: Guaranteed minimum of $23,000/year for 2 years (MSc) or 4 years (PhD). The minimum will be exceeded as permitted by the lab’s funding, and successful pursuit of scholarship and fellowship opportunities.

Supervisor: Dr. Jeremy Fox

I am seeking three graduate students (MSc and/or PhD) interested in addressing broad, fundamental questions in population and community ecology. Research in my lab combines mathematical modeling with experiments in laboratory microcosms and other tractable model systems. Mathematical models are essential for developing testable hypotheses about complicated ecological scenarios. Microcosms of protists and other small-bodied organisms allow controlled, replicated experiments lasting dozens to hundreds of generations. They are ideal both for testing hypotheses about population and community dynamics, and for generating novel dynamics in need of theoretical explanation.

My lab is currently pursuing two main lines of research, but I am open to applications from students interested in pursuing other lines of research as well.

1. Spatial synchrony. Spatially-separated populations of the same species often fluctuate synchronously, even though they’re hundreds or even thousands of km apart. The result is that, across vast areas, all populations increase (or decrease) simultaneously. Coexisting populations of different species also often fluctuate synchronously. Alternative hypotheses to explain spatial synchrony are difficult to test in nature because it’s impossible to do experiments at the right spatial and temporal scales. You can’t, say, manipulate the weather across all of Canada and then wait a century to see what happens to the spatial synchrony of lynx-hare cycles (and even if you could you wouldn’t have a control or any replication…). My lab’s solution is to scale nature down. We manipulate the hypothesized causes of synchrony in microcosms that play by the same basic “rules” that natural populations play by, even though they don’t precisely mimic any particular natural populations. The results complement studies of natural systems. One question of current interest is whether the causes of spatial synchrony differ between species that exhibit cyclic fluctuations in abundance, and those that do not.

2. Higher order interactions and species coexistence. Are ecological communities more than just the sum of their parts? If you knew enough about the population dynamics of each species on its own, and about all the pairwise interspecific interactions, could you predict the population dynamics of every species in the entire community? If not, the community dynamics are driven in part by “higher order” interactions: “emergent” effects that can’t be predicted just from knowledge of single-species and pairwise dynamics. Higher order interactions can arise because of adaptive plasticity–organisms changing their behavior or even morphology in response to the presence of other organisms–and for other reasons. Higher order interactions present a major challenge to our ability to explain and predict community dynamics, but we don’t know much about their prevalence or importance. My lab is developing and testing hypotheses about the circumstances in which higher order interactions matter for community dynamics and species coexistence.

Applications are open until the positions are filled. To apply, send an introductory note to jefox@ucalgary.ca, along with a transcript (unofficial is fine), cv, and contact details for three references. Applications from students of diverse backgrounds and perspectives are welcome and encouraged.