Balancing Human Needs and Ecosystem Services with Biodiversity Conservation
One of the greatest challenges faced by conservation biologists is how to balance the human consumption of resources and services, especially in agriculture, with our need to conserve the environment and the wildlife within it. The agroecosystem is a dominant provider of ecosystem services, those that humans need for survival, and an important economic driver of Canada. As human appetite grows, and the use of agricultural land intensifies, we in turn lose our ability to conserve green spaces, biodiversity, and threatened species in the landscape.
My postdoctoral research explores and contrasts two approaches to land use planning in agroecosystems, land sharing and land sparing. Land sparing proponents speculate that greater biodiversity may be conserved by concentrating more intensive agriculture in a smaller land area, while supporters of land sharing suggest that an agricultural mosaic of less intensive agriculture mixed with more natural ecosystems has greater potential to contribute valuable habitat if well-managed. My research in southern Québec and Ontario will be uniquely suited to test the biodiversity and ecosystem service outcomes of these two approaches across political and social borders in a landscape with a long history of human-driven change. I feel very lucky to be involved with both the Kerr lab at the University of Ottawa and Bennett lab at McGill University for this project, funded by a Posdoctoral Fellowship (B3) from the Fond de Recherche du Québec Nature et Technologies.
Threatened Species in Novel Ecosystems
A rapidly changing world is a challenge that many animals must face, along with the ability to recognize and adaptively react to the changes. As conservation biologists, we must be able to recognize when and how animal populations are declining and properly address the situation to find solutions. This means we must try to 'see' the world as animals see it.
During my PhD at McGill University in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, my goal was to 'see' the world as a Red-headed Woodpecker, a threatened Canadian bird species. Working with Dr. Jim Fyles from McGill and Dr. Joe Nocera from Trent University, I explored why this once common, widespread species was disappearing across its range. I found that Red-headed Woodpeckers were stuck in an ecological trap, where individuals appeared to 'choose' nesting sites that they were more likely to do worse in. These maladaptive habitat choices were occurring at both small and large scales across the landscape of southern Ontario. I showed that competition with the invasive European Starling was by far the largest threat facing Red-headed Woodpeckers from successfully breeding, due to starling takeovers of the nests early on in the breeding season. Other factors, such as low reproductive output by the species, may also attribute to the population declines in the province.