office: (519) 661-2111 x 88317
lab: (519) 661-2111 x 88316
My lab’s research focuses on the many dimensions of predator-induced fear, from population- and ecosystem-level consequences, to impacts on health and development, and gene expression in the brain. A "paradigm shift in ecology" is occurring concerning the preeminent role of predators in affecting everything from ecosystem dynamics to global biodiversity and possibly even human mental disorders. My lab is at the forefront of this paradigm shift. Having demonstrated that fear itself is powerful enough to reduce the birth rate of prey (Science 2011 334:1398), my students and I are now quantifying the total impact of fear on prey population dynamics, by testing if juveniles and adults may ‘die of fright’, using song sparrows as our model prey. To explore the ecosystem-level effects of fear we are testing if the loss of fear in smaller (“meso”) predators (e.g. raccoons) after the extirpation of apex predators (e.g. wolves), helps explain the devastating impacts of “mesopredator release” on biodiversity. Fear favours escape vs. endurance and so may reduce migratory flight ability in birds, which may in turn have adverse “carry-over” effects on reproduction. We are uniquely able to test this thanks to the existence at Western of both a one-of-a-kind wind tunnel and native bird breeding facility. Predator-induced fear has become one of the most common stressors used in lab animal studies of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), prompting some biomedical researchers to propose that PTSD evolved as a response to predators. To help validate this we are testing for the same lasting effects of fear on neural circuitry, in wild birds and mammals, both in captivity and in the field.