FEATURED FACULTY: HUGH HENRY
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Dr. Hugh Henry insists that working summers as a tree planter in Northern Ontario had nothing to do with his decision to become a plant ecologist. “I always liked biology, and went through a tropical fish obsession as a child, but I was influenced by a strong plant ecology group at the University of Toronto”, where Dr. Henry was an undergraduate. “Also, when I was done planting trees, I used to lie in my tent and read an old ecology textbook I’d picked up at a thrift store”. Dr. Henry discovered he liked putting concepts together to figure out how ecosystems worked, an approach that was reinforced by work as a field assistant in Churchill, Manitoba, and which he continues to this day. “Really, I’m interested in the role of plants in the ecosystem – but they are also much more convenient to study than animals”. After a Masters at Queen’s on shade tolerance in trees, a PhD at the University of Toronto and a postdoc at Stanford, Ottawa-raised Henry was glad to come back to Ontario to take up a faculty position at Western.
When he arrived at Western, Dr. Henry put together components that he had been thinking about for some time: “when I was a PhD student looking at nitrogen dynamics and grazing by geese in the Arctic, we knew that a lot of important stuff was happening in the winter, but we just couldn’t get in there to do it. When I was a postdoc at Stanford, I was part of a large scale climate change simulation experiment. Nothing freezes in that part of California, but I realised that there was a real opportunity to study the effects of winter on ecosystems, and to do that in the context of ongoing climate change”. So, with the help of a CFI grant, Dr. Henry developed a field experiment combining warming and increased nitrogen in an old field. “It’s been going for five years now, and it just keeps giving – even when we aren’t doing experiments directly on the plots, it has helped to generate a lot of hypotheses that my students are still working on”. There have been some surprises along the way – like the turkey which chose to nest directly beneath one of the heat lamps “we joke that according to that scenario, Southwestern Ontario will have a density of one turkey/square metre in the future” laughs Dr. Henry.
Dr. Henry says that the initial questions from the experiment have now been answered, but he’s not about to close shop yet. “Long-term data sets aren’t that easy to come by. It has been said that long-term experiments are like cars, and they get to a stage where they appear old enough to have outlived their usefulness... but if you leave that car in the garage, one day it will be a classic”. Dr. Henry expects that his warming experiment will keep generating hypotheses for at least another five years, and “it will really come into its own then, when we have a decade-long dataset, which will tell us about how climate change and the natural succession in these old field systems interact”.
Dr. Henry says he is always on the lookout for ambitious, independent students who like to think broadly, and potential graduate students should contact him directly.
Questions for Dr. Hugh Henry:
When I was growing up, I wanted ... to be an ichthyologist (although as a toddler I aspired to be a milkman).
My favourite organism is... hmmm...trees and large cats, I suppose.
My first publication was about ... shade avoidance and shade tolerance in trees.
My favourite piece of research was ... This is kind of like choosing a favourite child, is it not? I'd have to say my warming and N addition field experiment.
Biology at Western is ... quite pleasant (I guess I'm not much for hyperbole!).
FEATURED POSTDOC: DARIA KOSCINSKI
Visit Dr. Koscinski’s website
Daria Koscinski had been interested in biology for a while, but she got really interested in evolutionary genetics after a second year course during her undergraduate degree at Queen’s. “That led to me volunteering in labs. The first lab I volunteered in was moving, and they needed to consolidate all the samples in the freezer. My job was to chop the whole frozen musk ox livers into pieces that fit into 2 mL vials. The deal was that if I did that, the PhD student I was working for would show me how to extract DNA. I thought it was the best deal ever!” Daria recounts. Daria went on to work on the evolution of frogs in the Andes for her MSc at Queen’s and her PhD here at Western, and she has many stories of negotiating bureaucracy and crazy mountain roads.
Towards the end of her PhD, Daria faced something of a crossroads. “The tropics were still really important to me – I don’t think you can visit the tropics as a biologist without feeling the intensity and abundance of life there – although I get that feeling here sometimes, it just isn’t as loud”, but with her husband finishing a PhD at Western, moving away didn’t seem like such an attractive prospect. “I’d been interested in the spatial aspects of evolutionary biology for a while, and when [Canada Research Chair in Landscape Genetics] Nusha Keyghobadi arrived – it all fell into place”.
Daria has been working on landscape genetics of butterflies in Ontario for several years now, but is looking to evolve her research interests again: “I’ve always been interested in conservation, particularly naturalising areas”, during her time in London, Daria has been active in restoration projects with both EnviroWestern and the Thames Talbot Land Trust, “and now I can see that merging with my academic interest in habitat fragmentation to lead to more focussed work in restoration ecology”.
Questions for Daria:
When I was growing up, I wanted to be ... I really can’t remember. I have been told by my parents that I used to bring home all sorts of sick (and occasionally dead) animals to care for them. I guess I was always interested in nature, but I’m not sure my parents were as enthusiastic.
My favourite organism is... a tough choice. I’m fascinated by all organisms but I’m quite partial to the ones I’ve worked with because I’ve been able to see them up close and handle them. I didn’t appreciate how strong a swallowtail butterfly is or how much suction those little toes on tree frogs have until I actually held them in my hands. Being a biologist gives you the opportunity to know a bit about all organisms and a lot about the few you get to study in detail.
My first publication was about ... Genomic rearragements in the hMSH2 and hMLH1 genes of patients with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer. I participated in this research when I worked at the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at London Health Sciences developing new diagnostic tests for hereditary cancers.
My favourite piece of research was ... the study I did during my PhD on Andean tree frogs combining population genetics and spatial analyses. I learned a lot from the work and it sparked my interest in landscape genetics, the focus of my current postdoctoral research.
Biology at Western is ... inspiring. I have found mentors for every aspect of research and teaching and am always amazed at the energy and support I receive from colleagues in the department.
LINKS TO PAST FEATURED FACULTY and STAFF
- Dr. Charles Trick and Dr. Irena Creed
- Dr. Liana Zanette and Brenda Beretta
- Dr. Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth Myscich
- Dr. Chris Guglielmo and Ian Craig
- Dr. Beth MacDougall-Shackleton and Kim Loney
- 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
June 30, 2011
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