FEATURED FACULTY: Dr. Yolanda Morbey
Visit Dr. Morbey's website
Dr. Yolanda Morbey has always loved the outdoors and anything to do with biology. Growing up next to Bear Hill Regional Park in Victoria, she fondly remembers long Saturdays playing outside, stacking wood, lighting fires, and being ‘forced’ by her parents to do various surveys of biota on the property (like spiders and trees). The thought of being a biologist crystallized in Grade 11, when she first learned about all the cool invertebrate phyla, and then could go down to the rocky shore and actually see them in the wild. Curiously, Dr. Morbey didn’t immediately major in Biology: “I started first year in a Chemistry Co-op program and worked as an analytical chemist for a summer in Alberta. Although I like the work, I settled on Biology in second year. Initially, I thought I would focus on plants – most of the people I knew who were interested in animals wanted to be veterinarians, but I knew I didn’t want to be a vet.”
A random act of kindness (by a thoughtful roommate) and a coincidence (this roommate hosting an attendee at the Pacific Seabird Group conference) led to Dr. Morbey’s next summer job to help a graduate student (Anne Harfenist) from Simon Fraser University with her research on seabirds on a remote west coast island. That experience led to a series of summer jobs, a lifelong interest in birding, and the revelation that she wanted to study the evolution of animal behaviour. “Anne, who I was working for again, recommended her old advisor [Ron Ydenberg at SFU], and also gave me some inside information about a new project on seabirds on Triangle Island. I contacted Ron: he was looking for a student to do this MSc project, and thought I had the right experience for the position.” Dr. Morbey decided to stay in the same lab for her PhD and continue in the field of behavioural ecology, but on a new project. “I was interested in studying sex differences in the seasonal timing of breeding. After a year or so of searching for a system, I decided salmon were perfect –they were an excellent model for the research question and because of their socioeconomic importance, I thought knowing more about them could lead to employment some day.”
After an NSERC funded postdoc at the University of Toronto (“where I had exceptional freedom – I worked on empirical studies of fish and theoretical and modelling projects”), Dr. Morbey encountered the problem of being one-half of a dual-career couple. She and her husband (Dr. Chris Guglielmo, also a professor in Biology) were determined to pursue their careers in the same place. “When a position at Western came up for Chris, we thought we could make it work in Southwestern Ontario.” Shortly after, Dr. Morbey landed a position as Research Scientist at the Ministry of Natural Resources in Owen Sound. “My mandate was to study fish populations and fisheries in Lake Huron, and on the positive side, my job was 100% research.” But the drive between Owen Sound and London “is a lot further than it looks on a map”, and Dr. Morbey snapped up an opportunity to join Western’s Biology Department in 2007. “One great thing about the move was that I was able to bring many of the projects and collaborations with me – I still collaborate very closely with MNR scientists”. Most recently, Dr. Morbey has inaugurated a hatchery facility here on the UWO campus, which she is using to test for rapid adaptation of salmon introduced to Lake Huron.
Dr. Morbey is always looking for graduate students who want to study ecological and evolutionarily questions about seasonal timing in wild populations of salmonid fishes (or other taxa!). Students with a strong quantitative background and an interest in natural history and the outdoors are particularly encouraged to contact her. You can read more about Dr. Morbey’s research here.
Questions for Dr. Yolanda Morbey:
When I was growing up, I wanted … To be a biologist. I always loved exploring intertidal pools, visiting the natural history exhibits at the Royal British Columbia Museum, and going for walks in the forest. The realization that I could be a biologist came about in Grade 11 when I had an awesome biology teacher.
My favourite organism is... The Ancient Murrelet. It is a species in the Family Alcidae (puffins & murres), and nests on offshore islands in the North Pacific, in burrows under stands of old growth trees. The young, while still down covered, leave the nest on their own when only 2 days old. They leave the nest under the cover of darkness, and with their extra long legs, climb up over every impediment (huge, moss covered logs and boulders), swim through heavy surf, and eventually meet up with their parents, who are waiting and calling out for them.
My first publication was about … Effects of ticks on the growth and fledging timing of seabird chicks. While doing field work for my M.Sc. thesis, we observed ticks on the feet of nestling Cassin’s Auklets. I counted the numbers of ticks, and was then able to show that heavy infestation slowed the growth of the nestlings and delayed their fledging.
My favourite piece of research was … Theoretical models of optimal life history timing by Yoh Iwasa. These models helped me formulate my Ph.D. research on spawning timing in salmon, and are still relevant for the research I do today.
Biology at Western is ... A diverse group of exceptional individuals, each of whom contributes a unique role and perspective to form an exceptional department.
FEATURED POSTDOC: Dr. Lin Si
Dr. Lin Si, a postdoctoral fellow in Biology with Dr. Brian Branfireun, grew up in Jinan, China. “My parents wanted me to be a scientist, but they never pressed me into it – in fact I wanted to be a teacher. So it’s rather convenient that I became a scientist, because it makes me look like a good child”, she laughs. After her undergraduate degree in China, Lin came to Canada to do a Master’s degree at Carleton University. “It was a very big learning experience for me. I had a new place and language, no friends, and I didn’t get the opportunity to do much research as an undergraduate, so I had to learn that, too. Also, I’m from the ‘pampered’ generation of only children in China, so I only learned to cook when I came to Canada! It was a very difficult time, but looking back, I can see how much progress I made.”
After her MSc, Lin moved to McGill University to do a PhD. Montreal had its own challenges (“pronouncing street names properly”, she remembers), but the most important things for her were the science. “Some days, science is very challenging: you get data that you can’t interpret, and you worry that it is a dead end. The best days are when you can read around, talk to colleagues, and work out what is going on. I think I learned that doing science requires determination and high spirits. A lot of people don’t have those in good measure, and I think that they move away from research”. While at McGill, Lin saw the links between chemistry and biology grow: “my supervisor had some interests in microbiology, as well, so I was familiar with Biology and how it relates to Chemistry”.
At Western, Lin is pursuing her dream of interdisciplinary research, combining chemistry and biological processes. She views being a postdoc as an important transitional period in her career. “I am not only doing research, like when I was a PhD student, but I’m starting to take more responsibility with helping to manage the project, supervise technicians, and organise field operations. I feel I am learning a lot of skills that will prepare me to manage my research as a professor.” Dr. Si sees a strong future for her research and her international outlook: “pollution is a global environmental problem. I want to be able to use my experience to take advantage of opportunities for international collaboration, particularly in this interdisciplinary context using biology and chemistry to understand environmental problems especially toxic pollutants like mercury”.
Questions for Dr. Si:
When I was growing up, I wanted ... to become a science teacher. I was lucky to meet many great science teachers who inspired my interest in science in school. This is somewhat similar to what I want to be now-a university professor, because I want to be involved in university education, which I view as a crucial point in shaping one's future career.
My favourite organism is ... fish. Initially because I loved swimming and wanted to swim as well as a fish. During my graduate studies, I learned that mercury toxicity to humans is mainly through fish consumption because mercury can bio-accumulate via aquatic food chain. There is yet a lot to be done regarding how the concentration of methymercury, a potent neurotoxin, ends up a million times higher in predatory fish that in surrounding aquatic environment. Another reason for me to love fish!
My first publication was about ... The interaction between oxidized mercury species and organic acids. The data are important for modeling and predicting the global contaminant budget of mercury and its impacts on the ecosystem.
My favourite piece of research was ... I would say it's my current research. I always love to do multidisciplinary research which involves biology, hydrology, chemistry and more. When Prof. Brian Branfireun told me about the project on investigating the control factors on why some ecosystems are more sensitive than others to mercury pollution, I thought wow, this is the perfect postdoctoral research I want to do! Here I am!
LINKS TO PAST FEATURED FACULTY, POSTDOCS and STAFF
- Dr. Brian Branfireun and Dr. Jason Brown
- Dr. Greg Thorn and Dr. Silke Nebel
- Dr. Nusha Keyghobadi and Dr. Leon Kurepin
- Dr. Hugh Henry and Dr. Daria Koscinski
- 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
January 19, 2012
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