Yolanda MorbeyWestern Science

Current Research Projects

Research in the Morbey Lab

Behavioural ecology is a branch of evolutionary ecology that seeks to explain the adaptive basis for individual variation in behaviour and life history timing. In the Morbey Lab, we use a behavioural ecology framework to study variability in how birds and fish time their reproduction, migration, and other life history events, especially in seasonal environments (like Canada). These are critical questions in this era of climate change, when phenological mismatch with the environment has the potential to negatively affect populations.

Current Research Projects

Rapid adaptation of introduced Chinook salmon in the Great Lakes – The proximity of introduced Chinook salmon populations in Lake Huron provides the perfect opportunity to study the process of rapid adaptation in the field and in our hatchery at Western. Ph.D. student Mike Thorn is studying how environmental selection pressures affect early life history traits in multiple, reproductively-isolated populations. His work builds on previous research by Steve Sharron, Meghan Gerson, and Stephen Marklevitz tlantic salmon were extirpated from the Great Lakes (Lake Ontario), but efforts are underway to re-introduce them by stocking hatchery strains in tributaries. M.Sc. student Christian Therrien is assessing whether two strains differ in their juvenile anti-predator behaviour in a semi-natural situation. This information will be useful for informing best practices for re-introduction.


Mike Thorn surrounded by migrating kokanee salmon during field work in Meadow Creek, British Columbia

Mike Thorn surrounded by migrating kokanee salmon during field work in Meadow Creek, British Columbia


Observing the behaviour of stocked juvenile Atlantic salmon in East Duffins Creek, a tributary of Lake Ontario

Migration behaviour in birds – In seasonally-breeding organisms, it is common for males to arrive at breeding areas before females. This phenomenon is called protandry. I have long been interested in adaptive explanations for protandry in a diversity of taxa (e.g., birds, salmon, and butterflies). Current Ph.D student Jessica Deakin is looking at sex differences in wing shape and how this might contribute to flight performance differences in migratory song birds. This work builds on her M.Sc. work on sex differences in the onset and intensity of migratory restlessness in Black-throated Blue Warblers. Current M.Sc. student Andrew Beauchamp is looking at sex differences along several axes of behaviour during migratory stopover in white-throated sparrows.


Jessica Deakin with a male Baltimore Oriole, Long Point, Ontario (photo: L. Negrazis)


Lauren Negrazis with a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Long Point, Ontario (photo: J. Deakin)

A major threat to migratory birds is the ecological trap of cities and the associated risk of mortality when they accidentally fly into windows. M.Sc. student Olivia Colling is partnering with the Fatal Light Awareness Program (Toronto) and Bird Studies Canada to figure out if some species are more vulnerable to window strike mortality than others.


Andrew Beauchamp with a White-throated Sparrow, Long Point, Ontario


Olivia Colling aging bird carcasses at the Royal Ontario Museum