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Past Winner
2014 NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize

Michael McTavish

Department of Environment and Resource Studies

University of Waterloo

Michael McTavish
Michael McTavish

Research puts spotlight on earthworms that may harm Canada’s biodiversity

Earthworms are generally viewed as a welcome addition to any garden or farmer’s field for their ability to increase the amount of air and water in the soil and break down dead organic matter. But 19 of Canada’s 27 earthworm species are European imports and not all are necessarily good for ecosystems.

Throughout Canada’s forests, several species of invasive earthworms feed on surface leaf litter and mix things up in a bad way. Leaf litter is used as a source of food and as a building material by many earthworm species. A large enough earthworm community can completely remove the litter layer in a single season which can sometimes prevent new plants from growing.

As part of his undergraduate studies, Michael McTavish revealed some interesting migration behaviours of the earthworm at different population sizes, and in different types of leaf litter. Now as a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo, he is expanding his research to better understand how invasive earthworms are changing our ecosystems. He is focusing on how these earthworms interact with the native plants we depend on to restore human-impacted ecosystems and with other invasive species which threaten these restoration efforts.

McTavish, who is also an accomplished musician and sound engineer, was published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology and has received multiple awards for his research, including a Vanier scholarship and Ontario Graduate Scholarship. His impressive academic achievements led to him being fast-tracked to the PhD program after just his first year of graduate studies.

McTavish’s research could help decision-makers design more effective and efficient options for ecological restoration and managing invasive species.

Photos

Michael McTavish
Michael McTavish
Michael McTavish
Michael McTavish
Michael McTavish
Michael McTavish

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