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Current Winner - 2020

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Department of Zoology

The University of British Columbia

Rising temperatures and waning biodiversity are reshaping ecosystems around the world. If we’re going to devise conservation efforts that support these evolving environments, we need to be able to predict the ways that ecosystems will adapt in response to climate change.

Mary O’Connor untangles the intricate connections between changes in climate and biodiversity. O’Connor’s lab develops mathematical models that predict effects caused by temperature, and test them using simple ecosystems in the lab, and then in larger, complex ecosystems in the field. The UBC ecologist focuses on temperature because it affects everything in nature, from the bacteria to the largest mammal and tree. Even minor warming can have a major impact on how quickly natural processes occur—accelerating plant growth, for instance, or increasing risk of extinction—which can then trigger other changes throughout an ecosystem.

O’Connor’s research has uncovered recurring – and predictable – patterns in the way organisms, food webs and ecosystems respond to temperature change, giving ecologists a vital framework to forecast the ecological changes that will occur in warming areas, and design sustainability strategies that nurtures our evolving natural world.


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