Food web theory and conservation

Theory and application are often treated as distinct in ecology. I however, have endeavoured throughout my research career to unite the two.

During my Masters, I worked in the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers Areas of Concern assessing fish community response to restoration projects. Using multivariate methods, I developed a novel methodology to generate reference sites for highly degraded areas. This new method, couched in the theory of ecological integrity, allowed the evaluation of recovery in these Areas of Concern (Granados et al. 2014 J Great Lakes Res.). For my PhD, I used food web theory to understand and predict the impact of non-native omnivores. My research has shown that the interaction strength between the introduced omnivore and the recipient food webs is crucial to determining impact (Granados et al. 2017 Ecol. Evol.) and that introduced omnivores can even have a positive effect on the stability of the recipient food web. In my current research I continue to use food web theory to advance conservation. Using a large fish community data set from Ontario I am using telemetry, stable isotope and mercury data to track the movement of large mobile generalist fish in lakes. As temperatures increase with climate warming littoral areas of lakes are expected to warm more rapidly than deeper, offshore, pelagic areas. Warming renders littoral areas inaccessible to these fish simultaneously severing coupling between the food webs in these areas. Movement offshore can then be used as an early warning indicator for the loss of coupling and consequently stability in lake ecosystems. Working with Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, I seek to use our understanding of food web interactions under climate change to develop tools to facilitate conservation decision making by governments, stakeholders and NGOs.

 

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