I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Saskatchewan. I am a broadly trained quantitative ecologist working on problems of pure and applied animal ecology. My research is field-based and largely empirical. I would consider myself a ‘population ecologist’ with special focus on density-dependent processes, although my program touches on several aspects of ecology and evolution. For example, in trying to understand the basis of population dynamics for the wild horses of Sable Island, we are considering inter-specific links presented by grey seal and seabird inputs of nitrogen into the terrestrial system to affect plant diversity, forage, and subsequently horse space-use and demography. For our studies on boreal caribou, we are taking a ‘whole ecosystem’ approach to the study of caribou population dynamics, tackling questions of habitat recovery after forest fire, disturbance, and interactions between caribou and their predators (wolves, bears) but also alternate prey (moose, deer, elk). And with the help of my co-PI on the Sable Island Project, Jocelyn Poissant, I tackle questions of ecological and evolutionary processes affecting variation in fitness and adaptive evolution in Sable Island horses.
I have always been interested in habitat selection, especially how individual performance (e.g., survival and reproduction) can be influenced by an animal’s access to habitat resources and associated resource covariates, and demonstrating how these relationships might be modified by ecological processes (e.g., competition, predation, ecological succession, and cross-generational effects). I also dabble a bit on the molecular side of things, for example we are now hoping to quantify stress for individual horses of Sable Island (from cortisol in hair) and relate this to individual behaviour and performance. I also maintain an interest in population genetics; a very promising avenue to pursue concerning the Sable Island horses, where we are initiating brand-new research to establish the multi-generational pedigree of the horses and tackle questions about the micro-evolutionary processes that we believe are occurring (including sexual selection, horse colouration patterns) along a west-east gradient of habitat quality and density along the length of the island. We are all very excited about our work on genetics in the horses, which is seeing us expand our program to examine interesting questions of inbreeding and conservation genetics, and individual variation in gut microbial diversity and links with the island’s pedigree–even questions of antimicrobial resistance patterns in the Sable population (which is unique among populations considering its isolation and lack of history of modern veterinary care, including administration of antibiotics).
The effects of density on individuals to affect population-level processes is particularly fascinating to me, and almost all of my projects touch on this to some extent. Some recent studies include effects of population density on interaction rates between individuals, which may influence the spread of wildlife disease, density-dependent habitat selection, and effects of density on dispersal, sex ratios, and intensity of mate competition and sexual selection. By examining individual responses (be it behaviour or morphology) to population-level phenomena like overcrowding or predation we may be able to identify opportunities for selection. My interests further include individual- and matrix-based models of populations with applications to theory, conservation, and management; scaling and sampling questions in ecology; population-level ecological genetics; and of course natural history. My questions have been primarily directed at the ecology of European and North American mammals, including populations of red deer, roe deer, caribou, moose, elk, feral horses, wolves, grizzly bears, polar bears, and seals.
I absolutely love Saskatchewan! It is a fantastic place to live and work. I reside in the town of Warman (just outside of the city of Saskatoon) with my wife and (now) four children.
© Philip D. McLoughlin 2018