Evolutionary ecologist Benjamin Freeman has received a 2016-2017 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship that will allow him to continue his research into the evolutionary, ecological and conservation questions that "burrow deepest into my brain": What factors promote speciation? What limits species’ geographic distributions? How is global climate change impacting biodiversity?
I am an evolutionary ecologist who seeks to understand and explain patterns of biodiversity. I use natural history knowledge to study both classical and cutting-edge issues in niche evolution, species interactions and how species respond to climate change. My research program focuses on three core questions in evolution, ecology and conservation:
- What factors promote speciation?
- What limits species’ geographic distributions?
- How is global climate change impacting biodiversity?
I primarily use montane avifaunas as a model system to address these questions.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
I came to UBC in March 2016, supported by an NSF postdoctoral fellowship. I considered other institutions when submitting my NSF postdoctoral fellowship, but was attracted to the Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC because the Schluter lab (and the Biodiversity Research Centre as a whole) provides an excellent fit for my scientific interests. I thus did not consider other options when applying for the Banting fellowship. I am delighted to have received a Banting fellowship to continue my research here at UBC, which colleagues of mine have enviously described as "a paradise for studying biodiversity".
What specifically attracted you to your research group?
Dolph Schluter is a top-class evolutionary thinker and is widely recognized as a leader in the field. His lab has produced important papers illuminating how ecology influences evolution, and how evolutionary processes are related to the distribution of biodiversity on Earth. He is also a kind and pleasant man. In 2009, I applied to be a grad student in the Schulter lab, but did not receive any funding from UBC. So I am pleased to be able to join the Schluter lab as a post-doc.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
Talk a lot with other postdocs - they are in the same boat as you. In my case, discussions with other post-docs led to an intriguing side project collaboration that is nearly ready for publication.
What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy birding, playing soccer and exploring Vancouver's many wonderful playgrounds with my toddler. Vancouver is a splendid spot for birds; people who are not (yet) birders invariably are curious about the fact that I sometimes spend my weekends at the local sewage ponds (great for birds!).
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
The most enjoyable aspect of my postdoctoral fellowship is that I have the freedom to pursue my research interests -- the questions that burrow deepest into my brain -- and follow them wherever they might lead.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
The Banting gives me the time to complete interesting research projects that will address knowledge gaps in my field (and also burnish my CV as I enter a tight academic job market).
What do you think the next step in your career will be?
Plan A is to secure a tenure-track appointment at a research university or a teaching college that prioritizes research.