Daniel Anstett is a 2016-2017 Banting Postdoctoral Fellow. His research focuses on climate change and the effects of the recent Californian drought. In particular, Daniel studies adaptations to drought in the scarlet monkeyflower plant and its implications for assisted migration.
Climate change is leading to more extreme conditions such as the record-setting drought in California. Can plant populations facing these harsh conditions evolve adaptations quickly enough to survive? In my postdoctoral research, I will study adaptations to drought in the plant scarlet monkeyflower with 30 populations collected before, during and after the Californian drought. By growing these seeds side-by-side in a greenhouse, I can effectively “resurrect” plants from earlier years and measure differences in traits. I can also detect genetic changes by sequencing parts of the plants’ genomes and looking for genetic differences. The effectiveness of these changes can be tested by mimicking drought conditions. Plants with successful adaptations will have better survival and reproduction. This information will be applied to real populations through demographic simulations, thereby showing what the likely detrimental effects would be if populations did not evolve.
This is the first study to consider adaptation to drought across an entire species range and throughout multiple years. This will have a significant impact in how adaptation to climate change is studied and understood. Establishing how often species are able to adapt represents critical conservation information on a group of organisms that is severely threatened by climate change. This information is vital to enhancing conservation programs. The data gathered will also be used to test some fundamental assumptions of assisted migration. This could help establish the usefulness of remedial management actions, such as the transplantation of better-adapted organisms during extreme environmental change.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
While I considered other opportunities and locations, I chose to do a postdoc at UBC, because of the great match with my supervisor, the superb resources available, and the excellent research community within UBC. The Angert lab focuses on studying evolution across large spatial scales. While I have carried out a PhD in a highly productive evolutionary ecology lab, I was missing interactions with more people that have a spatial focus to their research. In addition to spatial expertise, the sheer size of the monkeyflower seed collection, measured in the spatial extent of populations, the number of years sampled, and the detailed demographics available represents a tremendous resource. It will allow me to ask cutting-edge questions in spatial biology that would take many years to carry out without this level of support. Finally, the Biodiversity Centre has a friendly, collaborative research culture that makes it one of the best places to carry out a postdoc in the world. I was thoroughly impressed during my brief visit to UBC in 2016. The biodiversity centre also has a high concentration of ecological genomics labs and a strong collaborative culture. Interaction and support with individuals like Dolph Schluter, Loren Rieseberg, and Sally Otto will be vital to developing my multidisciplinary interests.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
In my opinion, a postdoc is a time to acquire new skills and expand the scope or your research. Because of this, I would encourage new postdocs not to carry on research that is too similar to your PhD work. Additionally, just like finding a PhD supervisor, it's important to find a lab that is really a good fit for you and your interests.
What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy being active through running, biking, hiking, and spending time in nature. I also enjoy photography and have semi-academic interests in early science fiction (1950-1980’s) and impressionist through to early modern art (1870-1950’s). As well, I am an avid gamer, both in terms of board games and sports. I generally enjoy a good conversation or casual debate on a wide range of topics.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
When you truly love doing something, your job no longer feels like a job. Rather it is more like your favourite hobby. I like to think of my research in this way. I love studying evolutionary biology, botany, and biogeography. I am grateful that I can wake up every morning and continue the latest chapter in my own adventure. Like my PhD supervisor would always say: "Living the Dream".
What are the biggest challenges you have faced, or anticipate facing, in your career?
Learning to program, coming from a life sciences background, has been a big challenge. In the future, I anticipate getting a faculty position may be hard, given the competitive job market. Ideally, I hope to end up somewhere with easy access to nature, and somewhere my wife can also get a job.
What in your life or career has prepared you for this position?
My years carrying out my PhD have done a superb job at ensuring I am ready for even more independent research. Also, time spent studying landscape genetics and doing basic molecular biology work during the year between my undergraduate and my PhD will be helpful too.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
Receiving this award is a huge advance for my career. It will allow me to carry out my dream research project in comfort and with a very big and important line on my CV, which will hopefully give me an edge in future funding and job applications. Carrying out this project is also allowing me to bridge my basic science background with applied issues I really care about. I am happy to get to contribute to climate change research and investigations into assisted migration and other conservation strategies.
What do you think the next step in your career will be?
Either a second postdoc or a faculty position. Second postdocs are becoming more common and pedagogically, I would I enjoy having an opportunity to learn more before becoming a professor.