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 record setting-droughts. It is unclear if organisms can sufficiently adapt to changing conditions or if they may eventually require human managed translocation (assisted migration) to prevent local extinctions. I am studying rapid evolution in response to a severe drought in California in the plant scarlet monkeyflower. By accessing seven years of range-wide seed collections, I am studying the traits and genomics underlying geographic variation in drought adaptation and the effect of this adaptation on the demographic success of real populations. Through a Genome BC grant, I am carrying out whole genome sequencing on 800 genetic families across 70 sites, with the goal of associating genetic variation with adaptation to drier climates and using this information to test the potential need and utility of assisted migration. Overall, my work provides a range-wide test of rapid evolution and its impacts on population viability, as well as a test of the need and plausibility of assisted migration. Establishing natural and artificial possibilities for adaptation in at risk populations provides conservation information that may be applicable to a range of organisms.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
While I considered other opportunities, I chose to do a postdoc at UBC, because of the match with my supervisors, the superb resources available, and the excellent research community. The Angert Lab at UBC has carried out demography and seed collection surveys for 21 populations of scarlet monkeyflower across California and Oregon. This collection allows me to ask questions about range-wide adaptation to drought across seven years. It has allowed me to ask cutting-edge questions that would take many years to carry out without this level of support. The genomics experience in the Rieseberg Lab has also been critical to have the technical expertise needed to research genome wide adaptation to drought in order to be able to test assumptions of assisted migration. 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. The biodiversity centre also has a high concentration of ecological genomics labs and a strong collaborative culture.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
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 new 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." If I have to pick a favorite part, I would say it is writing papers. I find it is the time you can be the most creative and when all your hard work really comes together.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced, or anticipate facing, in your career?
Adjusting to the scale of science which I am now conducting has been challenging. Having 1000 or 3000 units of replication for an experiment rather than a few hundred inserts new levels of consideration that have taken time to get used to. Other than this I expect attaining a faculty position in a competitive job market to be a challenge.
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 as well.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
Receiving the Killam Postdoc Fellowship allows me to continue carrying out research for an additional two years with an increased level of support and additional conference/travel funding. These additional two postdoc years will be critical to carry out a large-scale genomics project and to further focus some of my research towards applied topics such as assisted migration.
What do you think the next step in your career will be?
I will be applying to many faculty positions available in my field over the next two years. I hope to attain a position as a professor at a research focused university.