Dynamic “whole of system” management is urgently needed to save threatened species, that acknowledges the complex interactions within socio-ecological systems and accounts for the consequences of a changing world. Robust ecosystem models that predict impacts of changing human activities on threatened species and link to management interventions are crucial for guiding effective management of multi-use areas particularly when there are conflicting objectives. I will develop a multi-species ecosystem model for coastal British Columbia that includes endangered killer whales, salmon, seals, sea lions, and herring to evaluate and predict future numbers given changing human activities. By including different future scenarios of human use that may put pressure on the ecosystem, I aim to 1) generate critical insight into ecosystem processes impacting an iconic threatened species, 2) provide a quantitative framework for understanding effects of human activities on population dynamics of threatened species and key fisheries resources and 3) inform cost-effective management interventions that maximize important salmon fishery resources and killer whale populations. This research aims to solve one of the most vexing problems in North America – how to recover imperiled resident killer whales and their economically valuable but declining prey in the context of increasing marine pressures. I will bring together experts from both Canada and the USA including scientists, managers from DFO and NOAA, representatives from non-government agencies, and links to First Nations. Stakeholder engagement throughout the project will ensure the research has the greatest possible impact,with outputs benefiting both conservation efforts for highly threatened resident whale stocks, as well as informing resource management strategies for economically and culturally important salmon stocks.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
My vision is to be a world-class leader in influencing real-life conservation decision-making within complex and contentious spaces where there are conflicts resource use and biodiversity conservation. I recently relocated from Australia where I have been linked into some of the top Universities and groups working in conservation science, and so I wanted to be affiliated with a top-ranking university in Canada now that I am here. The University of British Columbia is world renown and has a long history of fisheries management and conservation research. It is ranked #1 in Canada for Ecology, Environmental Studies, Earth and Marine Sciences
What specifically attracted you to your research group?
Dr Tara Martin is a pioneer in the field of Conservation Decision Science – combining predictive ecological models with decision science to inform what actions to take, where to take them and when to achieve our conservation and natural resource management goals. Dr Martin leads a team of graduate students and research fellows seeking to understand, predict and ultimately inform decisions about the impact of global change on biodiversity and natural resources. My vision is strongly aligned with Dr Martin's vision, which is to produce world-leading research that will have a measurable impact on biodiversity conservation. Dr Martin and I are long-term colleagues who have known eachother for 8 years and have worked in the same circles of conservation decision-making. Importantly, Dr Martin pioneers gender equity issues, and understands the challenges of being a working mum in academia with small children. I have a three year old daughter to whom I am the primary caregiver, and having a supportive and understanding supervisor with regards to balancing work and children was a real draw card for me in looking for a suitable research environment. We are both excited that this project has enabled us to work together.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
Try to push yourself outside your comfort zone and learn new techniques, and meet new people. Networking is key, and maintaining good relationships with collaborators as they will continue to collaborate with you in the future, increasing your profile and visibility as well as boosting your publications through co-authorship.
What do you like to do for fun?
Playing with my 3 year old daughter, getting out into nature, hiking, skiing, camping. We live 20 metres from a lake so summers are mostly spent there swimming, canoeing and kayaking. I love to relax with a good book as well or do yoga to ground myself - but that doesn't happen very often anymore with small children around!
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
Working with a supportive team
What are the biggest challenges you have faced, or anticipate facing, in your career?
Trying to balance academia with raising a small child. I was trying to finish my PhD when I was pregnant and there were some serious complications when she was born as well which prevented me from returning to academia and finishing my PhD as quickly as I had planned. I still managed to submit my PhD 6 months after she was born but it was definitely a huge challenge. The ongoing challenge in the present times of the Covid pandemic is finding time for work whilst providing full-time care for my young daughter at home indefinitely.
What in your life or career has prepared you for this position?
My twin sister is also an academic, and also works in Conservation Science, although she focuses on terrestrial-based problems, whilst I focus mainly on marine problems. We did our PhD's with the same supervisor in Australia, Hugh Possingham, and its great to have someone so close to you that you can bounce ideas off, get help writing proposals or papers, who understands you better than anyone else.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
The fellowship will provide me with the chance to work on my own project that I developed from the ground up, and connect my research to on-ground applied management of threatened species - this is so important to me to achieve my vision to be a world-class leader in influencing real-life conservation decision-making.
What do you think the next step in your career will be?
Not sure - just focused on getting through the current difficult times with the pandemic at the moment.