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Laurier assistant professor named Canada Research Chair in Northern Wildlife Biology

Frances Stewart’s research in northern Canada will have important implications for the protection of animal species and natural resources
Wilfrid Laurier University 5
KitchenerToday file photo

WATERLOO – Wildlife ecologist Frances Stewart has been named the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Northern Wildlife Biology. An assistant professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Biology, Stewart’s research in northern Canada will have important implications for the protection of animal species and natural resources.

The prestigious CRC program aims to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Stewart will receive research funding for a five-year term, including support for Laurier student researchers.

“My research focuses on quantifying the current distribution and abundance of wildlife across northern Canada,” said Stewart. “We use this information to anticipate how wildlife will respond to future changes, informing conservation and management objectives for local peoples and for national and international initiatives.”

Canada's boreal forest is one of the largest ecoregions in the world, stretching across the entire country and hosting many region-specific species. It is also a resource-rich area for industries such as forestry, oil and gas, and mining, inspiring sometimes conflicting goals between humanity's need for natural resources and wildlife's need for habitat preservation. 

Stewart’s current field research takes place primarily in the boreal forests of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and the Northwest Territories, where Laurier has a long-term research partnership with the territorial government. She is collaborating with local stakeholders, including the Northwest Territories’ Environment and Natural Resources Department, to study caribou and muskox, among other species.

Stewart uses innovative research tools such as ecological prediction platforms and non-invasive hair sampling to monitor wildlife as ecosystems evolve. She is using strategically-placed cameras to collect photos from remote regions – a method called camera “trapping” – which serve as important data sources to measure how the distribution of species is changing over time.

To support her infrastructure needs as CRC, Stewart received $74,768 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund, which she will use to purchase a field truck, approximately 100 remote cameras, and a large computing station for data back up and generating predictive forecasts.

“Dr. Stewart’s capacity to combine northern fieldwork with complex statistical analysis and modelling across multiple ecological processes, from wildlife to fires to forest change, is extraordinary among contemporary ecologists,” said Jonathan Newman, Laurier’s vice-president: research. “Incorporating fundamental Indigenous knowledge, her research program will establish a unique collaborative monitoring network whose forecasts will inform natural resource management and improve the efficacy of wildlife conservation.”

A graduate of the University of Victoria with her PhD in Ecology, Stewart has worked as a postdoctoral research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and secured nearly $1.2 million in research funding. She has published 16 peer-reviewed articles in top-ranking journals and won best presentation awards at national and international conferences. Now, as the CRC in Northern Wildlife Biology, Stewart plans to expand her network of collaborators and create new mentorship opportunities for Laurier students.

“I hope the impact of my research as chair is threefold,” said Stewart. “I plan to increase and update our knowledge of the current status of wildlife species, inform effective conservation and management strategies, and communicate the global importance of northern change for wildlife, people and biodiversity.

“I feel very privileged to be named a Canada Research Chair. This is an honour I only dreamed about. I look forward to using this position to make positive change for Canada and the world.”


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