Algar Lab @ Lakehead University

Follow us on Instagram: @Ecto.Eco.Evo

Welcome to the online home of the Algar Lab in the Department of Biology at Lakehead University on the shores of Lake Superior amidst Canada's boreal forest. From local interactions to global distributions, we strive to understand how (and if) climate shapes the origins and future of biodiversity.


Join us!
Having just moved to Lakehead after a decade at the University of Nottingham (UK), I am recruiting undergraduate, MSc, and PhD students. Learn more about what we do under the Research tab and if you are interested, email me at aalgar@lakeheadu.ca.



Experience science. Be with nature.


Principal Investigator

Dr. Adam C. Algar, Associate Professor
I joined the Department of Biology at Lakehead in January 2021, having spent the 10 years prior at the University of Nottingham (UK), where I moved after my post-doc at the Museum of Comparative Zoology in the USA. As a kid growing up on northern Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia, Canada), chasing birds around the forests and mountaintops, I never imagined that my fascination with the natural world could be turned into a career that would lead me to work and live in three countries and do fieldwork on three continents. Along the way, I've learned the importance of scientific thinking for understanding the world around us, and the power of big data and statistical models for testing ecologial theory. And even though I work mostly with lizards, I still love chasing birds. I am excited to be back in Canada, especially in the remarkable environment around Thunder Bay, which rivals any place in the world I've been for the beauty of its landscape, the wonder of its wildlife, and the potential for new ecological discoveries.

If you're interested in working with me, either as an undergrad, or for a Master's, PhD, Post-Doc, or just a research visit, please contact me as early as possible so we can talk projects and funding. I can be reached at aalgar@lakeheadu.ca.



Lakehead-based Lab Members

Sydney-Lyn Bernardi
Sydney is the first official member of the lab to be based at Lakehead. Sydney is helping out with pilot fieldwork this summer on gray treefrogs and is doing her Honour's thesis on the ecology of these frogs' northern range limit.


UK-based Lab Members

Dr. Owen Osborne
Owen is a post-doc on the NERC & Newton Fund-funded project "Forecasting biodiversity losses in Wallacea from ecological and evolutionary patterns and processes.". He is based at Bangor University and is co-supervised by Dr. Alex Papadopulos. Owen is an evolutionary genomicist and is working on hybrid zones, history of selection and the geography of Sulawesi. He is the lead on a new R-package Fauxcurrence which generates realistically spatially structured occurrence points for species and clades for null ecological modelling. You can read the Fauxcurrence preprint here and download the package here.


Emma Higgins
Emma is a PhD student working on mapping thermal environments using remote sensing imagery (from satellites & unoccupied aerial vehicles) to understand how thermal changes influence ecology of Anolis bicaorum, an anole endemic to the island of Utila, which is part of the Islas de la Bahía archipelago (Honduras). Emma is co-supervised by Prof Doreen Boyd in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham and works closely with the Kanahau Research and Conservation Facility on Utila.

Henry Fell
Henry's PhD links the microbiology and macroecology of Yersinia pestis, the bacterial agent of plague in humans, to environmental variation through space and time. His work includes working with Y. pestis in the lab to tests its survival in different environmental conditions, and using environmental niche modelling to understand how climate and hosts influence it's geographical spread in current and past environments. Henry is co-supervised by Prof. Matt Jones (a palaeo climate expert) and Dr. Steve Atkinson (a plague microbiologist) at the University of Nottingham.

Vanessa Cutts
Vanessa is a PhD student working on the geographical ecology of plant functional traits on oceanic islands. In particular, she focuses on the evolution of specialization in island endemics and how endemicity influences how species fill niche space. She works on the Canary Islands, with a particular focus on the flora of the island of La Palma. She is co-supervised by Dr. Richard Field at the University of Nottingham and is part of a collaboration with a team of biogeographers at the University of Bayreuth (Germany).

César Rodríguez Valido
César did his MSci degree in the lab and has returned to do his PhD. César's research explores the role of behavioural plasticity in the invasion of signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) in the UK. This work combines laboratory experiments with biological records and river network data to understand the drivers of past spread in this species. He is co-supervised by Drs. Matthew Johnson and Steve Dugdale at the Univeristy of Nottingham.

Rachel Gunn
Rachel's PhD focuses on the effects of human-induced rapid environmental change animal behaviour and personality. She focuses on how changes to coral reefs affect behaviour of butterfly fish in Indonesia and, recently, damselfish in the Chagos archipelago. She is based at Lancaster University and is co-supervised by Drs. Sally Keith and Ian Hartley.

Lab Alumni

Alastair Munro
PhD (pending minor corrections). 2016-2021. Long-term spatiotemporal changes in endemic threshold populations in England and Wales – a multi-disease study.

Dr. Simon Tarr
PhD. 2015-2020. Evaluating the effects of climate change and biotic interactions on terrestrial ectotherms through time and space.

Dr. James Hicks
s PhD. 2014-2019. Thermal and functional responses of dragon lizards to land use and climate change in peninsular Malaysia.

Dr. Roberto Santos
PhD. 2014-2018. Environmental and cultural influences on the geography of genetic variation in Bambara groundnut.

Lorenzo Maria Iozia
Erasmus visiting researcher. 2019-2020. Climatic niche parameters and physiological tolerances of ectotherms.

Tom Brown
Master's. 2019-2020. Ecological responses of the endemic anole, Anolis bicaorum, to rapid habitat degradation on Utila Island, Honduras.

Mollie Craig
Master's. 2019-2020. Climatic variation and the spread of west-nile virus.

Ryan Clark
Master's. 2017-2018. Linking form, function and microhabitat use of chameleons along a disturbance gradient in Madagascar.

Suzanne Keddie
MSci. 2016-2017. Predicting global niche dynamics of human disease vectors.

Kate Morley
Master's. 2014-2016. Predictive models of lizard body temperatures at global scales.

Jack Starbuck
Master's. 2014-2016. The spatial scale of community assembly worldwide.

Dr. Joe Bailey
Master's. 2012-2013. Global patterns of trait convergence in turtle assemblages worldwide.

Dr. Adison Altamirano
Post-doc. 2011-2012. Climate and land cover changes and species distributions in Chilean forests.

On a tiny island in the Caribbean, a small lizard hides from the beating sun underneath a palm frond. On a Scottish moor, a butterfly lazily stretches out its wings in the summer sunshine. And on the shores of Lake Superior, a small frog burrows into the leaf litter as the world freezes around it. No matter where they live, the lives of 'cold-blooded' species are a never-ending thermal balancing act, where tipping too far to the warm or cold can have deadly consequences, but getting it right can have great rewards.

The interaction between an organism's thermal environment and its thermal niche reverberates across all ecological scales: an individual organism may select shaded microhabitats and avoid sunny ones, a population may persist only in cool, closed canopy forest and not at hotter forest edges, or a species' range may not extend beyond the 0°C isotherm. A major goal of our research is to understand how processes involving individuals produce broad-scale, general ecological patterns through space and time. To achieve this we integrate macroecological and macroevolutionary approaches with physiological, functional, and community ecology to determine what sets limits on species' distributions, how these limits have involved and importantly whether we can predict how they will respond to future environmental changes.

Study Systems
Our research is question, not system, driven, so we don't work in a single study system, but rather choose a system that allows us to test our hypothesis effectively (and, hopefully, one that we think is pretty cool as well). That said, much of our work is focused on reptiles (especially lizards), but we are expanding into amphibians, and have worked on systems as varied as invasive crayfish in the UK, endemic plants of the Canary Islands, and even human disease.

Lizards
Lizards have long been a workhorse of thermal and evolutionary ecology. Combine this with recent advances in mapping their distributions and resolving their phylogeny and lizards are an excellent group of animals to try to understand the links between thermal environment, ecological niches and geographic distributions. We have done extensive work on the geographical ecology of Anolis of the Caribbean and Central/South American mainland, but there is still considerable potential for novel insights from old questions and new hypotheses with this system, taking either macroecological or field-based approach (or both). In addition to Anolis, we have worked with (and would love to again) the endemic Gallotia lizards of the Canary Islands, and with Agamid lizards in Southeast Asia. There is also potential to answer questions about northern range limits using the three species of skink that just peek into southern Canada: the five-lined skink in Ontario (Plestiodon fasciatus), the western skink in BC (Plestiodon skiltonianus), and the northern prairie skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis

Gray Treefrogs (Hyla versicolor)
Establishing the lab at Lakehead has opened an opportunity to work with species and habitats in Northwestern Ontario. The gray treefrog is one that we are extremely excited about. Why? Well, firstly, this species' range extends all the way from Texas to Northwestern Ontario; any species that inhabits such a range of environments must be harbouring some fascinating eco-evolutionary secrets. Secondly, gray treefrogs have actually been expanding their range northward in the Thunder Bay region over the past decade, which again suggests interesting ecological and evolutionary dynamics playing out in geographical space. Thirdly, the importance of moisture and temperature (hydrothermal niche) for amphibians, alongside their distinct larval (tadpoles) and adult modes of life add exciting dimensions to the study of their range limits. And fourthly, I just really like arboreal ectotherms with toepads.

Microclimate for modelling macroecology
One of the challenges of understanding and predicting how species respond to climate change is that organisms do not experience climate, at least not how it is traditionally measured and modelled. Instead, animals experience microclimate, which can very remarkably even over very small spatial and temporal scales. This variation was beautifully captured by Charles Dickens in Great Expectations: "It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." Our work in this area has focused on using remote sensing by drones and satellites to improve our ability to model animal operative temperatures at fine resolutions to understand how thermal landscapes contribute to changes in species distributions through space and time.









Undergrad Research Opportunities
Underlying the information/facts/knowledge that you have been accumulating thus far in your degree is a long history of research. That history will be one of bold conjecture, rigorous data collection, toil, and failure - until, eventually, a tiny kernel of new, knowledge emerges. Put that way, research sounds incredibly challenging (and a lot of hard work). It is, but it is also incredibly rewarding, because you will learn something that is truly new - something that you, me, or anyone else, didn't know before. And that's pretty amazing.

If you're interested in learning more about what research is about, then there are a number of potential ways to engage in research in the lab as part of your undergraduate degree. This may involve co-developing your own project with me or assisting with ongoing projects. These are important learning experiences in their own right, but are also a great way to test out if you enjoy the research process.

Discussing new research ideas is one of the best parts of my job, so I'm happy to meet and discuss potential projects, even if you have no idea what you want to work on!

Honour's Thesis (BIOL4101). The Honour's Thesis is a great way to experience the full research cycle - from idea generation, proposing hypotheses, gathering and anaysing data to test predictions, working out what the results mean and communicating your findings. To carry out a thesis, you need to find a supervisor - if you're interested in working with me, email me (earlier the better) and we can discuss project ideas. There are opportunities to work on field- or big data/modelling-based projects.

Research Internships (BIOL3990/3991). These courses are a great way to get research experience (usually) in your 3rd year, while getting credit toward your degree. They are 'work-terms' and so can be quite varied, depending on the work that is going on in the lab during that semester, but you will be working on a project that is part of the lab's larger research program. We will tailor this to ensure that you get a chance to develop the skills you are particularly interested in, and are working on topics you find particularly interesting. If you're interested in working in my lab for a semester - get in touch and we can discuss options.

Check back regularly for new opportunities, including potential summer internships.





Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Ecology, as a science, strives to understand the diversity of the natural world. However, it has been far less understanding of, and open to, the diversity of those engaged in ecological research. Like other sciences, ecology has a long history of exclusion, bias, discrimination, racism and colonialism. Many, if not all, of these historical barriers remain. Breaking them down requires continual commitment from all scientists. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves about this inequity, and work toward making ecology a diverse and inclusive discipline, which can only strengthen our science and our society.

As a research group, we are committed to:

  1. Developing an environment of mutual respect and safety in the lab, classroom and field for all members, collaborators, and visitors, regardless of culture, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, race, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religion, mental and physical ability, experience, or other aspects of identity or background.

  2. Participating and engaging in continuing education and training on unconscious and conscious bias and how to address and eliminate biased, exclusionary, behaviour.

  3. Working to expand access, retention and advancement in ecology for all, especially those from communities who have been historically excluded and marginalized in academia.

  4. Fostering an environment where the merit of ideas, hypotheses, and data are rigorously evaluated, but the merit of individuals is never in question.

  5. Redefining traditional measures of ‘success’ in ecology.

Accessing these papers. The pay-to-publish open access model makes accessing the outcome of science more accessible, but it makes makes doing, and communicating, science less open. Instead it concentrates the dissemination of new knowledge within a small group of well-funded researchers who can pay thousands of dollars (or pounds, euros, etc.) to publish a single paper. And while many journals have fee waivers, high fees remains a huge deterrent/barrier. I don't have a solution, but I do think that the gatekeepers of science should be scientific editors and peer-reviewers, not a bank balance. The papers below can all be freely accessed., one way or another. For some we've been lucky/privileged enough to be able to pay open access fees. For paywalled papers, please email me (aalgar@lakeheadu.ca) and I'll send you a PDF for free - the original open access!

Higgins, E.A., Boyd, D.S., Brown, T., Owens, S., Algar, A.C. 2021. Disentangling controls on animal abundance: prey availability, thermal habitat, and microhabitat structure. Ecology and Evolution DOI: 10.1002/ece3.7930.

Herrera-Alsina, L., Algar A.C., Bocedi G., Gubry-Rangin, C., Lancaster, L., Mynard, P., Osborne, O.G., Papadopulos, A.S.T., Creer, S., Nangoy, M., Fahri F., Lupiyaningdyah, P., Sudiana, I.M., Juliandi, B., Travis, J.M.J. 2021. Ancient geological dynamics impact neutral biodiversity accumulation and are detectable in phylogenetic reconstructions. Global Ecology & Biogeography 30, 1633-1642.

Mouillot, D., Loiseau, N., Grenié, M., Algar, A.C., Allegra, M., Cadotte, M.W., Casajus, N., Denelle, P., Guégan, M., Maire, A., Maitner, B., McGill, B.J., McLean, M., Mouquet, N., Muñoz, F., Thuiller, W., Villéger, S., Violle, C., Auber, A. 2021. The dimensionality and structure of species trait spaces. Ecology Letters DOI: 10.1111/ele.13778.

Bennett, J.M., Sunday, J., Calosi, P., Villalobos, F., Martínez, Molina-Venegas, R., Araújo, M.B., Algar, A.C., Clusella-Trullas, S., Hawkins, B.A., Keith, S., Kühn, I., Rahbek, C., Rodríguez, L, Singer, A., Morales-Castilla, I., Olalla-Tárraga, M.A. 2021. The evolution of critical thermal limits of life on Earth. Nature Communications 12, 1198.

Rodríguez Valido, C.A., Johnson, M.F., Dugdale, S.J., Cutts, V., Fell, H.G., Higgins, E.A., Tarr, S., Templey, C.M., Algar, A.C. 2020. Thermal sensitivity of feeding and burrowing activity of an invasive crayfish in UK waters. Ecohydrology 14, e2258.

Munro, A., Smallman-Raynor, M., Algar, A.C. 2020. Long-term changes in endemic threshold populations for pertussis in England and Wales: a spatiotemporal analysis of Lancashire and South Wales, 1940-69. Social Science & Medicine. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113295

Donihue, C.M., Kowaleski, A.M., Losos, J.B., Algar, A.C., Baeckens, S., Buchkowski, R.W., Fabre, A.-C., Frank, H.K., Geneva, A.J., Reynolds, R.G., Stroud, J.T., Velasco, J.A., Kolbe, J.J., Mahler, D.L., Herrel, A. 2020. Hurricane effects on Neotropical lizards span geographic and phylogenetic scales. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 117, 10429-10434.

Cutts, V., Katal, N., Löwer, C., Algar, A.C., Steinbauer, M.J., Irl, S.D.H., Beierkuhnlein, C., Field, R. 2019. The effect of small-scale topography on patterns of endemism within islands. Frontiers in Biogeography, 11, e43737.

Roggatz, C.C., Fletcher, N., Benoit, D.M., Algar, A.C., Doroff, A., Wright, B., Wollenberg Valero, K.C., Hardege, J.D. 2019. Saxitoxin and tetrodotoxin bioavailability increases in future oceans. Nature Climate Change, 9, 840-844.

Tarr, S., Meiri, S., Hicks, J.J., Algar, A.C. 2018. A biogeographic reversal in sexual size dimorphism along a continental temperature gradient. Ecography, 42, 706-716.

Algar, A.C.
, Morley, K., Boyd, D.S. 2018. Remote sensing restores predictability of ectotherm body temperature in the world’s forests. Global Ecology & Biogeography, 27, 1412-1425.

Algar, A.C.
Tarr, S. 2018. Fossils, phylogenies, and the evolving climate niche. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2, 414-415 (Invited News & Views).

Velasco, J.A., Villalobos, F., Diniz-Filho, J.A.F., Algar, A.C., Flores-Villela, O., Köhler, G., Daza, J.M., Poe, S., Martínez-Meyer, E. 2018. Climatic and evolutionary factors shaping geographical gradients of species richness in Anolis lizards. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 123, 615-627.

Bennett, J.M., Calosi, P., Clusella-Trullas, S., Martínez, B., Sunday, J., Algar, A.C., Araújo, M.B., Hawkins, B.A., Keith, S., Kühn, I., Rahbek, C., Rodríguez, L., Singer, A., Villalobos, F., Olalla-Tárraga, M. Á., Morales-Castilla, I. 2018. GlobTherm, a global database on thermal tolerances for aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Scientific Data 5, 180022.

Tallowin, O., Allison, A., Algar, A.C., Kraus, F., Meiri S. 2017. Papua New Guinea terrestrial vertebrate richness: elevation matters most for all except reptiles. Journal of Biogeography 44, 1734-1744.

Algar, A.C.
& López-Darias, M. 2016. Sex-specific responses of phenotypic diversity to environmental variation. Ecography 39, 715-725.

Dawson, M.N., Algar, A.C., Heaney, L.R., Stuart, Y.E. 2016. The evolutionary biogeography of islands, lakes, and mountaintops. In Kliman, R.M. (Ed.). The Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Biology. Volume 1, pp. 203-210. Oxford: Academic Press.

Algar, A.C.
& Mahler, D.L. 2016. Area, climate heterogeneity, and the response of climate niches to ecological opportunity in island radiations of Anolis lizards. Global Ecology & Biogeography 25, 781-791.

Velasco, J.A., Martínez-Meyer, E., Flores-Villela, O., García-Aguayo, A., Algar, A.C., Köhler, G., Daza, J.M. 2016. Climatic niche attributes and diversification in Anolis lizards. Journal of Biogeography 43, 134-144. Highlighted in the GBIF Science Review 2016.

Muñoz, M.M., Wegener, J.E., Algar, A.C. 2014. Untangling intra- and interspecific effects on body size clines reveals divergent processes structuring convergent patterns in Anolis lizards. The American Naturalist 184, 636-646.

Muñoz, M.M., Stimola, M.A., Algar, A.C., Conover, A. Rodriguez, A.J., Landestoy, M.A., Bakken, G.S., Losos, J.B. 2014. Evolutionary stasis and lability in thermal physiology in a group of tropical lizards. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281, 20132433.

Graham, L.J., Bailey, J.J., Algar, A.C., Field, R. 2014. Where next for macroecology: citizen macroecology? Frontiers of Biogeography 6, 16-19.

Algar, A.C.
, Mahler, D.L., Glor, R.E., Losos, J.B. 2013. Niche incumbency, dispersal limitation, and climate shape geographical distributions in a species-rich island adaptive radiation. Global Ecology & Biogeography 22, 391-402.

Altamirano, A., Aplin, P., Miranda, A., Cayuela, L., Algar, A.C., Field, R. 2013. High rates of forest loss and turnover obscured by classical landscape measures. Applied Geography 40, 199-211.

Dawson, M.N., Algar, A.C. et al. 2013. An horizon scan of biogeography. Frontiers of Biogeography 5, 130-157.
Stuart, Y.E., Losos, J.B., Algar, A.C. 2012. The island–mainland species turnover relationship. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279, 4071-4077.

Algar, A.C
. 2012. Biogeography by geographers. Frontiers of Biogeography 4, 61-62.

Algar, A.C.
& Losos, J.B. 2011. Evolutionary assembly of island faunas reverses the classic island-mainland richness difference in Anolis lizards. Journal of Biogeography 38, 1125-1137. Selected for virtual special issue on advances in species-area research.

Algar, A.C.
, Kerr, J.T., Currie, D.J. 2011. Quantifying the importance of regional and local filters for community trait structure in tropical and temperate zones. Ecology 92, 903-914.

Kerr, J.T., Kulkarni, M., & Algar, A.C. 2011. Integrating theory and predictive modeling for conservation research. In Drew, C.A., Huettmann, F., Wiersma, Y.F. (Eds.). Predictive Modeling in Landscape Ecology. Springer, New York.

Algar, A.C.
, Kharouba, H.M., Young, E.R., & Kerr, J.T. 2009. Predicting the future of species diversity: macroecological theory, climate change, and direct tests of alternative forecasting methods. Ecography 32, 22-33.

Szabo, N.D.* Algar, A.C.*, Kerr, J.T. 2009. Reconciling topographic and climatic effects on widespread and range-restricted species richness. Global Ecology & Biogeography 18, 735-744. *Contributed equally as first authors.

Algar, A.C.
, Kerr, J.T., & Currie, D.J. 2009. Evolutionary constraints on regional faunas: whom, but not how many. Ecology Letters 12, 57-65.

Kharouba, H.M., Algar, A.C., & Kerr, J.T. 2009. Historically calibrated predictions of butterfly species' range shift using global change as a pseudo-experiment. Ecology 90, 2213-2222.

Algar, A.C.
, Kerr, J.T., & Currie, D.J. 2007. A test of metabolic theory as the mechanism underlying broad-scale species richness gradients. Global Ecology & Biogeography 16, 170-178.

Algar, A.C.
, Sleep, D., & Nudds, T.D. 2005. Niches, null models, and forest birds: testing competing community assembly hypotheses in disturbed and undisturbed hardwood forest. Écoscience 12, 574-580.

Land Acknowledgement

We respectfully acknowledge that Lakehead University's campuses are located on the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples. Lakehead Thunder Bay is located on the traditional lands of the Fort William First Nation, signatory to the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850. Lakehead Orillia is located on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg. The Anishinaabeg include the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi nations, collectively known as the Three Fires Confederacy. Lakehead University acknowledges the history that many nations hold in the areas around our campuses, and is committed to a relationship with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples based on the principles of mutual trust, respect, reciprocity, and collaboration in the spirit of reconciliation

Additionally, we respectfully acknowledge that our fieldwork in multiple places around the world has been located on the ancestral and traditional lands of a diverse set of Indigenous peoples. This likely includes unceded territory. The very fact that we do not know this for sure demonstrates that we need to continue and improve our commitment to furthering our understanding of the history of the lands on which we carry out fieldwork, and improve our understanding and engagement with the traditional and current peoples living and working in these areas.

Evolutionary Concepts (BIOL3671)
There is grandeur in this view of life . . . from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved - Charles Darwin

This course will introduce you to the fundamentals of evolution across scales of biological organization from genomic change to global biodiversity. To do so, we will travel from a Victorian naturalist's home in England, to the Greater Antilles, glacial lakes in British Columbia, and a very important freezer in a Michigan lab. Along the way, we will meet some of the people who have proposed theory, tested hypotheses, and shaped our evolutionary understanding, from Alfred Russell Wallace to Rosemary Grant. Throughout the class, I hope that not only will you gain an understanding of key evolutionary concepts, but also of why it is one of the most beautiful, elegant, and important ideas in the history of humankind.



Community Ecology (BIOL4113)
To do science is to search for repeated patterns, not simply to accumulate facts - Robert H. MacArthur

Words that will inspire you to take this course coming soon!