General research

Generally speaking, we are interested in understanding how biological structure, broadly defined to include structure of all biological forms (i.e., spatial structure, food web structure, stage structure, variation in individuals), mitigates the stability and functioning of ecosystems. This question naturally leads to understanding how human impacts alter biological structure and so also how impacts may potentially alter the stability and functioning of whole ecosystems. This latter aspect of human impacts brings has our empirically motivated interests in developing practical biomonitoring techniques that span the ecological hierarchy. Our work is theoretical, empirical and experimental and the lab takes students/researchers on all axes with one constraint, everyone must be interested in conceptual/theoretical development.

Ecology has long assumed the world is in equilibrium, in a sense, as a simplifying assumption. We have become interested in embracing variability, so to speak, and in doing so look at how variation – especially known variation like massive cycles in pests or seasons – alters biological structure consistently. The question then becomes: how this changing structure influence stability and ecosystem services? Since human impacts like climate change are altering seasonal signals, for example, then these existing communities may expect to rapidly face changes in some of signals they have long adapted to. This latter area of research, in a sense, seeks to flesh out the “mechanisms” that make ecological systems “prototypical examples of complex adaptive ecosystems” (Simon Levin).

Seafood Sustainability

Specific Ecosystem Studies


Dams, Climate Change and Floodplain Ecosystems

   Kevin McCann   Marie Gutgesell     Kevin Cazelles  
My lab is part of a large project at the University of Guelph that is looking at different farming techniques, both on land and in water, impact the ecosystems that are adjacent to them. By 2050, the planet will have 9.6 billion people on it and the need to produce food in a sustainable manner – both sustainable in terms of efficient crop production and also in terms of land use and biodiversity conservation in natural ecosystem. Although this is a very general project that seeks to understand how farming type influences adjacent ecosystem services, we are focusing on the influence of farming intensity and style on lake, river and stream ecosystems.


Budworms and Boreal Forests

   Kevin McCann   Christopher J. Greyson-Gaito  
The budworm cycle is known and well studied. Nonetheless, the major factors governing the size and extent of budworms remains a mystery. We are part of a collaborative effort with Dr. Eldon Eveleigh to decompose the roles different aspects play in mediating the cycle. This research again is interested in how structures vary in response to the major and relatively predictable shifts in budworm in the Boreal forest.


Coastal Marine Food Webs

   Kevin McCann   Carling Bieg  
The McCann lab also has ongoing collaborations with a number of marine ecologists including one that is looking at how beach food webs are altered by changing conditions. Additionally, we are involved in some collaborations involving coral reefs and seagrass ecosystems.


Dams, Climate Change and Floodplain Ecosystems

   Kevin McCann  
Floodplains like the Tonle Sap in Cambodia are strongly seasonally forced ecosystems and as such are wonderful models for considering the role of how structure changes with season. Additionally, these systems are threatened to change in many ways due to mounting human impacts like dams and climate change that will alter the strength of longstanding seasonal cycles (e.g., in precipitation and flooding).


Great Lakes Food Webs

   Kevin McCann      
The Great lakes are iconic examples of ecosystems under threat of human impacts. Invasive species, water levels, micro-plastics, nutrient run-off, you name it, have been argued to influence these ecosystems. This range of stressors likely play a variety of roles in restructuring the community/food web and ecosystem attributes of these important lakes. Here, our work has become interested in using Biotracers and other empirical measurements that can monitor individual responses (physiology, behavior) to whole ecosystem responses to natural conditions and human-impacted conditions. While organizations like the Stockholm resilience Centre have focused on Global metrics to look at human impacts, this work in a sense takes a similar approach but focuses on the unit of management, the ecosystem. The hope is to develop easy to measure ecological assays that harness existing and developing biotechnology (DNA barcoding, fatty acids) to rapidly biomonitor things in time and space. This leads to another area we are working in the McCann lab and that is the development of Biotracers in Science and Applications, both from theoretical and empirical viewpoint as well as a purely methodological viewpoint.


Human Food Webs/Communities

   Kevin McCann  
We are involved in collaborations that are investigating how the microbiome interacts to mediate disease and human health. We take a “systems” view to disease dynamics.