Danielle Way

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Danielle Way
University of Toronto

When I began my studies, I was interested in biology but had no specific direction. It wasn’t until my second year, when I took a field course in Ecuador, that I realized how much I loved ecology. I pursued (and caught) a specialist in ecology at the University of Toronto, where I was able to take two more field courses, studying arctic plant community responses to disturbance and the role of sea urchins in structuring coral reef fish communities. In my final year, an upper-year course made me realize that our most pressing problems were those driven by global change. With this in mind, I began my Master’s working on photosynthetic acclimation to high CO2 in black spruce, one of the dominant tree species in the North American boreal forest. A year later I transferred to the PhD program, where I’m focusing on how high growth temperatures limit black spruce growth.

My thesis work is representative of how I feel ecological knowledge should be used in a changing world. First, identify areas where ecological understanding is poor, but urgently needed. In my case, black spruce is one of the most common trees in the world, structuring vast tracts of the boreal, and these northern latitudes will experience the most climate warming. Understanding whether this species can tolerate higher temperatures is critical for predicting the response of the boreal to a warmer climate. Second, advertise your findings widely. I have discussed my work and their implications in seven seminars over the last three years, at venues ranging from forest canopy workshops to the ESA and will be publishing them this year. Lastly, I believe that ecological knowledge should be applied to practical problems when possible. Using our understanding of how elevated CO2 stimulates photosynthesis, my supervisor and I published a CO2 fertilization technique that increases the growth of black spruce planted for reforestation.

I strongly believe in making science exciting and accessible to students and the public. I have either taught or TAed ten courses on global change ecology, alpine field ecology and physiological ecology. I talk once per semester at public forums on topics ranging from global warming to the ecological theory behind the deciduous/evergreen strategy. The enthusiastic reception of these talks has convinced me that there is a hunger for ecological knowledge that we should meet, because an educated public is one empowered to make changes.

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