Media releases

  • Brock research finds pace of evolution faster than previously thought

    MEDIA RELEASE: 13 December 2021 – R0134

    In response to targeting by trophy hunters, wild populations of bighorn sheep are now growing 10 per cent smaller horns than they did less than 20 years ago as a way to adapt and minimize the risk to their species.

    That rapid evolutionary interplay between hunter and hunted is an example described in a recently accepted paper in the Journal of Molecular Ecology entitled “The Pace of Modern Life, Revisited,” co-authored by a research team at Brock University.

    Such adaptations can be measured as phenotypic rates of change and allow scientists to predict patterns of ‘contemporary’ evolutionary change.

    The research by the paper’s co-senior author, Brock University Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Kiyoko Gotanda, along with colleagues at 10 institutions around the world, shows evolution can be seen within a lifetime.

    “In some species, anywhere from two to 200 generations is enough to exhibit change,” Gotanda said, pointing out that for fruit flies, 200 generations is approximately six years.

    “We have come a long way from the old view of evolution as a slow process to the point where we are now realizing that everything is evolving all around us all the time,” said co-senior author Andrew Hendry, Professor of Biology at McGill University.

    Lead author Sarah Sanderson, a PhD candidate in Biology at McGill, says the big question now is “how this rapid phenotypic change matters for populations, communities, ecosystems and nature’s contribution to people.”

    Gotanda’s team compiled many individual studies that have shown this type of evolution. They used the data to answer long-standing questions about how contemporary evolution works and provide a massive dataset of these changes so other investigators can answer related questions.

    The team is responsible for adding 5,676 new estimates of phenotypic change to the list, representing a 77 per cent increase.

    Key to their findings are how human disturbances such as trophy hunting influence change.

    “We focused on human disturbances and found a small absolute difference in rates of change exists between human disturbed and natural populations,” Gotanda said.

    Analyses of the expanded dataset also confirms previous studies showing: harvesting by humans results in larger rates of change than non-human disturbances; introduced populations have increased rates of change; and body size does not increase through time.

    “Overall, findings from earlier published analyses have largely held-up in analyses of our new dataset that encompass a much larger breadth of species, traits and human disturbances,” Gotanda said.

    The team believes the database will serve as a stepping stone for further analyses to understand patterns of contemporary evolution. For example, postdoctoral researcher Lucas Gorné in Gotanda’s research group and supported through a fellowship from the Faculty of Mathematics and Science is continuing to work with the database to answer more questions about rapid phenotypic change.

    “I’m most interested in in whether disturbances are generating confounding or synergistic effects,” said Gotanda.

    The research is cautious to infer evolution from phenotypic rates of change as more research is needed to discover whether the traits exhibited are truly heritable (coming from parental genes) or plastic (generated by phenotypic changes in the environment within a lifespan).

    “A common garden experiment involving the comparison of genetically distinct strains, families or populations under identical environmental conditions would help to uncover the extent that the rates of change we observe can be attributed to contemporary evolution,” Gotanda said.

    Brock Faculty of Mathematics and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed said he is looking forward to the discoveries Gotanda’s research supports.

    “They are now the caretakers of an invaluable list, allowing exploration and expansion for future scientists to build upon,” he said.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University ddakin@brocku.ca or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases

  • CIHR funding helps Brock research impact of COVID-19 on youth

    MEDIA RELEASE: 10 December 2021 – R0133

    The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt by all, but new Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding announced Thursday, Dec. 9 will help Brock researchers examine how the pandemic has impacted Canadian adolescents.

    In June, the CIHR launched research funding opportunities to generate evidence to better understand and help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children, youth and families in Canada, as well as for research that would support COVID-19 vaccination programs.

    On Thursday, Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos announced the Government of Canada’s $13.7-million support of 89 COVID-19 research projects, including that of Brock University Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Karen Patte and Postdoctoral Fellow Markus Duncan, as well as Assistant Professor of Child and Youth Students Heather Ramey.

    Patte and Duncan are leading a team of researchers from Ontario, B.C. and Alberta on the project “Changes in health behaviours among adolescents and social-ecological influences: Pandemic evidence for an equitable recovery.”

    Using data collected by the team before and through the pandemic from Canadian adolescents, the research is looking at how COVID-19 has impacted various health behaviours, including physical activity, sleep, screen use, eating behaviour and substance use. The aim is to identify who was most negatively affected and what factors may help reduce the risk. The team is working in partnership with Public Health Ontario, ParticipACTION, schools and youth themselves to ensure the research reflects the diverse experiences of adolescents and meets the needs of those who can create change.

    “Health behaviours tend to become established during adolescence and track into adulthood,” said Patte. “This research will help inform strategies to mitigate any sustained effects of the pandemic across the lifespan, targeting those who need them most, for a more equitable recovery.”

    Ramey, meanwhile, is part of a research team with Heather Lawford, Associate Professor of Psychology at Bishop’s University and Canada Research Chair in Youth Development.

    Working with the Students Commission of Canada (SCC), their study is inviting 1,000 Canadian youth who are LGBTQ2, rural, Indigenous, racialized, in-care and living with disabilities to share how COVID-19 and the restrictions it caused affected them. The team will explore how programs and services have changed to serve young people, and how these changes may have affected young people’s mental and physical health, relationships and well-being.

    “Programs have adapted,” Ramey said. “We need to know how and for what young people those changes mattered. One of the strengths of the project is that it will be a partnership with young people who may be furthest from opportunity, and with community organizations who are doing this work.”

    The nearly $150,000 funding for each project comes from the CIHR’s operating grant “Understanding and mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families in Canada.”

    “Investing in science is essential to protect the health and well-being of Canadians during and after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Duclos. “I congratulate the successful teams whose work will help to improve vaccine confidence and address the wide range of impacts this pandemic has had on Canadian families.”

    Christine Chambers, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, said the research “will play a critical role in building a healthier future for our children.”

    “No child or family has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are so pleased to be supporting diverse research teams from across Canada who will be leading important research aimed at understanding and mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families,” she said.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Dan Dakin, Manager Communications and Media Relations, Brock University ddakin@brocku.ca or 905-347-1970

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    Categories: Media releases