Research Chair in Northern Studies

Dr. Douglas Morris

Research Chair in Northern Studies

Department of Biology


Start Date: 1 July 2004

Renewals: 2009 & 2014



Key words describing research

Adaptation, Arctic, biodiversity, climate change, ecology, evolution, global change, habitat, habitat selection, mammals, populations


Research relevance

Canada is a northern nation. Canadians thus have more to gain through northern research, and more at risk to changes in northern ecosystems, than people from any other nation. Accordingly, this research program develops and tests theory that predicts the future state of populations and species as they adapt to change.  


Ecology and evolution of habitat selection

All organisms live in and use habitat and all habitats are influenced, at some scale, by human activities. It follows that an understanding of habitat change, and the responses of species to those changes, can provide universal insights into ecology, evolutionary biology, and the conservation of Earth’s biodiversity. The Research Chair in Northern Studies capitalizes on these insights through field research in a variety of northern ecosystems. Most research projects develop and test theory that predicts how populations and communities adapt to habitat change.

Research in Nunavut is dedicated to predicting how lemmings adapt to global warming. Lemmings are the Arctic’s keystone terrestrial species, and changes to their habitat and in their population dynamics will influence the abundance and distribution of virtually all other tundra species. Research in Northern Ontario is centered on the Chair’s Habitron. The Chair and his research team use controlled experiments in this large 4.5 ha field laboratory to reveal how, and why, animals choose some habitats over others. Current research answers such questions as “Does habitat selection increase biodiversity? Can habitat selection create new species? Can habitat selection rescue species from extinction?”  Long-term studies in Canada’s northern hardwood forests evaluate how climate change alters animal reproduction, survival, habitat use, and population density. Collaborative research with colleagues at universities in Sweden, USA, and Israel aims to understand the evolution of ecological and behavioural strategies.

The research program has lead to numerous publications including a book connecting ecology and evolutionary biology, several scientific articles on climate change, habitat selection, and eco-evolutionary theory, and book chapters on such themes as dispersal and the conservation of biodiversity. The Chair regularly hosts guest speakers at Lakehead University, contributes to policy, serves on several editorial boards, and organizes and participates in inter-disciplinary symposia at Lakehead and at national and international scientific meetings.