Paul D. N. Hebert

Canada Research Chair in Molecular Biodiversity

Tier 1 - 2017-11-01
Renewed: 2016-02-01
University of Guelph
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council


Research involves

Freshwater ecology and evolution; polar science.

Research relevance

Understanding the way species evolve under harsh Arctic conditions; cataloguing species using molecular methods.

Arctic Evolution

It is vast, beautiful, and a storehouse of information about evolutionary behaviour. Canada's Arctic, despite its landmass, remains relatively unexplored from a biological perspective, and is a critical vantage point for observing the effects of climate change.

The National Task Force Report on Northern Science recently identified a deficit in Canada's commitment to polar science. Awarding Paul Hebert this chair will help to remedy that deficit.

The University of Guelph researcher will work with his colleagues at Guelph and with other universities and government organizations to encourage the construction of a laboratory in the Arctic for biological research. Hebert hopes to extend Canadians' understanding of biodiversity in the Arctic, and increase public awareness about the diversity of polar life.

Among Hebert's areas of expertise is taxonomy - the classification of organisms in an orderly system. Gone are the days when that cataloguing was done by physical appearance alone. Today, the mapping of the human genome and DNA-based identification has revolutionized biologists' ability to classify species. Hebert and his colleagues will use a site in the Arctic - likely Resolute - to map all organisms in order to demonstrate that identification systems based on the analysis of a single gene can be used reliably to classify species in a particular system.

Although we tend to think of the Arctic as a barren tundra, there is in fact a sea of life awaiting Hebert and his colleagues, from marine mollusks, fish and algae to plants, mosses, fungi, mites and insects, as well as mammals.

The information Hebert gathers in his survey will provide insight into the way organisms evolved. He will also concentrate on making information about biodiversity more accessible, through his digital media group, CyberNatural Software. This group is dedicated to producing educational materials about the environment and biology.

Hebert is already an international leader in the areas of freshwater ecology and evolution. Much of his previous work looked at why species are sexual or asexual and how this effects evolution. This chair will allow Hebert to compare the genetic diversity of Arctic animals with the diversity of animals in warmer climates to observe how species adapt and evolve over time.