backResearcher Profile

Deborah Ann McLennan

Job Title: Assistant Professor
Employer: University of Toronto
Place of Birth: Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
Public School attended: Mary Jane Norris (North Surrey, B.C.)
High School attended: Hillside Secondary (West Vancouver, B.C.)
Further Education: Simon Fraser University (B.Sc.), University of British Columbia (M.Sc.), University of Toronto (Ph.D.).
Geographic focus of research: Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Brief synopsis of current research:
The perpetuation of a species and the efficiency with which it adapts to changing environmental condidtions depends upon the ability of its members to find appropriate mates. Evolution has produced a vast array of communication systems for mate recognition and mate assessment. I am interested in studying the patterns of origin and diversification of these systems as well as the mechanisms producing those patterns. In general, I study the male-female courtship dialogue in a variety of freshwater fishes, focussing on both visual and olfactory cues, but I have also worked with acoustic cues in frogs.

Mailing address:
Department of Zoology, 25 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON, M5S 3G5

Recent Publications:

Brooks, D.R. and D.A. McLennan. 1991. Phylogeny, Ecology and Behavior: A Research Program in Comparative Biology. Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago. 434p. (2nd printing, 1992).

McLennan, D.A. 1995. Male mate choice based on female nuptial coloration in brook sticklbacks, Culaea inconstans. Animal Behaviour 50:213-221.

McLennan, D.A. 1996. Integrating phylogenetic and experimental analyses: The evolution of male and female nuptial coloration in the Gasterosteidae. Systematic Biology 45:261-277.

McLennan, D.A. and M.J. Ryan. 1999. Interspecific recognition and discrimination based upon olfactory cues in northern swordtails. Evolution 53:880-888.

Brooks, D.R. and D.A. McLennan. 1999. Species: Turning a conundrum into a research program. Journal of Nematology 31:117-133.

Canada has one of the world's largest supplies of freshwater. The repeated cycling of glacial expansion and retreat over the past few million years has produced interesting patterns of speciation-extinction amongst the inhabitants of that freshwater. One of the positive outcomes of this cycling (from a researcher's perspective anyway) is that our waterways are inhabited by a manageable number of vertebrate species - in other words, you are not overwhelmed by numbers when you look into the water, the way you are when you peer into the Amazon. The fewer the number of species, the fewer the number of possible interactions among those species that could be involved in shaping the evolution of mate recognition signals, species formation, community structure etc. In other words, it is much easier to untangle those interactions and test possible hypotheses when you only have five or ten species to study (you can always go to the Amazon on vacation and be astonished by hundreds of species interacting within one community!). Canada also harbors some of the most beautifully coloured freshwater fishes in the world - the Iowa darter, three spine and brook sticklebacks, fine scale dace, arctic char (to name only a few). Canadians thus have a unique opportunity to study the evolution of male- female communication in freshwater fishes, as well as the role for that communication in structuring freshwater ecosystems. Constant vigilance by researchers is required to ensure that habitat degradation, over fishing, and (the most current threat) the sale of freshwater, does not decimate those ecosystems. It is thus in every aquatic biologist's own best interest (job preservation) as well as the survival interest of our species as a whole that you, as a researcher, talk to the public about what you are doing, providing voters with a biological rationale that they can combine with economic arguments to produce a viable plan for sustainable use of our resources. This way we can continue to study the unique fauna that we call "Canadian freshwater fishes (and other freshwater denizens)" for centuries to come. ]