Profile – Professor Dave Barton

Monday, February 25, 2013

David Bartonby Ralph Smith

There once was a young man who went north to pursue advanced studies in aquatic ecology at the University of Waterloo. He made his way to Niagara Falls, New York, and up the Niagara Peninsula, navigating flawlessly. All was well until he was confronted by a sign for a major town that neither he nor his map knew of: Cambridge, Ontario. Trusting in his compass, he pressed on and did find his way to Waterloo.

The young man was David Barton, the year was 1975, and the amalgamation of several municipalities to form Cambridge was a recent (and still confusing) event. Dave studied with the internationally famous biology professor and stream ecologist Noel Hynes, becoming an expert in aquatic entomology and the benthic ecology of the Great Lakes. After completing a PhD, he worked for some years in the Department of Biology before moving west to investigate the ecology of running waters in the Athabasca tar (OK, oil) sands region. Yes, the oil sands were already becoming controversial. While he enjoyed the big skies and back country of Alberta, he nonetheless returned to University of Waterloo in 1986 and has been a professor in the Department of Biology since then.

Dave has been a key part of the traditionally strong aquatic ecology theme area of the department. His work has taken him to extreme northern Quebec, navigating the fog-bound waters of Ungava Bay with biology professor Geoff Power and helping to feed the camp with his angling skills. In Ontario, he has plumbed the seemingly limitless depths of Lake Temagimi and other lakes with sampling devices actuated only by human muscle power and determination. Many streams and rivers have also known his presence as he collects the diverse and exotic invertebrate animals he has come to know so well. His lab displays an extensive collection of pickled specimens, not recommended for those with bug phobias.

He has also been a notable force promoting field courses as essential learning opportunities for ecologists. At Discovery Bay in Jamaica, his SCUBA proficiency and seemingly unique ability to dock boats without breaking their propellers were essential assets as he and biology professor Hamish Duthie introduced young students to the magic of the coral reef. He was a mainstay too of the department’s Algonquin Park course, where he survived professor Wayne Hawthorn’s mandatory martini hour for many years. Most recently, he initiated a new (and very popular) field course in marine ecology on the island of North Andros in the Bahamas (see photograph above). He is gradually assuming, or planning to assume, a Bahamian partial identity, as the Ontario winter loses some of its charm for him.

The Great Lakes research community will miss Dave’s active involvement but will remember him very well through many published works. He has also left his mark in a substantial cadre of students who now populate many positions in organizations concerned with environmental monitoring and management. Still, it will now be up to others to ask some of those hard questions at the departmental meetings.

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