Heidi Swanson carries out research on the effects of climate change on aquatic food webs, mercury accumulation in Arctic lakes, the life history of lake trout and ecology of Arctic marine fish communities.
- Freshwater ecology
- Fish ecology
- Contaminant bioaccumulation
Professor Swanson's research interests lie at the interface of freshwater ecology, fish ecology, and contaminant bioaccumulation, and her research program reflects my interest in elucidating complex ecological interactions with chemical tracers. Many of Professor Swanson's projects involve analyses of stable isotope ratios and/or otolith microchemistry. Professor Swanson aims to conduct research that is applicable to multiple stakeholders, and she places great value in developing positive collaborative relationships with other academics, government researchers, Aboriginal communities, and industry.
Current research projects/themes:
1. Effects of climate change on aquatic food webs
Lakes that receive glacial inflow will likely become more turbid (i.e., less clear) as climate change accelerates rates of glacier melting. Using stable isotope ratios and innovative statistical techniques, we are working with the United States Geological Survey to determine how increases in glacial inflow are affecting/could affect lake food web structure. We are currently focused on Lake Clark, AK. This lake has 4 distinct turbidity zones (ranging from very turbid to very clear). Our goal is to investigate how different fish species (e.g., Sockeye salmon, Least cisco, Arctic char) in Lake Clark partition available food resources, and how this varies between turbidity zones. Future research will include food web studies on thermokarst lakes on the North Slope of Alaska.
2. Mercury accumulation in Arctic lakes
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin and is of particular concern in the Canadian north; northerners often rely on fish as a subsistence food source, and fish Hg concentrations exceed human consumption guidelines in several lakes and for several species. We are studying bioaccumulation of Hg in several lakes in the Deh Cho region, NT. Concentrations of Hg in fish are increasing in some of these lakes and are stable and/or decreasing in others. Our aim is to confirm documented temporal trends, investigate what is driving the trends (e.g., water chemistry, food web structure, etc), and predict how fish Hg concentrations in this region may respond to continued anthropogenic stressors, such as climate change.
3. Life history of Lake trout
Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) is a fascinating salmonid fish that, until recently, was thought to be restricted to cold, deep lakes and northern rivers. During my PhD and postdoctoral research, however, I discovered that lake trout can adopt a semi-, partially anadromous life history in the Canadian Arctic. This previously unknown plasticity in Lake trout life history may have implications for restoration initiatives in the Great Lakes. We are currently conducting preliminary investigations into the life history of river-run Lake trout in Lake Superior, and contrasting our results on reproductive fitness to that found for anadromous Lake trout in the Canadian Arctic.
4. Ecology of Arctic marine fish communities
Using stable isotope ratios, we are currently working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to study food web structure and trophic ecology in nearshore, coastal, and offshore fish communities in the Beaufort Sea. This innovative research involves many collaborators and is unique in its spatial coverage and scope.
Professor Swanson teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. Course offerings have included
- BIOL 150 Organismal and Evolutionary Ecology
- BIOL 489 Arctic Ecology
- BIOL 606 Advanced Aquatic Ecology
- BIOL 680 Special Topics (Graduate Reading Course)
Recent publications include
- Gilbert, M.J.H., Donadt, C.R., Popowich, R., Swift, D., O’Neil, J., Swanson, H.K., Stevens, C.C., and K.B. Tierney. 2016. Alternative migratory strategies of Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus) in an extreme environment. In Press.
- Stasko, A.D.*, Power, M., Swanson, H.K., Majewski, A., Atchison, S., and J.D. Reist. 2016. Influences of depth and pelagic subsidies on the size-based trophic structure of Beaufort Sea fish communities. In Press.
- Giraldo, C., Stasko, A.*, Choy, E.S., Rosenberg, B., Majewski, A., Power, M., Swanson, H.K., Loseto, L., and James D. Reist. 2016. Trophic variability of Arctic fishes in the Canadian Beaufort Sea: a fatty acids and stable isotopes approach. Polar Biology. In Press.
- Swanson, Heidi K., M. Lysy, M. Power, A. Stasko*, J. Johnson, and J. Reist. 2015. A new probabilistic method for quantifying n-dimensional ecological niches and niche overlap. Ecology, 96(2): 318–324.
- Chételat, J. Amyot, M., Arp, P., Blais, J., Depew, D.., Emmerton, C., Evans, M., Gamberg, M., Gantner, N., Girard, C., Graydon, J., Kirk, J., Lean, D., Lehnherr, I., Muir, D., Nasr, M., Poulain, A., Power, M., Rencz, A., Roach, P., Stern, G. and Swanson, H.K., and van der Velden, S. 2015. Mercury in freshwater ecosystems of the Canadian Arctic: Recent advances on its cycling and fate. Science of the Total Environment 509-510: 41-66.
Please see Heidi Swanson's Google Scholar profile for a current list of her peer-reviewed articles.
Awards and Distinctions
- University Research Chair, 2015-2022.
- Best Community Involvement, Northern Contaminants Program, 2015
- L'Oreal Canada-UNESCO 'Women in Science Research Excellence Fellowship' (2010-2011)
- Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship (2010-2012)
University of Waterloo Affiliations
- Water Institute, Member
Professional Associations and Service
- Journal Editorship
- Associate Editor, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
- Professional Associations
- American Fisheries Society
- Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
The following news stories have featured Professor Swanson's research:
March 28, 2016 First Nations students to help UW test Yukon fish
2009 PhD Biology, University of New Brunswick
2003 MSc Environmental Biology and Ecology, University of Alberta
2001 BSc Biology, Queen's University