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Elizabeth Boulding

Professor, Integrative Biology, University of Guelph

My laboratory investigates the factors that determine whether a population will adapt to a change in the biological environment without going extinct. This is important because current rates of environmental change experienced by animal populations are higher than over most of the fossil record. I have short and long-term marine field experiments set up near Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre just north of the West Coast Trail. I also enjoy hosting international visitors in my molecular ecology research lab in the Summerlee Science Complex at the University of Guelph. I work on the ecological genomics and local adaptation of Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick in collaboration with Canadian and Norwegian scientists. I did my B.Sc. and my M.Sc. research on selection by shell-breaking crabs on their bivalve prey at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. I then worked for Fisheries and Oceans at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography for two years where I went on cruises to Jones Sound and the Scotian Shelf. My Ph.D. research on the ecology and systematics of marine snails took place at Tatoosh Island and Friday Harbor Laboratories at the University of Washington. I then studied molecular population genetics at Simon Fraser University as an NSERC postdoctoral fellow. In 1993 I was awarded an NSERC Women's Faculty Award and chose to join the faculty of the University of Guelph.

The salmon louse is a marine parasitic species of copepod that has a direct impact on farm income through inventory losses caused by skin and gill damage which can also increase disease risks. Levels of sea lice infestation were historically controlled using husbandry practices including area management and lower stocking densities. A limited number of chemical therapeutants have been authorized for use but sole reliance on these parasiticides can lead to sea lice resistance. The industry has now adopted an Integrated Pest Management approach to sea lice management, which uses several alternate treatment options. In Europe, cleaner fishes such as the lumpfish and European wrasses are introduced into sea cages to eat the lice off the Atlantic salmon. In eastern Canada, the lumpfish and a North American wrasse, the cunner, have been shown to significantly reduce adult lice densities on salmon living in marine sea cages. Further some families of lumpfish are more effective lice cleaners than others suggesting lice cleaning propensity is heritable. It is known that co-operative behaviour by salmon (e.g., remaining stationary) to facilitate lice cleaning can occur in sea cages, but it is not known whether the co-operative behaviour is heritable. Genotyping Atlantic salmon with high density SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) chips has revealed SNPs associated with lower lice counts in the absence of cleaner fish. My current research has the following objectives: 1) determine the best size-class of cunners to use to clean Atlantic salmon in commercial sea cages; 2) determine the stock structure and examine variation in lice-cleaning performance among cunners and among lumpfish from different stocks; 3) assess heritable variation in lice eating behaviour among families of cunners and of lumpfish; 4) Conduct lice challenges with and without the lice cleaner fish present to see if there is a change in the ranking of salmon families with respect to lice counts with and without the biological control agent present. Our work will reduce the economic costs of sea lice control by the Canadian Atlantic salmon industry and increase its sustainability.


  • 1993–2021
    Professor of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph