Canada Research Chair in Ecological Change and Environmental Stressors
PhD (Carleton University)
MS (University of Windsor)
BSc Honours (University of British Columbia)
Melissa McKinney received her BSc degree (Chemistry) from the University of British Columbia, her MS degree (Chemistry and Biochemistry) from the University of Windsor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), and her PhD (Chemistry, with Specialization in Chemical and Environmental Toxicology) with a Canada Graduate Scholarship from Carleton University at the National Wildlife Research Centre. She held an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship at Dalhousie University (Department of Biology), followed by a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Windsor (GLIER). She began as an Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, before returning to Canada to join McGill’s Department of Natural Resource Sciences to research environmental change and ecological stressors facing Arctic marine fish and mammals.
Awards and Recognitions
2017 ‒ American Chemical Society Editor’s Choice Article
2015 ‒ Recognition of Teaching Excellence, University of Connecticut, Provost
2014 ‒ Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (University of Windsor)
2011-2012 ‒ NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship (Dalhousie University)
Associate Editor, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Earth's ecosystems are changing due to climate change and more so in the Arctic than elsewhere. Therefore, Arctic environmental change can tell scientists about changes that will happen further south. Yet, climate change impacts on Arctic animal health remains poorly understood and difficult to predict. One particular unknown is how ecological changes may alter wildlife exposures to other key environmental stressors, including pollutants, pathogens, and parasites, and how these changes may together impact the health of individuals and populations. Dr. McKinney’s research program addresses these questions using advanced chemical tracers to study Arctic marine species as indicators of global environmental change.
This research program uses advanced chemical tracer approaches in marine mammals, as sentinels of ecosystem change, to evaluate fundamental questions about habitat use and feeding habits. It also addresses applied questions regarding the influence of rapid warming and sea ice loss on the feeding relationships of native and non-native species within marine ecosystems. The program further addresses how ecological changes interact with other anthropogenic stressors facing biota, particularly pollutants, pathogens, and parasites, and the cumulative effects of these stressors on individual and population health.
Trophic ecological change in marine species using chemical tracers. Melting sea ice represents the key threat to the sustainability of Arctic marine mammals. Conversely, temperate and sub-Arctic marine mammals are redistributing northward to occupy these new areas of open water. Shifting community composition may lead to increased competition for food, as well as greater risk of predation due to range-expanding killer whales. Yet, little is known about comparative feeding patterns among native and non-native marine mammals in the Arctic. As well, estimates of killer whale predation are lacking. This project uses a multi-proxy, chemical tracers-based approach to determine the roles of competition and predation on the fitness of these sentinel species in a natural laboratory for climate change, the Arctic.
Ecological drivers of fish and wildlife exposures to contaminants. Recent biotelemetry work has demonstrated that even within populations, certain wildlife show substantial differences in home ranges and habitat types, and thus likely also in the prey species available to them. This project seeks to evaluate how flexibility in movement behavior and feeding habits within and among wildlife populations may influence exposures to environmental contaminants. Knowledge gleaned will be important in predicting the impacts of future sea ice-driven changes in foraging habitat and behavior on risks of exposure to mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants of concern for sensitive Arctic wildlife.
Multiple stressor interactions and cumulative effects. Global ecological change has led to substantial, population-specific shifts in feeding habits of polar bears over the past few decades, including increased use of onshore foods and of sub-Arctic marine mammals. This project is assessing how climate-driven shifts in foraging may alter gut microbiota and diversity, and connected pathogen, parasite, and pollutant loads, and the consequences for immune system function across multiple populations experiencing ecological change.