Lab Members

Catherine Potvin, Professor

Professor Catherine Potvin, McGill UniversityWhat I like to do on weekends is walk in the forest. And this is also what I do as a Biology Professor at McGill University. I am a plant biologist who specialised in tropical forest ecology and conservation. Tropical forests play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle and in species conservation. More than just that, they are amazingly beautiful and express the full imagination of nature. I am very preoccupied by climate change and, with my research group, we are passionately searching for solutions. This entails the study of land uses and the protection of forests in full respect for the people that live in and from them. This is why our lab motto is “Science for Empowerment”. For 25 years now, I have been collaborating and learning from Panama’s Indigenous peoples. They are my main partner outside of academia. How did I get here? I earned a BSc and an MSc at l’Université de Montréal and then, in 1985, I completed a PhD in Botany from Duke University in North Carolina. My next step was to come back to Montréal for postdoctoral studies in Statistics. I joined the Biology Department at McGill University in 1988. Besides all this, I am a proud mother and grandmother.

Catherine.potvin [at] (Email)


Lady Mancilla, Panama Research Assistant

Lady Mancilla, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

I have worked with Dr. Potvin as a field and research assistant since March 2007. I joined the lab as an intern in the Sardinilla tree plantation project, where I developed a wood decomposition experiment of the planted tree species. As field and research assistant for the Neotropical Ecology Lab in Panama, my responsibilities include research organisation, planning and coordination, supervision and support of local research partners, finance management, establishment and monitoring of reforestation plots in eastern Panama, and data collection and harvesting in the Sardinilla tree plantation.

In 2019, I began to collaborate on the carbon offsetting project between McGill University and the Indigenous communities of Ipetí- and Piriatí- Emberá, by supervising and supporting the local NGO AMARIE (Asociación de Mujeres Embera de Ipetí Embera), the traditional authorities, the local coordinators and participants in the implementation of the project. From 2017– 2018, I went back to my beginnings to close the Sardinilla Project by participating in the harvest and measurement of over 200 17-year-old timber trees to examine their sequestration of carbon.

mancillal [at] (Email)


Micah Pavlidis, Master's student in co-supervision

My first time working with Dr. Potvin was during a field course during my undergraduate degree in the Honours Biology Program at McGill, which is, not coincidentally, where I also had my first hands on experience working with tree plots. A year later, I started my Master's thesis in Biology at McGill, co-supervised by Catherine Potvin and Frédéric Guichard

My project focuses on the old-growth deciduous forest in the Gault Nature Reserve on Mont Saint-Hilaire, Québec, where decades of data collection are enabling me to examine the long-term change to the forest's tree community, and hopefully link any detected change to the presence of white-tailed deer, among other stressors. Using survey data from multiple permanent plots placed across the reserve, my goal is to analyze how the tree species composition and demographics have changed in this forest since before I was born! My project has important implications for conservation management and our understanding of the baseline conditions of the deciduous forests that once covered eastern North America. 
As someone who is passionate about science communication and making a connection with nature accessible to everyone, working in a reserve that is open to the public is a fantastic opportunity to practice my outreach skills. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with data that has seen the hands of several generations of Gault researchers and I'm excited to see what we can find out about this beautiful ecosystem.


Former Lab Members

Madeleine Gauthier, MSc, Montreal Research Assistant

Madeleine Gauthier, MSc Student, McGill UniversityAs a scientist interested in climate change and social justice, I believe science has this capacity to make us realize how vulnerable we all are in this changing world, but also how powerful knowledge-informed decisions can be. In my research, I’m particularly interested in: developing tools for different institutions to act on climate change issues; exploring methodologies that include participatory research; and using the playground of science to examine alternatives to the current carbon-intensive economy. I think we have the responsibility to use science to mitigate and limit climate change. It isn’t just a matter of individual choice, but a matter of social justice that requires global collective action.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from McGill University as well as a Minor in Anthropology. I completed my Master’s degree in the Department of Biology as part of a multidisciplinary research team in 2022. To learn more or collaborate on research projects, you can contact me at my email address.

madeleine.gauthier3 [at] (Email)


Javier Mateo-Vega, PhD

Javier Mateo Vega, McGill UniversityI am a PhD candidate in Dr. Potvin’s Neotropical Ecology Lab, and Global Director of Partnerships and Communications at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Rome, Italy. My research interests lie in understanding the forces and trade-offs that drive and constrain forest conservation and other land-uses in complex pluralistic and multifunctional landscapes. I am interested in contributing to the body of knowledge that informs how to support complex social-ecological systems transition to and adopt low-emissions rural development models. I am currently using eastern Panama (i.e. Bayano Region and Darien) as a model site. Drawing from several disciplines, my research has considered the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples in forest monitoring (including for REDD+); modeled land use trade-offs based on the desires of different stakeholders in contexts of social conflict; revealed the values that different groups attach to varying land-use scenarios and their implications on the provision of ecosystem services; and explored functional redundancy between forest carbon and tree diversity.

j.mateovega [at] (Email)


Camilo Alejo, PhD

Camilo Alejo, PhD Candidate, McGill UniversityI'm a biologist from Universidad de Los Andes and Masters in Conservation from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá, Colombia). My previous academic experience has focused on forests and Indigenous peoples, particularly in the ecological impacts of non-timber forest products (NTFP) and the traditional ecological knowledge of Tikunas (Colombian Amazon). In 2018, I started my Ph.D. (Neotropical Environment Option) at Dr. Potvin's lab sponsored by BESS (NSERC-CREATE: Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Sustainability). Since then, I have expanded my research scale to analyze the impact of Indigenous people's land-use in climate change mitigation in Central American and Amazon Basin countries. This exciting journey has taken me to develop multiple collaborations, including the AMPB (Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests), RAISG (Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network), Woodwell Climate, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

edgar.alejomonroy [at] (Email)


Nicole Meier, MSc

Nicole Meier, MSc Student, McGill UniversityI’ve been fascinated by the tropics since little, travelling yearly from Switzerland to visit my relatives in Panama. I discovered my country’s rich history, culture and biodiversity through my grandfather’s passion for science and history, and through every adventure he took me to, into panga rides, visiting Embera communities, horseback riding in the rainforest, or visiting colonial sites. Today, this fascination is translated into my aim of addressing biodiversity loss, as well as socioeconomic inequalities facing climate change by using a multidisciplinary and community-based approach in research and conservation. I particularly recognize the importance of working with farmers and Indigenous communities who hold a traditional knowledge and relation to nature imbibed in their historical and cultural identity. In the past, I graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Forest Conservation (2018) and worked in research and conservation-driven institutions such as Credit Valley Conservation, Mississauga. My research at the Neotropical Ecology Laboratory aims to expand our knowledge on biodiversity and forest resilience mechanisms in the face of climate change. I aspire to use this knowledge to guide forward-thinking reforestation and conservation projects to consider the ongoing and predicted changing climatic conditions into their planning and use climate change resilient species.

nicole.meier [at] (Email)




Mathieu Guillemette, MSc

Mathieu Guillemette, MSc Student, McGill UniversityI’m interested in advancing our understanding of forests as carbon sinks and climate change solutions. I ask myself questions like how much carbon is stored in forests, where this carbon is stored, how it fluctuates and how to develop financial incentives based on carbon stocks. In the past years, I completed with Honours a Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Université de Montréal (2016). I worked for Parks Canada in the visitor experience department in British Columbia (2018–19). I also worked on a participatory land-use mapping/planning project with Indigenous communities in Panama with Dr. Potvin’s Lab (2015). Finally, I worked on a research project fighting invasive plant species in Quebec with Dr. Jacques Brisson at Institut de Recherche en Biologie Végétale (2014). During my professional experiences and personal life, I have visited 24 countries in four continents for over 27 months. Outside of work, I am an outdoors enthusiast with a particular taste for backcountry snowboarding, surfing, mountain biking and rock climbing. I also enjoy spending my free time gardening, building furniture and learning about car mechanics.

mathieu.guillemette [at] (Email)


Christopher Luederitz, Postdoctoral

Christopher Luederitz, Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill UniversityBefore starting his postdoc at McGill University, Chris completed his doctoral studies at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. Chris also holds a Master’s in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science (MSc) from Lund University, Sweden, and a Bachelor in Environmental Sciences (BSc) from Leuphana University, Germany.

christopher.luederitz [at] (Email)





Katia Forgues, MSc

Katia Forgues, MSc Student, McGill UniversityI’m a first year Master’s student in the Neotropical Ecology Lab. I graduated from McGill with distinction and first-class honours in Environmental Sciences in 2020. I’m interested in developing community-centred initiatives to fight climate change that benefit both the environment and people. Working in this lab, I am thrilled to work with two Indigenous Emberá communities in Panama on reforestation and carbon sequestration projects. I believe we need to transition to more sustainable ways of life and, for this to be possible, it is critical that we find creative ways to protect and restore the environment while also ensuring people’s livelihood.

More generally, my interests include environmental education, music and the outdoors. An important hobby of mine is playing and composing on the piano. Other than that, I spend a lot of my free time playing volleyball and, whenever I have a bit of time off, I like to escape into nature to go on hikes, kayaking, or skiing depending on the season. This translates into my professional experience; I’ve worked as a Camping Ambassador at Parks Canada (2018) and I am currently the Co-Director of Sustainable Youth Canada in Montreal, a student-led non-profit focussed on empowering youth through waste management and environmental projects (2019–present).

katia.forgues [at] (Email )



Divya Sharma, Montreal Research Assistant

Divya Sharma, McGill UniversityI've been the Lab Research Assistant since 2015. I'm responsible for coordinating the lab’s science outreach projects that encourage action on climate change among decision-makers and Canadians. I'm the Project Coordinator for PIVOT, an action-research project of the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative and National Film Board of Canada that aims to amplify leadership on climate change among small business leaders. Since 2015, I've been the Administrator & Researcher for the Clean50-award-winning Sustainable Canada Dialogues, a network of 80+ Canadian scholars that seeks to inform Canadian climate policy by focusing on solutions. I'm responsible for coordinating research and creative teams, liaising with stakeholders from multi-level government, NGOs, academia and Indigenous communities, managing social media accounts and website updates, and general admin including event organisation, executive note-taking and finances. I also take care of English-Spanish-French translation, copy editing, proofreading and blogposts for the various projects. As Researcher, I'm responsible for co-authoring reports and editorials, grant writing, data analysis and interviewing stakeholders.

divya.sharma2 [at] (Email)


Chris Madsen, MSc 

Chris Madsen headshotI was born and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. I attended the University of Victoria for my Bachelors of Science (Honours in Biology). I wrote my Honour’s thesis on Environmental Niche Modelling of three species of Erythronium to investigate the possibility of a post-glacial lag in their colonization of model-predicted suitable habitat. I also performed vegetation surveys in past Indigenous village sites on the Central Coast of British Columbia to look for a remnant signal of the cultivation (and thus higher abundance) of traditionally used plants. In the Neotropical Ecology Lab, I studied mechanisms that improve the biodiversity conservation value, carbon sequestration and ecosystem services provided by tree plantations and forest restoration projects. I am very interested in how different assemblages of tree species, functional traits, soil character and possibly amendment of biochar can affect these aspects of afforested areas. As an internship, I carried out tropical forest carbon stock analysis in Chucantí, and as my main research project I analysed the many kinds of data gathered from the Sardinilla Biodiversity Experiment in Panamá.




Marina Duarte, PhD

Marina Duarte headshotMy background is mainly in restoration ecology. I have a Bachelor’s in Biology and a PhD in Forest Resources at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, under the supervision of Dr. Pedro Brancalion and co-supervision of Dr. Catherine Potvin. In this doctoral project, we studied how biodiversity acts on ecosystem functions in forests. Our fieldwork took place at a 10-year-old forest restoration experiment in Brazil (which bears more than a hundred tree species) and at the 15-year-old Sardinilla Experiment, in Panama. In Sardinilla, we looked for sets of functional traits that can be related to high carbon storage, over the years, during the forest restoration process.


Ignacia Holmes, PhD

Ignacia Holmes headshotSince 2007, at the 13th Conference of the Parties in 2007, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, known as REDD+, has become a strategic issue in the climate change and development agendas for the period post 2012. REDD+ has the potential to affect forest dwellers lives in various ways that could include both benefits, by providing environmental services incomes, as well as threats, by restricting access and extraction right to forest dwellers and indigenous peoples to their natural endowment. I am interested in understanding how REDD+ activities can to consider the livelihoods needs of the local communities since access to the forest and its resources is essential for forest dwelling communities and their cultures. My research, therefore, focused on understanding how can REDD+ be implemented in indigenous communities without undermining local livelihoods. Using a participatory approach, I explored the following issues: the conditions under which agroforestry could become part of the REDD+ ”toolkit”; the information and capacity building needs for effective participation of indigenous peoples in REDD+; the role of local governance in REDD+ leakage and implementation; selective logging compatibility with REDD+ and the social and economic impacts of REDD+ initiatives.

>> View video: Indigenous peoples, local livelihoods and forests [English] | Peuples indigènes du Panama et leurs forêts [Français]


Gerardo Vergara, PhD

Gerardo Vergara headshotMy research tested methodologies to measure forest carbon stocks and stock changes under processes of degradation and the aspects of forest conservation in the context of REDD+. The study areas are located in two Latin-American countries with different capacities and realities in the forest sector, namely Panama and Chile. Panama is actively engaged in two REDD readiness programs, i.e. UN-REDD and FCPF of the World Bank, whereas Chile is getting initially involved in REDD+ activities by way of reducing forest degradation and low scale logging in temperate forests. Including these two countries allowed working in both tropical and temperate rainforests, which share a global importance in terms of carbon storage and biodiversity. A particular emphasis in determining accuracy and precision of integrated methods (remote sensing techniques and ground measurements) and its applicability to developing countries was carried out. Through a multi-source approach my research provided new information that could contribute to inform the implementation of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) systems and give hints on technical issues related to measure carbon stocks. A secondary objective was related to the cost-effectiveness of these methods.


José Temistocles Monteza, Panama Field Research Assistant

Jose Monteza headshotI was the manager of the Sardinilla project where I had multiple roles. I ensured the day to day maintenance of this 10 hectares plantation. I worked in Sardinilla since its establishment and I was responsible for collecting the core set of data on tree and ecosystem traits (e.g., tree height, litter production, herbaceous productivity). I also provided support to the many graduate students and researchers of this multi-user platform and coordinated local workers. Finally, with the Help of Daniel Lesieur (Université du Québec a Montréal), I was responsible for the database where all the information obtained in Sardinilla is concentrated. In 2008-2009 and 2010, I further collaborated with the carbon project of Ipetí Emberá being responsible of capacity-building regarding the planting and pruning of the trees. I also measured all the trees to follow their growth.

temimonteza [at] (Email)


Anthony Sardain. MSc

Anthony Sardain headshotA former member of the Neotropical Ecology Lab, I have worked with Dr. Potvin since January 2013. In collaboration with McGill University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, we helped create a dashboard of national sustainability indicators for Panama. Our approach was participatory, bringing together non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, private entities and government representatives under a single banner: the Forum and Observatory of Sustainability. In addition to helping advance the indicator selection process, we created a set of baseline values to understand Panama’s current trajectory, and conducted in-depth analyses of focus issues shown by the dashboard to be of concern.

My Masters research centered on applying statistical modelling techniques to forecast the global shipping network over the next 30 years. Global shipping being the dominant vector of spread of economically- and ecologically-harmful invasive species, we used our shipping model to predict patterns of invasion under different scenarios of global development.


Claire Salisbury, Postdoc

Claire Salisbury headshotMy interests are in the evolution of tropical forest biodiversity, and the conservation and restoration of tropical forest habitats. I joined the lab as a visitor in August 2013, and later worked as a postdoctoral researcher until early 2015. Using the long-term dataset from the experimental planted forest in Sardinilla, Panama, I investigated the relationships between tree diversity, composition and ecosystem functioning within this native species plantation. I then went on to write for the environmental news website Mongabay.

For further details of my research please see my website

claire.salisbury [at] (Email)


David Ross, MSc

David Ross headshotI completed my Master’s degree with Dr. Potvin and Dr. Hector Guzman, a Staff Scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama, where I focused on the ecotoxicology and conservation of sea turtles in the Neotropics. All species of sea turtles are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Vulnerable to Critically Endangered, and the predominant threats to their recovery are human activities such as poaching, pollution and fisheries bycatch. My research interests include monitoring sea turtle population and ecological shifts with regards to predicted climate change scenarios; improving on-the-ground conservation efforts, especially in rural communities; and investigating the effects and severity of anthropogenic pollution on sea turtles and their environment. My thesis work involved testing for trace metal concentrations in samples of sea turtle eggs from multiple species and locations along the Pacific Coast of Panama to better understand the current state of contamination in populations with no previous toxicological data, and where poaching and consumption of sea turtle products is ongoing. I then investigated the reported effectiveness of current sea turtle hatchery practices globally, and what are the major impediments for these projects.


Martine Larouche, Outreach Coordinator

Martine Larouche headshotHolding a BSc and an MSc in Geography from Laval University and McGill University, respectively, I went on to pursue a professional Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture at Université de Montréal. I want to design daily environments with the goal of improving our quality of life and our perception of outdoor spaces. I worked with Dr. Potvin from 2014 to 2015 as the coordinator of Linking Action and Research on Sustainability (LARS), a joint project funded by the McGill’s Sustainability Project Fund with Dr. Elena Bennett from the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment. LARS was designed to provide visibility for McGill scholars who are working on positive contributions/solutions to sustainability. One of our activities was to help researchers communicate their research and their vision for sustainability to a broad audience with videos. I also worked as the Dialogues for Sustainability/ pour un avenir durable Facebook page manager during that period.


Rosine Faucher, BSc Honours research project

Rosine Faucher headshotI completed a BCL/LLB at the McGill Law Faculty (previously completed a BA Honors in political science at McGill with a minor in environment). I worked on the project of Sustainable Canada Dialogues, supervised by Catherine from June 2013 to December 2014. 

I facilitated a Delphi Survey in order to reach a consensus of recommendations that the SCD would propose to the government for the 2015 federal elections. The panel of the Survey was constituted of more than 50 scholars across provinces and domains of expertise ranging from sociology to biology. According to the Delphi Method, the Survey is conducted in three to four rounds. The first round was a success with a participation rate of 67%. 

After finishing the Delphi survey management, I helped prepare information for the focus groups which substantiated the recommendations made to the federal government.


Laura Cameron, BSc Honours research project

Laura Cameron headshotI worked with Dr. Potvin in 2014-2015 on my biology honours thesis project. I am interested in biodiversity and environmental sustainability, exploring the ways in which people can coexist with the diversity of life on earth without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. My research in the Potvin lab was a contribution to the Sustainable Canada Dialogues, an initiative aimed at developing and communicating solutions to climate change and sustainability-related issues. The project implemented a participatory method known as “visioning” to ensure the needs and desires of Canadians are in agreement with the proposed solutions for sustainability. I examined past initiatives that have used similar citizen-based methods to determine communities’ desires for the future. I conducted a meta­-analysis of desired futures created by communities across Canada with the aim of identifying regional commonalities in communities' visions. Although sustainability demands a balance between its social, economic and environmental components, we found that Canadians futures apparently place the greatest importance on social aspects. I believe visioning can be a powerful tool for articulating Canadians' desired futures, which will be central in designing a sustainable path forward. 


Natalie Richards, Outreach Coordinator

Natalie Richards headshotAlongside Dr. Potvin, I co-coordinated the Sustainable Canada Dialogues/Dialogues pour un Canada Vert. This is a pan-Canadian initiative of scholars working to influence sustainability policy to encourage positive development in the context of climate change, and in a manner that reflects the desires of people living in Canada. I went on to be a Masters student supervised by Dr. Brian Leung. My research took place in the context of the Sustainable Canada Dialogues’ investigation of how to inform plans for a sustainable transition in Canada by the public’s ideals. Through participatory techniques of visioning and pathway designing I helped a range of communities in Canada articulate key characteristics of their ideal futures. I also employed meta-analytics to compare the priorities of sustainability scientists with those of Canadian publics.


Johanne Pelletier, PhD

Johanne Pelletier headshotMy interests in research are multidisciplinary in nature, with an emphasis on the role of forest ecosystems regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation. I am also interested by land-use/cover change and community forest management. 

Since 2006, I worked on land-use/land-cover change in relation to climate change, mostly with my continuing work in Panama with McGill and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. In cooperation with Panama’s National Environmental Authority, I studied various aspects of Monitoring, Reporting and Verifying systems for REDD+ including national reference emission levels, avoided deforestation scenarios, uncertainty, and data availability. At a local level, I looked at the dynamics of forest intervention using remote sensing and forest carbon inventories with participatory methods in the Palo Seco Forest Reserve/Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous territory (Western Panama) with a focus on forest carbon monitoring. Working with a Ngäbe community, I strove to deepen our understanding of elements that could promote sustainable community forest management in order to bring forest dwellers insight for REDD+ implementation planning to the fore. I also participated in capacity-building with indigenous technicians, and different indigenous communities inside the larger information initiative on Climate Change and REDD+ in Panama for indigenous civil society led by our research group. 

>> See video:  Hunting for uncertainties [English] | A la chasse aux incertitudes [Français]


Guillaume Peterson St-Laurent, MSc

Guillaume Peterson St-LaurentThe notion of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years. Panama is actively engaged in the process of REDD+ being a pilot country in the context of the UN-REDD initiative and of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) of the World Bank. The extension of the agricultural frontier is a key motor of deforestation in Eastern Panama. Crucial actors in this process, the colonos have an important role to play in understanding land use dynamics on the frontier. 
My interests are mainly in the inclusion of local stakeholders in sustainable environmental management in the context of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. My Master project aimed at documenting the uses, values and perceptions of the territory of colonists (colonos) from Eastern Panama. Also, I tried to determine how colonos’ needs and aspirations could be taken into account when developing a REDD+ strategy. I mainly used a participatory approach and individual interviews in colonos communities of the provinces of Darien and Panama to better understand the possible impact and compatibility with REDD+ to make sure future projects would not seriously undermine colonos’ livelihood. Another part of my project was to look at local possible cooperation and participation between stakeholders in REDD+ preparation by analyzing a case study of an organized successful colonos group.

>> See video: Agricultural Frontier of Northern Quebec [English] | La frontière de développement au nord du Québec [Français]


Maria del Carmen Ruiz-Jaen, PhD

Maria del Carmen Ruiz-Jaen headshotI am working with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to coordinate the National Forest and Carbon Inventory in Panama. This effort is in close collaboration with the Environmental National Authority (ANAM) and aims to prepare the country for REDD+. 

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