Dr. Jeremy Kerr has a long-standing passion for conservation and the search for answers to broad-scale questions in ecology. His PhD, at York University with Laurence Packer, focused on how environmental factors affect diversity in ecosystems and began to address how human activities were affecting those patterns.
This work led to the Governor General’s Gold Medal and a postdoctoral position at the University of Oxford, with Lord Robert May and Sir Richard Southwood, where he expanded his focus on global change and the changing prospects for conservation.
Since joining the University of Ottawa’s Department of Biology in 2002, he has won a provincial Early Researcher Award, the University of Ottawa Young Researcher Award in Science and Technology in 2009, been elected to a Visiting Senior Research Fellowship at Mansfield College and the Centre for the Environment at the University of Oxford, and was selected for the Global Young Academy of Scientists, one of perhaps 6 Canadians to have done so.
Jeremy is convinced that powerful scientific evidence can rapidly improve practical problems. To this end, he has worked to improve endangered species legislation in Ontario and, through the International Boreal Science Panel, to gain commitments from governments across Canada to establish vast new protected areas in the boreal wilderness.
His work remains focused on big questions in ecology and conservation, particularly on how species respond to recent, rapid climate change and sharply rising incidence of climate-related extreme events.
The combined effects of habitat loss and proliferation of introduced species present serious conservation challenges. These aspects of global change have created a black hole for species in Canada and globally, pulling many toward extinction. Human activities have added climate change to this dangerous mix.
Species losses can erode the robust provision of economically and ecologically indispensable ecosystem services, like pollination. In the past 25 years, several wild pollinator species have nearly totally collapsed in North America. Although habitat loss, introduced diseases, and pesticide use have not helped, we present new evidence that climate change alone could explain some bumblebee losses.
Massive increases in weather extremes can precipitate species collapses, even among widespread, abundant insect pollinators. These effects, known from the paleoecological record, have not previously been linked to a modern extinction.
Further losses of species and ecosystem service degradation are not inevitable. Informed by concerted scientific action and an involved public, elected leaders sometimes take landmark steps to conserve wilderness areas and strengthen legal frameworks protecting species at risk.
This policy stability is good for business by removing uncertainties. Decisive statements of scientific consensus resolve the need for action and can galvanize societal and political leadership around urgent conservation challenges.