Joanne Littlefair

McGill University
Postdoctoral fellow candidate

Supervisor: Melania Cristescu
Start: 2016-11-07
End: 2018-11-06
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Metabarcoding to assess the anthropogenic impacts on fish communities

Anthropogenic pressures on aquatic habitats generate extreme environmental conditions (high loads of nutrients, metals, increased acidity) that can alter communities and compromise the function of these ecosystems. Traditional methods for assessing the health of aquatic ecosystems are often costly and ineffective, but evaluating the impact of multiple stressors on aquatic ecosystems requires robust biodiversity estimates. My project develops genomic tools that will allow accurate and rapid monitoring of fish communities to determine the drivers of diversity in impacted habitats. Field sites in Québec reflect a combination of pristine sites and those contaminated by environmental stressors such as agricultural run-off, mining exploration and mercury contamination. I compare results from traditional sampling techniques with biodiversity estimates based on refined metabarcoding approaches, using eDNA extracted from water collected at these sites.

In collaboration with colleagues at Queen Mary University of London (my previous postdoc position), I continue to use metabarcoding to determine trophic relationships through dietary analysis, and to investigate the physical and environmental influences on predator-prey relationships. My study systems include 1) carnivorous plants and how abiotic gradients influence the trophic interactions between carnivorous plants and their invertebrate prey, and 2) Old World bats, including insectivorous and frugivorous species.

My background is in evolutionary ecology, specialising in the interactions between disease and diet. I studied transgenerational effects of parasitic infection and resource levels on life history traits within families during my PhD. I examined this in the context of applied pest ecology and chose a crop pest and its interactions with biopesticides (bacterial and fungal pathogens which are used to control insect pests) as my study system. Broadly, my past and current research topics are linked by an interest in the role of diet in shaping ecosystems, anthropogenic pressures on ecology, and investigating the applied side of research. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to collaborate on any of these themes.


lakes, fish community structure, Rivers, DNA barcoding, Metabarcoding, zooplankton


1- A direct physiological trade-off between personal and social immunity
Cotter, Sheena C., Joanne E. Littlefair, Peter J. Grantham, Rebecca M. Kilner,
2013 Journal of Animal Ecology

2- The development of a synthetic diet for investigating the effects of macronutrients on the development ofPlodia interpunctella
Littlefair, Joanne E., Katherine A. Nunn, Robert J. Knell
2016 Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata

3- Maternal pathogen exposure causes diet- and pathogen-specific transgenerational costs
Littlefair, Joanne E., Alice M. Laughton, Robert J. Knell
2016 Oikos

4- The effects of parameter choice on defining molecular operational taxonomic units and resulting ecological analyses of metabarcoding data1
Clare, Elizabeth L., Frédéric J.J. Chain, Joanne E. Littlefair, Melania E. Cristescu, Kristy Deiner
2016 Genome

5- Barcoding the food chain: from Sanger to high-throughput sequencing1
Littlefair, Joanne E., Elizabeth L. Clare, Amanda Naaum
2016 Genome