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Dr. Maud Ferrari, associate professor and researcher in the WCVM's Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences. Photo: Photo: Martin Lipman/NSERC.

USask ecologist receives prestigious Steacie Fellowship

Maud Ferrari, an exceptional University of Saskatchewan (USask) behavioural ecologist who studies predator-prey interactions, has received one of Canada’s most prestigious awards for young scientists.

Ferrari is one of six academics in Canada this year to be awarded a $250,000 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). 

The Steacie Fellowship, which is held for two years, honours outstanding and highly promising faculty who are earning a strong international reputation for original research. It enables academics to be relieved of administrative and teaching duties to focus on their research.

Ferrari, an associate professor in USask departments of veterinary biomedical sciences and biology, will be feted at a May 6 awards ceremony at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s official residence in Ottawa.

“Maud collaborates with scientists around the world and is developing a global presence in the research community for her stellar work on behavioural ecology, including the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems — an important area of global concern,” said USask’s Vice-President Research Karen Chad.  

Ferrari has written more than 170 peer-reviewed papers and is regarded as one of the most innovative researchers working in the fields of aquatic and behavioural ecology today. Her research interests include threatened native species, invasive species, aquatic stressors and pollutants, habitat degradation, and climate change. Some of her highest impact studies have focused on understanding the impact of ocean acidification, global warming and habitat degradation on the Great Barrier Reef’s fish communities.

“I started my research curious about the ways prey can survive and even thrive while surrounded by predators,” she said. “Over the last 10 years, I have used this knowledge as a tool to assess and monitor the health and stability of aquatic ecosystems that have been modified by human activities, including that of the Great Barrier Reef, an area of focus for me for the next few years.”

Ferrari’s research excellence has been repeatedly recognized, including with the Governor General’s Gold Medal for best PhD thesis at USask, an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship, and the Outstanding Young Investigator award of the Animal Behavior Society.

Last year, she earned a place in the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Ferrari, who grew up in France and is bilingual in French and English, earned a degree at the Université Grenoble 1, France, and a PhD degree at USask, writing a thesis that earned her an NSERC Doctoral Prize in 2010. She carried out postdoctoral training at the University of California, Davis. Since obtaining her PhD degree in 2009, she has published widely in top-tier, peer-reviewed journals in collaboration with academics around the world.

A key focus of her studies has been the interactions between predators and prey, examining how individuals recognize and avoid predators in the wild and how changes made to the environment interfere with this delicate balance.

How prey animals born in captivity become ready to deal with predators, how prey adapt and evolve to avoid threats in modified environments, and why fish fail to avoid fish hooks are some of the questions her research has answered.

Ferrari is an advocate for women in science and science outreach. She has contributed to academic news sites such as The Conversation Canada to share her research findings with the public, and is involved in children’s science outreach programs, contributing to science articles for children’s magazines.

A member of both the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) and the College of Arts and Science, she is a mentor to many early-career researchers. Her USask research laboratory currently includes a post-doctoral fellow, four PhD students, four master’s students, and three undergraduate students.

The Steacie Fellowship honours the memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, an outstanding chemist and research leader who made major contributions to the development of science in Canada during, and immediately following, the Second World War.

Steacie believed that young researchers are a great national asset and should be given every opportunity to develop their own ideas. He nurtured Canadian talent and drew many promising scientists to Canada.

The Steacie Fellowship aims to give young researchers the freedom to develop original ideas and answer questions in creative and unique ways.

“I’m very humbled and thankful to have been given this unique opportunity,” Ferrari said.
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