Submitted by editor on 11 November 2019.


We want to wish Andrew Gonzalez a warm welcome to the Oikos team! He is a professor at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), Liber Ero Chair in Conservation Biology, Killam Fellow, and the founding director of the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science

Andrew has been kind to give us this interview so we can all get to know him better. There's also more information about him, his research and his lab team by visiting his webpage: http://gonzalezlab.weebly.com/

Andrew's lab members and family!


1. What’s your main research focus at the moment?

My research is broadly focused on the causes and consequences of biodiversity change. The team studies how biodiversity change affects the stability and functioning of ecosystems, and how anthropogenic stressors alter the pace and pattern of evolution. We are also working on strategies for conservation based on landscape connectivity. We combine theory with experiments in the field and lab, and use large datasets to synthesize knowledge.

Our research is focused on four specific topics: 1) defining and developing a field of mesoecology that occupies the middle ground between macroecology and local ecological research; 2) linking biodiversity change to ecosystem functioning, especially with an eye to larger spatial and temporal scales; 3) understanding rapid evolutionary outcomes, such as evolutionary rescue, when populations and communities are exposed to human stressors; 4) applying network science to design of spatial ecological networks for the conservation and management of biodiversity that are robust to climate and land-use change.

Bird's eye view of the site where we do experiments with experimental ponds

2. Can you describe your research career? 

From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a zoologist. So, it is perhaps not surprising that I obtained a BSc in Zoology (Hons.) in 1994 from the University of Nottingham, UK. My passion for research was fueled by two undergraduate research projects. The first, a field trip to Portugal, where we studied the pollination behaviour of honey bees, while the second was my honours research project that used moss patches as natural models to study extinction in fragmented landscapes. I can’t stress the importance of these early research experiences as an undergraduate and the mentorship provided by Francis Gilbert. These projects fueled my desire to get a PhD. From Nottingham, I went to Imperial College, where I was fortunate to obtain a NERC scholarship to do my PhD with John Lawton at Silwood Park. My time at the Centre for Population Biology (CPB) was the most challenging and rewarding experience of my career. I was part of a great cohort of graduate students that influenced by research. My time at the CPB also brought me career-defining collaborations with Bob Holt and Joel Cohen, and research experience with the Ecotron and BioDepth research teams. Those experiences taught me the value of asking big questions and assembling talented teams to make progress with complex ecological questions.

From Silwood, I went to Paris in 1998 to start a postdoc with Michel Loreau. There I collaborated with Michel and Nicholas Mouquet to apply metacommunity theory to deepen our understanding of the links between biodiversity on ecosystem functioning. After a brief postdoc, I became an assistant professor at the University of Paris VI, where my small lab group worked on the drivers of population and community synchrony, and on experimental tests of fluctuation-based mechanisms for coexistence and stability. While at the University of Paris I learned a great deal about teaching ecology and evolution and overcoming the obstacles of teaching in a second language. I don’t think I have ever been more terrified in a classroom than that first day in front of 250 undergraduate students, not knowing whether I could string together enough words in French to make a coherent sentence, let alone give an engaging lecture.

I stayed in Paris until 2003, when I then moved to McGill University in Montreal to take up a position as Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity Science. My time at McGill University has been wonderful. I have flourished as a researcher and teacher thanks to the support of the university, my remarkable colleagues, and the brightest students and postdocs. In 2009, I founded the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science (QCBS), a large research network of 120 researchers and 700 graduate students. Ten years on, the QCBS is still supporting collaborations and the translation of biodiversity science to society.

(Showing a map of habitat corridors we designed for Quebec)

3. How come that you became a scientist in ecology?

I was passionate about nature from a very early age. I spent much of my time outdoors birdwatching, bug collecting or pond dipping. I remember pouring over the pages of Life on Earth by David Attenborough when I was six years old, dreaming of being a zoologist much like others dream of being an astronaut.

4. What do you do when you’re not working?

I love to sketch and paint. If I hadn’t become a scientist, I would have gone to art college and tried a career path as an artist. I am particularly interested in the links between art and science, and how they can inspire ideas and provoke new design. Recently, I’ve picked up oil paints again. The painting you see here was inspired by a view over a beaver pond just a short drive from Montreal. This is a quintessential Canadian landscape. I also like to run, reenact Monty Python style sketches, and cook for my family.

("The image of a painting is a beaver pond; it is an example of things I like to do when I am not working." - Andy Gonzalez)

5. What are your thoughts as you take up a key role in Oikos' Forum?

I am thrilled to take on Oikos Forum. I have always admired Forum because it has long promoted new ideas and syntheses, sometimes risky ones, that have shifted our views of the natural world. Forum articles ask provocative questions and have stimulated constructive debate and in some cases stimulated entire lineages of research. Forum papers have also brought clarity to semantically complex topics. 

As I pick up the role of EIC for Oikos Forum I am reminded that the word means a place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on particular issues can be exchanged (Collins dictionary). So, I'd like Forum articles to strive for conceptual unification, especially ideas that connect fields. For example, I'd like to see Forum papers on a range of topics including: cross-scale theories linking biodiversity change and ecosystems, the sustainability of socio-ecological systems, connecting ecological currencies such as information-materials-energy, ecological forecasting, and causal understanding and modeling in ecology. I will consider Forum to be a success if it is a go-to source of articles for graduate student reading groups, informal debates over morning coffee, or evening drinks, and a catalyst for conference symposia. I'd particularly like Forum to support early-career researchers and a diversity of authors and perspectives. As a believer in the potential for social media to communicate new ideas, I will also promote #scicomm for Forum articles. The coming years should be fun!