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Meghann Bruce

PhD Student
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Throughout my undergrad at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton, I was fortunate to have several exciting employment opportunities. I worked as an Assistant Wetlands biologist for the Department of Environment and Local Government, participated in rare plant surveys on Protected Natural Areas with the Department of Natural Resources, completed invasive pest surveys for the Plant Protection branch of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as well as worked at the Connell Memorial Herbarium. It was these opportunities, collectively, that inspired me and developed my interest in botany, conservation biology, and biodiversity research.

It wasn’t until my third year of university that I discovered my interest and love of algae. Until then, if you had of told that my biology degree was a ticket to a career in researching “seaweed”, I probably would have quit. When I took my open water SCUBA diving course and “Marine Plant Biodiversity” (taught by my now supervisor Gary Saunders) I gained an appreciation for algal diversity.

Originally, I joined the Saunders Lab in 2008 as a Master’s student. My Master’s research focused on applying morphological and molecular techniques to investigate species diversity within three genera of the red algal family Ceramiaceae (Scagelia, Ptilota and Neoptilota). I also investigated two of these genera (Ptilota and Neoptilota) in a phylogenetic context by constructing a multigene phylogeny.

This year, I switched to a PhD. For my PhD research, I intend to broaden my taxonomic investigation within the family Ceramiaceae and incorporate two additional genera, Ceramium and Pterothamnion. There is considerable taxonomic and phylogenetic uncertainty surrounding species within each of these genera, the various taxonomic guides include a variety of disclaimers regarding the distinction between some of the recognized species in Canadian waters. A preliminary molecular investigation has established that species diversity within each of these genera is greater than currently perceived by floristic authorities. In the case of Pterothamnion, there are almost twice as many species present in Canadian waters as are currently recognized. In regards to Ceramium, some morphological species belong to the same genetic species group, whereas others do not even ally with this genus in phylogenetic analyses. I will combine anatomical and molecular tools to establish the number of species that should be recognized for each of these genera in Canada and to apply existing names to these taxa. New species will be described as necessary, thus generating a comprehensive taxonomic treatment for these species-rich genera. I will then expand my molecular data to generate multigene alignments against which I will apply accepted phylogenetic analyses to determine the generic affiliations of the uncovered species, and to resolve phylogenetic relationships among representative Ceramiaceae. Phylogenies thus derived can then be used to explore aspects of character evolution in the group to generate an understanding of evolutionary trends within the Ceramiaceae. Ultimately, this result will provide a comprehensive perspective on ceramiacean diversity, distribution and evolution, emphasizing but not limited to, the Canadian flora.

In addition to my PhD research, I am also a teaching assistant for a course entitled “Research Foundations in Field Ecology” which provides what is often the first introduction to field biology, for second year students. As well, I volunteer with “Let’s Talk Science”, a hands-on outreach program which works with the public school system to develop children’s interest in science. Other than that, I am an active volunteer with the University of New Brunswick’s SCUBA club, which often takes me to the bottom of the ocean where I can escape for a little while when things get too busy!

Bruce, M.R. and Saunders G.W. In preparation. Investigating species diversity, biogeography and taxonomy within the red algal genus Scagelia (Ceramiales, Rhodophyta) in Canada.