By Tristan Kosciuch
My name is Tristan Kosciuch, and I am an honors biology undergraduate at McGill University. This year, I received the QCBS Biodiversity Science Discovery Award and a McGill Science Undergraduate Research Award which allowed me to travel to Uganda, under the supervision of Dr. Lauren Chapman, to conduct fieldwork for my academic research. My project there ended up being an amazing mix of environmental conservation and biology, with clear applications to the local peoples.
The field crew (#TeamNabale) in a papyrus swap in Kibale National Park, Uganda. From left to right: me, Prof. Lauren Chapman, Shelby Clarke, David Hunt.
Originally, I was to look at predator-prey interactions in mormyrids (electric fishes) but I ended up looking at the effect of an invasive species, the Nile Perch, on the aquatic biodiversity in Lake Nabugabo (satellite lake of Lake Victoria) and am now modelling how that effect will change with climate change. The Nile Perch was introduced into the Victoria basin in the 1950’s much to the approval of locals, as the fish is a valuable export and has revitalized the local economy. However, while from an economic standpoint the Nile Perch’s introduction has been beneficial, it has dramatically reduced the fish biodiversity in the regions it was introduced. With regards to climate change, as temperatures rise the metabolic rates of cold blooded animals (such as the Nile Perch) increase, and therefore their food consumption is predicted to rise accordingly as they burn through energy faster. Using metabolic data from the Nile Perch, I will be able to forecast how much more prey they will have to consume in warmer waters, and subsequently how the Nile Perch and native fish populations could be impacted.
So far, my fieldwork in Uganda has definitely been the most adventurous (and farthest outside my comfort zone) that I have ever been in my life and it was an absolutely incredible experience. This trip truly opened my eyes in terms of how all human beings are connected by the universal thread of simply being human. While the literal activities we do may vary from place to place, the overall concepts, struggles, and feelings that define the human condition are shared by everyone. Academically, this trip also was the most involved I have ever been in my own independent research. My project in Uganda was truly my own, and as a result I was responsible for taking charge of the project and seeing it through to completion. Through doing this I developed skills that will benefit me for the rest of my life. First of all, I realized how laborious research can be, and my troubleshooting skills were definitely put to the test. However, doing this also allowed me to build the confidence I needed to lead my own project and to make decisions that influenced how successful the project would be.
Our down time was spent safari-ing. Photo by Hanna Rebecka.
The research that QCBS helped to support has also clarified my desire to continue on to graduate school after I finish my undergrad. I have always felt a strong draw to science, and this trip has done nothing but reaffirm that. I am extremely grateful to QCBS for allowing this experience to happen and their overall encouragement of undergraduate research. I hope that support for the Biodiversity Science Discovery Award continues to provide enriching research experiences like mine and that future undergraduates will have access to the same opportunities I did.
Tristan is interested in invasive species and the ecological impacts that they inflict. Currently, he is looking at how climate change may alter an invasive’s impacts, specifically in the Nile perch of the Lake Victoria basin. He is also interested in evolutionary theory, and conducting separate research on stickleback from the Misty lake system in British Columbia.