Prof. Bailey McMeans
The Happy Aquatic Ecologist
Dr. Bailey McMeans joined the Department of Biology at UTM in January 2017. Her love for science started in early childhood, even Santa Claus knew to bring her a Chemistry set for Christmas one year. She always loved water, loved spending time in the creeks nearby her parents’ house, flipping rocks and looking at things outside, so in school it was not a surprise that Biology was one of her favorite subjects.
Her journey in science took her to Middle Tennessee State University as a pre-med student. Her path towards becoming a medical doctor ended after the third year, when she did a field course and realized that all she wanted was to be a biologist. That moment when she realized there is a job that combines research with teaching, was the moment when Dr. McMeans decided that she wanted to be a professor.
Next, she went on to grad school at University of Windsor where she obtained her MSc (2007) and PhD (2012). Studying the Greenland shark, a unique shark that lives under the ice in the Arctic, and traveling from Nunavut Canada to Norway, one would think that she is an Arctic ecologist. But Dr. McMeans doesn’t consider herself an arctic ecologist, although that is part of what she does. With fish and water the common thread of all her research, Dr. McMeans proudly calls herself an aquatic ecologist as she has worked in variety of locations, including tropical flood plans and in North temperate lakes as well.
After grad school, Dr. McMeans went to WasserCluster Lunz - Biologische Station GmbH, Austria as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and then to University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology as a Postdoctoral Research Associate.
Dr. McMeans joined the Department of Biology at UTM in January 2017. She describes it as an awesome place, with great faculty and students. Her lab grew quickly and will double in size by September 2019. As with any beginnings, there were some challenges. As a graduate student or postdoc, someone else does much of the paperwork and administration of grants. Now, she is the one who has to do all that. Being a field researcher means that, in addition to expensive lab equipment, she has to manage a large set of field equipment, all this on top of the actual research. Dr. McMeans works hard on balancing all of the roles she has now, from teacher, researcher, lab manager and administrator.
The always-smiling Dr. McMeans is a happy person, and she works hard to stay on top of things, to find solutions on how to streamline the work in the next field season, and tries not to let the minutia dampen her enthusiasm for research.
“Winter is a historically understudied time of the year in aquatic ecosystems, which is problematic given that winters are becoming shorter and weaker across much of Canada. The McMeans lab is applying innovative methods to gain insight into the winter ecology of aquatic consumers and their food webs. We are exploring where fish go and what they eat in the winter, what physiological and behavioral strategies allow fish and zooplankton to cope with low light, temperature and oxygen, and connecting these winter coping strategies with consequences for whole food web structuring.
One main question we are trying to answer is, will shorter winters under a changing global climate be ‘bad’ or ‘good’ for freshwater fishes? On the one hand, shorter winters will relax an abiotic constraint on fish growth. Longer growing seasons under climate warming could therefore be ‘good’ for fish by allowing them to grow more. On the other hand, weaker winters might amplify biotic interactions with potential competitors that are otherwise relaxed during ice covered periods. More competition could be ‘bad’ for fish by limiting their growth under consistently warmer winters. So, the answer is not immediately obvious, but will almost certainly depend on the species of interest and the environmental context in question. Our goal is to sort out predictable connections between fish species, lake characteristics and the expected outcomes of shorter winters for critical habitat and food web connections that fuel fish growth.
We work closely with government scientists at the Harkness Lab for Fisheries Research in Algonquin Park, which provides an ideal setting to study fish throughout the year. We are fortunate to have excellent and knowledgeable collaborators in Canada and abroad. See www.baileymcmeans.com for more information.” (Dr. Bailey McMeans)
Dr. McMeans recognizes that her work fills her with energy and excitement, but her family makes her happy and fulfilled. She travels a lot for work and to Boston, California, Maine, Montreal, and Alaska, just to name a few places traveled last year, and her husband and daughter join her in the field when they can. When she is not in her office at the UTM campus, or in the field researching what happens with fish in the winter under the ice, Dr. McMeans makes time for workouts, finding CrossFit and weightlifting very empowering, enjoying the support of her community of weightlifting peers.
10 years from now? With a growing lab, for sure it is exciting to imagine the possible discoveries they will make in the realm of ice cover, winter ecology, and climate change. The McMeans lab looks forward to having collected an unprecedented and impressive data set on how climate variation effects fish.
While her research is what’s new in aquatic ecology, Prof. Bailey McMeans is part of what is next in the Department of Biology at UTM.
For more info, please visit her website