Joanna Coleman – about

Me and Myotis evotis

Me with a long-eared bat (Myotis evotis), captured at Chain Lakes Provincial Park (Alberta) in 2008. Photo by Cory Olson.

I’m one of the two co-lecturers for LSM4265. My interest in cities and the animals that live in them was sparked by a summer job that I had during my BSc degree at McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec. My role was to establish and operate an urban wildlife hotline, which aimed to answer questions about urban wildlife and propose humane and environmentally-friendly solutions to human-animal conflicts. It became quite clear that many urbanites are not very enlightened about the diverse animals that call the city home, and so I spent two summers doing my best to educate the public.

During my MSc degree (also at McGill), I continued to focus on urban wildlife, specifically on the urban ecology of the sharp-shinned hawk. This raptor was known to inhabit young, dense coniferous forests and (according to the literature) would avoid areas of human disturbance. No surprise that mine was the first study of an urban population. I assessed reproduction, use of nest habitat and exposure to organochlorine pollutants by hawks breeding inside and outside the city. Contrary to what had previously been assumed, this species was not only capable of breeding in the city, but also of doing so successfully. Through this experience, I became intrigued with the idea that urbanisation could actually be beneficial to wildlife, and this was what I pursued further during my PhD, which I did at the University of Calgary, in Alberta. For my dissertation research, I switched from birds to bats, and evaluated the hypothesis that in the flat and fairly homogeneous Prairie landscape, a city represented a sort of oasis for bats. In other words, I believed that the city would increase the availability of (1) vertical landscape elements (e.g., trees and buildings) that bats need for roosting and (2) insects that bats eat (i.e., because the city is free of the intensive agriculture that is practiced in most of the Prairies and is destructive to insects). I also thought that the city, being warmer than the surrounding area (thanks to the urban heat island), would benefit bats by reducing their use of daily torpor and thereby accelerating reproductive processes, which are incompatible with torpor. My study was the first urban ecology study of bats in the Prairies and the first to compare individual and population-level parameters between urban and non-urban bats. In the end, I found no support for my hypothesis. Instead of being beneficial, urbanisation in Calgary seemed to have a negative effect on the diversity, physiological health and reproduction of bats.

Shortly after completing my PhD in 2010, I left Canada to work overseas. I spent one year in Qatar, teaching cell biology and human anatomy and physiology at the University of Calgary campus in Doha. Although that was a great experience, I was not teaching in my field, so I was thrilled to be offered a position by the Bachelor of Environmental Studies Programme (BES) at NUS. I’ve been in Singapore for two years now. In addition to teaching LSM4265, I am responsible for ENV3102, which is an overseas field course that all BES students take in their 3rd year of study. I bring my students to the Visayas region of the Philippines, where we explore environmental challenges and solutions in the Asian context. I also coordinate the BES summer internship programme, during which our students spend 10-12 weeks working for environmental organisations in Singapore and elsewhere in the region. I am also working on a new course, called Conservation Education, which will hopefully be offered starting in 2015. Second only to my passion for wildlife and conservation is my passion for education, especially when I get to teach courses that are related to my field, so I’m quite happy in my current role.

Of course, life isn’t all work, and I love to play. In particular, I spend as much time as possible on music and dance. I also love traveling, diving, skiing, eating good, healthy food and working out. During my downtime, you will usually find me hanging out with friends and/or with my parrot, Mercury.