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 a Senior Lecturer and the coordinator of LSM4265. My interest in cities and the animals that live in them was sparked by a summer job 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-wildlife conflicts. It became clear that many urbanites are not very enlightened about the diverse species that call the city home, 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. So, maybe no surprise that no researchers had ever studied its urban ecology. I assessed reproduction, use of nest habitat and exposure to organochlorine pollutants by hawks breeding inside and outside the city. Contrary to previous assumptions, this species was not only able to breed in the city, but also of doing so successfully. Through this experience, I became intrigued by the idea that urbanisation could actually benefit wildlife, and this was what I pursued further during my PhD at University of Calgary, in Alberta. For my dissertation, I switched from birds to bats and evaluated the hypothesis that in the flat and fairly homogeneous Prairie landscape, a city represents a sort of oasis for bats. Meaning, I expected the city to increase the availability of (1) vertical landscape elements (e.g., trees and buildings) that bats use as roosts and (2) insects that bats eat (i.e., the city lacking the intense agriculture that is practiced in most of the Prairies and is detrimental to insects). I also thought 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 so accelerating reproductive processes. 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 at University of Calgary (Qatar) teaching cell biology and human anatomy and physiology. 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 in 2012. In addition to teaching LSM4265, I am responsible for four BES courses: ENV1101 (the introductory course), ENV3102 (an overseas field course), ENV3202 (the summer internship programme) and ENV4101 (Environmental Management in Singapore). Second only to my passion for biodiversity 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 (but I could live on cherries and maple syrup) and working out. In my downtime, you will usually find me reading or hanging out with friends and/or with my parrot, Mercury.