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Trent University Professor Marguerite Xenopoulos Wins Prestigious Early Researcher Award


Province Awards $150,000 to Support Groundbreaking Research into the Impact of Climate Change on Freshwater Ecosystems

Friday, January 12, 2007, Peterborough

Trent University biology professor Marguerite Xenopoulos was elated that she’d be able to further her research into the impact of climate change on freshwater ecosystems when she learned that she won a major Early Researcher Award, valued at $150,000, from the Ministry of Research and Innovation.

Professor Xenopoulos is one of only three faculty members from Trent to win this provincial award since its inception. The highly competitive Early Researcher Award (formerly the Premier’s Research Excellence Award, PREA) program is bestowed by the provincial government to assist talented researchers who are within the first five years of their independent academic research career. Prof. Xenopoulos’ award came as part of the second round of Early Research Awards announced by the Ministry of Research and Innovation late in 2006.

“I am really excited for many reasons, especially since this award will strengthen my research team,” said Prof. Xenopoulos when she heard the good news. “This grant will significantly advance my research into the effects of human activities on freshwater ecosystems by enabling me to hire graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to support the fieldwork and data analysis components of this project.”

The main focus of Prof. Xenopoulos’ research is to assess the ecological and biogeochemical effects of global change stressors in freshwater lakes and rivers on species ranging from bacteria to fish. This project is a continuation of research she began in 2001 as a member of the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystems Assessment team of scientists. Her role in this international assessment was to examine the global impact of climate change and water consumption on freshwater ecosystems.

That study concluded that by 2070, water availability would decrease up to 80% in almost half of the 300 investigated rivers and that loss of local fish species in some affected rivers would reach up to 75%. However these forecasts are considered underestimates because the effects of other human pressures on the environment were not included in the study.

With the Early Researcher Award, Prof. Xenopoulos can now build on her earlier findings to include other human stressors such as land use and dams. The data she collects in this new research project will provide a better sense of how to conserve freshwater ecosystems by developing a more complete understanding of human impact on these environments.

“Every major river in the world has a dam on it,” explains Prof. Xenopoulos. “When people raise and lower water levels to accommodate commercial and recreational use, this destroys fish habitat and reduces biodiversity.” The next step, she continues, “is to identify the range of healthy water levels for rivers and lakes so human uses, such as hydroelectric stations, can operate without causing extensive harm to the environment.” Much of Prof. Xenopoulos’ research measuring the effects of changing water levels and land use will be conducted across the province.

“It surprises most people when they learn that fish, mussels and crayfish are more at risk of extinction than larger mammals and birds,” notes Prof. Xenopoulos. “Less than one percent of the world’s water is suitable for human use; therefore it is critical we understand the complexities of freshwater ecosystems since the survival of so many species is dependent on them.”

Prof. Xenopoulos says her findings will help develop better management practices and policies in numerous applications, such as agriculture, water quality, energy, and biodiversity conservation. Her research has already been cited by the European Commission’s environmental policy division to argue that conservation strategies aimed at reducing global water consumption are as important as international efforts to minimize global warming.

Reflected in this award is Trent’s growing international reputation as a centre of excellence in water quality research. Thanks to the provincial government’s strong support of Professor Xenopoulos, the impact of research conducted at Trent will continue to reach around the globe.

One of Canada's top universities, Trent University is renowned for striking a unique balance between outstanding teaching and leading-edge research. The University is consistently recognized nationally for faculty who maintain a high level of innovative research activity and a deep commitment to the individual student. Distinguished by excellence in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences and increasingly popular professional and graduate programs, Trent is dedicated to providing its students with an exceptional world view, producing graduates who are ready to succeed and make a difference in the world. Trent's Peterborough campus boasts award-winning architecture in a breathtaking natural setting on the banks of the Otonabee River. Together with its satellite campus in Oshawa, Trent draws excellent students from throughout the country and around the world.


For further information, please contact:
Professor Marguerite Xenopoulos
(705) 748-1011, ext. 5101
Professor James Parker
Associate Vice President of Research
(705) 748-1011, ext. 7935