Current Research Interest

My research explores three specific questions of water quality-aquatic vertebrate interactions: (1) how sensory information may be gathered and used to direct movement, (2) how animals move through different water conditions, and

(3) how waterborne contaminants affect their lives.

(1) Sensory responses: For fish, the sense of smell (olfaction) is typically necessary for mating, migration and feeding. Without it, they are dead in the water. My program builds on Canada’s past leadership in this research area by elucidating the mechanisms that enable olfaction, and by determining how this mechanism directs motion. In this work, we study the round goby, rainbow trout, and a very popular model organism, the zebrafish.

(2) Swimming performance: The majority of the 30,000+ fish species swim through their environments. My research explores how fish of concern, such as Arctic grayling and char, may cope with a changing global climate. In this work we use swim tunnel respirometers (aquatic ‘treadmills’). A specific question is if we can predict how changes in water temperature and flow in the Arctic will affect historic aboriginal fisheries. A secondary goal is to determine the swimming abilities of bottom dwelling, invasive fish such as the round goby. For this, we use a new type of ‘volitional’ swim tunnel. The findings will help provide methods to contain their invasion out from the Great Lakes, and in areas of Europe.

(3) Toxicology: Global waters are increasingly contaminated with a suite of compounds of natural and synthetic origins. Our research has shown that mixtures of synthetic, dissolved compounds can be detected but impair detection of natural odors. We are currently working on how waters altered by issues associated with hydrocarbon extraction affect their development and health. We also explore how waterfowl may be impacted by human activities, such as through the creation of novel habitats. My lab has diverse funding sources and collaborates with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, petrochemical companies, as well as labs in Europe and South America.

Keith Tierney featured in International Innovation