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Boreal Ecology (PhD)

From the big picture to the microscopic, set your sights on understanding the natural world around you.

Participate in the global discussion about the issues affecting all organisms and the environments where we co-exist.

Study the interactions between the living and non-living organisms within our boreal ecosystems at all levels, including organism, population, community, ecosystem, and global systems. Understand how all of these interactions work. Apply your knowledge to the issues affecting our world today. Whether that be environmental and energy conservation, resource allocation, and eco-friendliness.


Conseiller ou conseillère aux études

Dr. Peter Ryser, Coordinator

Téléphone : 706-675-1151 ext.2353

Courriel : pryser@laurentian.ca

Bureau : S-624, Science Building Sudbury Campus

Comment déposer une demande d'études supérieures Ce programme vous intéresse?
Vue aérienne de l'Université Laurentienne
Le Grand Sudbury est la plus vaste ville en Ontario par superficie terrestre, où les activités de plein air ne manquent pas grâce aux lacs et cours d’eau, terrains variés, forêts et réseaux complets de pistes et de sentiers.
Méthode de livraison : Sur campus
Langue du programme : Anglais

Application Process

Step 1. Contact the Graduate Coordinator and/or individual faculty member about the possibility of becoming a student.  Students are encouraged to consult the faculty list on the Faculty Members tab in order to identify a potential supervisor (i.e. a faculty member they would like to work with).  


Step 2. Click here to submit the online application. Once students have applied, they will receive instructions (typically within 48 hours) from the Office of Admissions leading them to the MyLaurentian portal. Students can access the portal at my.laurentian.ca; sign in credentials will be provided in the correspondence received from the Office of Admissions upon successful completion of an application. The following documents will be required in order to complete an application.



  • Three Reference Forms (to begin the process at my.laurentian.ca click on "Reference Submission" on the left-hand navigation menu)
  • Statement of Interest (to be uploaded via MyLaurentian)
  • Curriculum Vitae/Resume (to be uploaded via MyLaurentian)
  • Official Academic Transcript(s) from all post secondary studies* (Please note that current or prior Laurentian University students do not need to request transcripts)  

*Please note that official transcripts or WES course-by-course (for institutions attended outside of North America) must come directly to the Office of Admissions from the previous post secondary institution by requesting at the time of your application or by contacting the institution's Registrar's Office.


Step 3. Once the Admissions Office receives all information and the application is deemed complete, the application will be forwarded to the department.  An Admissions Committee meets to review the applications.


Step 4. The Admissions Committee will review all applications on file and make a decision regarding the suitability of each applicant.  The Admissions Committee will then make a recommendation to the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Laurentian University. The Graduate Studies office will verify the dossier and if satisfactory, the Dean of Graduate Studies will forward the recommendation to the Office of Admissions at Laurentian University for admission. 


Step 5: If approved for admission, the Office of Admissions will send the student an Offer of Admission via MyLaurentian.  Applicants wishing to accept the offer of admission must indicate their response on MyLaurentian within 3 weeks of receiving the offer. Once the student has accepted the offer, a transition to the registration process occurs.


Note pour les étudiants actuels

Les options de grade ci-dessous seront offertes lors de la prochaine année universitaire et ne le sont pas cette année. Si vous cherchez les cours à suivre afin de compléter les options d'un programme d'une année universitaire antérieure, svp consultez avec un conseiller académique.

Students must follow these regulations while in the Faculty of Graduate Studies.


Approved Fields of Study:

  • Stressed Aquatic Ecosystems
  • Sustainable Terrestrial Ecosystems
  • Conservation and Restoration Ecology


Program Requirements

The Ph.D. Program requires that students take 2 additional 3-credit courses for the Ph.D. degree with consultation from the Research Advisory Committee. These courses will be in addition to the mandatory seminar-based course (BIOL-6056EL - Doctorial Seminars) and thesis (BIOL-6000EL - Doctoral Thesis) and reflect the background knowledge necessary for the successful completion of the Program. Undergraduate courses or combined graduate/undergraduate courses (which have different criteria for undergraduate and graduate student participation) cannot be counted towards the attainment of a Ph.D. degree.
Compulsory Research Thesis

For the Ph.D. degree, either a "standard thesis" or a "chapter thesis" format will be acceptable (BIOL-6000EL - Doctoral Thesis). To submit a thesis by chapter format, a student must have a minimum of at least three potential refereed publications on completion. In this format, the thesis must also contain a separate General Introduction and Summary covering the entire project.
Compulsory Seminar Course

All Ph.D. students will be required to take the course, BIOL-6056EL - Doctorial Seminars. Students in this course will be required to organize, develop, and create a poster, and present two seminars to the other graduate students in the course - one on the History and Philosophy of Science and the other on their research topic. Attendance at all seminars will be compulsory. In addition, students will be required to attend the Seminar Series in their respective departments, which systematically includes seminars by graduate students and external speakers. It is anticipated that this course will provide a common experience for all students enrolled in the Program and will introduce the student to a variety of research topics.
Optional Graduate Courses

Graduate courses at the 5000 and 6000 levels currently available in the Department of Biology, Chemistry/Biochemistry, and Earth Sciences can be taken by Ph.D. students, with agreement from the Supervisor, Research Advisory Committee and Graduate Coordinator.
Comprehensive Examination

Every student in the Ph.D. Program in Boreal Ecology will be required to successfully complete a Comprehensive Examination. The examination must take place within the first 18 months of entrance to the Ph.D. Program. Enrolment for the Comprehensive Examination is limited to two consecutive academic sessions and failure to complete the Comprehensive Examination within the required time limit will preclude continuation in the doctoral program, unless there are valid reasons. The purpose of the Comprehensive Examination is to ensure that the student is capable of forming research hypotheses outside the immediate area of his/her thesis, to ensure that the student has a solid background in his/her area of expertise, and to ensure that the student's general knowledge outside the area of his/her thesis is adequate. The Examining Committee will assign a grade of pass, incomplete, or fail. In the case of a failure, the student will be given the opportunity to repeat the Comprehensive Examination; however, a second failure will be grounds for dismissal from the Ph.D. Program.


Policy on Transferring from the M. Sc. to the Ph. D. Program in Boreal Ecology

Outstanding students in the M. Sc. program at Laurentian University with projects that can be expanded into a Ph. D. in the area of Boreal Ecology can apply for a transfer. Such transfers should be considered by only exceptional students who have a high academic standing, and have shown greater than average aptitude for scholarship, designing and undertaking research projects, active participation in the scientific community, and writing. It is expected that applicants will have made presentations (or presented posters) at national meetings in their chosen field and have an acceptable publication record. The time line to request a transfer is 12-18 months from start of the M.Sc. The applicant will submit to the Graduate Coordinator a written report  of 4-5 pages on their M. Sc. progress to date with a clear statement as to the objectives and the extent to which they been accomplished, along with a description of the Ph. D. project. The report should contain a statement of the overall research objectives of the Ph. D. project, including specific questions that the research addresses and the hypotheses to be tested. The report should include a brief description of previous work in the field, along with an itemized list detailing the proposed research that the candidate will carry out in the next 2-3 years.  Two weeks later, the applicant will meet with the Acceptance Committee to review the application and present a transfer seminar 20-30 minutes in length. The seminar should include an explanation as to how the project will contribute to our knowledge of the form and function of boreal ecosystems, whether they be natural, or those modified by the actions of humans, and an outline of hypotheses. The application dossier and meeting must occur 6 weeks prior to the expected transfer date (September 1, January 1, or May 1) and contain a letter of recommendation from the current M. Sc. supervisor along with a letter of support from the M. Sc. Supervisory Committee. The proposed Ph. D. supervisor will also attend the meeting to explain how the project and personal salary of the candidate will be funded. There should be one, and preferably two, internationally recognized experts in the field of study on the Ph. D. Supervisory Committee and these individuals should be identified at the meeting. During the Ph. D. program, the candidate must take BIOL. 6056 along with two 5000 level courses.


Thesis Defence Procedure

Students will be required to present a public seminar and subsequently to undergo an in camera oral defence of their thesis. The Ph.D. thesis evaluation procedure will be established for the University through the office of the Dean, School of Graduate Studies. However, the general features of this procedure are as follows. The Examination Committee for the Ph.D. degree will be composed of a Chair (non-voting), a minimum of two members of the Research Advisory Committee, an examiner external to the Program, and an examiner external to the university. The supervisor will not be a member of the Committee, but will be present at the defence. The Examination Committee will then meet in the absence of the student to discuss his/her performance. The Committee will decide whether the thesis is acceptable for the degree and whether corrections are required before the final approval of the thesis.

The Ph.D. Program in Boreal Ecology has three fields of focus:


Stressed Aquatic Ecosystems

This field deals with research associated with freshwater aquatic systems in the Precambrian Shield and the Hudson Bay Lowlands. It builds upon the excellent research record and databases developed through the collaborative work of the Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit, a partnership between Laurentian University, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, the City of Greater Sudbury, and the mining industry. As Sudbury has in excess of 300 lakes within the city boundaries and Northern Ontario has many thousands of freshwater lakes, rivers and wetlands, the opportunity to specialize in this area is unlimited. Research topics in this focal area include inorganic metal loading, acid precipitation, global warming, and studies of biotic systems at all trophic levels from prokaryotes to vertebrates.


Sustainable Terrestrial Ecosystems

This field deals with terrestrial ecosystems in the Precambrian Shield and the Hudson Bay Lowlands. It builds on the research record and databases developed through collaborative work between Laurentian University, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the forestry, mining, ecotourism, and trapping industries. Research topics in this area include the sustainability of woodland caribou populations, biodiversity of aquatic beetles, reintroduction of elk into Ontario, ecology of parasites in boreal birds and mammals, ecology of insects associated with shrubs and trees, forestry and pine marten management, and the impact of both natural and anthropogenic disturbances on boreal ecosystems, and studies on the impact of global warming on terrestrial floristic and faunal communities.


Conservation and Restoration Ecology

This field focuses on disturbed ecosystems within the Precambrian Shield and the Hudson Bay Lowlands. It builds on the internationally-recognized research that spearheaded regreening of the Sudbury region, through collaboration by Laurentian University, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, the City of Greater Sudbury, and the mining industry. Recent visits and collaborations by Scandinavian and Russian researchers emphasized the global aspects of this field. As Northern Ontario provides access to many mining sites and stressed urban ecosystems, there are unique opportunities for those specializing in this field. Research in this focal area includes studies on acid mine drainage, radionuclide contamination, impacts of heavy metals and pH, soil biology, revegetation and recolonization of damaged industrial lands, identification of acid/metal tolerant species, conservation of vertebrates in aquatic habitats, and the modelling of vegetation recovery.

BIOL-6000EL - Doctoral Thesis BIOL-6056EL - Doctoral Seminars BIOL-5017EL - Population Genetics BIOL-5026EL - Advanced Microbiology I BIOL-5066EL - Selected Topics in Evolutionary Biology I BIOL-5106EL - Experimental Design and Methods of Analysis BIOL-5376EL - Ecological Aspects of Land Reclamation Practice BIOL-5387EL - Selected Topics in Soil Biology and Soil-Plant Relationships BIOL-5396EL - Ecology of Ecosystems Disturbed by Humans
BIOL-5727EL - Advanced Entomology BIOL-5747EL - Topics in Behavioural Ecology BIOL-5747FL - Questions sur l'écologie comportementale BIOL-5767EL - Graduate Limmology BIOL-5786EL - Topics in Animal Physiology BIOL-5797EL - Advanced Environmental Physiology - - -