Megan Frederickson is Associate Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto. She currently serves on the Editorial Board of Biology Letters, and here she talks to us about her research interests.


Tell us a bit about your research.
I study the ecology and evolution of mutualism, or cooperation between species. Cooperation has been intensively studied in animal societies, which are often composed of relatives, but mutualisms offer an interesting counterpoint because they occur between unrelated individuals (of different species). I began my career studying ant-plants – tropical plants that make specialized structures in which they house colonies of ant “bodyguards.” But as my research group has grown, we’ve branched out and we now work on diverse systems, including seed dispersal, pollination, and host-microbe mutualisms. Some current research themes in my lab include: how partners in mutualisms coevolve, the role of mutualism in shaping trait evolution, the consequences of mutualisms for the ecological communities in which they are embedded, and mutualisms as drivers of ecological change.

 

What prompted you to work in this field?
When I was an undergraduate student at Harvard, I jumped at the chance to go to the Peruvian Amazon to help out with a research project on ant-plants. Fifteen years later, I still do field research there.

 

What has been the biggest influence on your career?
I was lucky to be mentored by two leading female scientists, Naomi Pierce at Harvard and Deborah Gordon at Stanford. I doubt I would still be in science today had it not been for their guidance and support.

 

What are the big challenges still remaining in your field?
There are many, but if I had to pick just one, I would say: we know a lot more about coevolution in antagonisms (e.g., host-parasite interactions), than in mutualisms. For example, the more I read about the human microbiome, the more I wonder about how humans have coevolved with beneficial bacteria.

 

Why did you join the Biology Letters Editorial Board?
I thought that reading lots of short, focused papers about diverse biological systems and questions would be fun – and it is.

 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to submit to Biology Letters?
The first hurdle is convincing an Editorial Board member that your paper should be sent out for peer review. Don’t forget to tell us what is exciting and novel about your study.

 

What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not working, I spend time with my toddler. I’m not sure that counts as “spare” time, though!

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