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Melissa McKinney standing if front of map of North PolePostdoctoral researcher Melissa McKinney has won a fellowship to support her work studying the effects of climate change on Arctic ecosystems.

Arctic researcher named UWindsor’s first Banting fellow

Windsor is a “really great” place to conduct environmental research, says the University’s first recipient of a national fellowship meant to support Canada’s top postdoctoral researchers.

Melissa McKinney works under the supervision of professor Aaron Fisk at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. Her work involves the interrelationships of climate change and contaminants in the Canadian Arctic.

“With global warming, we are seeing a shift in prey fish populations from arctic- to subarctic-type species,” Dr. McKinney says. “Instead of Arctic cod, now there is more capelin.”

She is working with communities in the north to collect specimens, which are then tested for relative levels of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and contaminants, like mercury and organic pollutants. The species she is studying are food sources for predators, including larger fish, seabirds, seals and whales.

McKinney is focusing on the impact on two marine mammals with cultural and economic importance to northern communities: ringed seal and beluga whale. She hopes her project will assist Inuit in making informed choices with regard to local food consumption. 

“If we know what is going on, it helps people to adapt to the risks of climate change,” she says.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship provides an annual award of $70,000 for a two-year term. McKinney was one of 70 recipients for the 2014/15 period, announced Thursday by Ed Holder, minister of state for science and technology.

She says she welcomed the chance to return to Windsor to work with Dr. Fisk—having completed a Master’s degree at GLIER in 2004 before pursuing doctoral studies at Carleton University’s National Wildlife Research Centre.

“The University has been very supportive, and that synergy with my project helped me to win this fellowship,” McKinney says. “It presents a wonderful opportunity to work with high-calibre researchers.”

UWindsor vice-president research and innovation, K.W. Michael Siu, said he is delighted that McKinney has been honoured with this prestigious fellowship.

“Dr. McKinney is an outstanding emerging researcher whose innovative work is addressing the University of Windsor’s grand challenges to advance understanding of viable, healthy and safe communities and healthy Great Lakes,” he said.