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Catherine Febria, a professor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.Catherine Febria, a professor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, holds the Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Restoration Ecology.

Research chair to focus on watersheds as socio-ecological systems

UWindsor’s Catherine Febria is one of the newest additions in the federal government’s quest to make Canada a global leader in research and development.

Dr. Febria, a professor at UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, has been awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Restoration Ecology. The designation, which comes with $600,000 in federal funding spread over five years, provides emerging researchers with support to kick-start their careers.

“The Laurentian Great Lakes ecosystem is a vitally-important resource for Canada, US and the world,” Febria said. “My CRC research program adds a complementary approach to the excellent, globally-recognized work at GLIER by adding focus on watersheds as socio-ecological systems.”

The Canada Research Chairs Program invests about $295 million a year in what the federal government calls “some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.” There are 1,836 Canada Research Chairs, nominated by their universities across the country.

Febria said she will use her funding to relaunch the organics and nutrient analysis lab at GLIER, allowing it to be a resource for industry, government, and conservation agencies.

“We are building the facility’s capacity to accommodate water quality analysis and biomonitoring across the region, which adds to GLIER’s leadership in water quality and ecosystem health monitoring.”

Febria has launched the Healthy Headwaters lab at GLIER. Headwaters are the streams, drains and wetlands that feed larger bodies of water. They are integral to an ecosystem’s health because the degradation of rivers and lakes can usually be traced to problems upstream. 

Febria said she will take the knowledge she had gained researching other waterways around the world and apply it to the Great Lakes, starting locally, on farms across Essex County and in the biodiversity hotspot that is Bkejwanong (Walpole Island) First Nation Territory.

Febria said the funding will also allow her to train students and other early-career researchers, and partner with indigenous peoples to ensure research is carried out in full partnership and acknowledgment.

Febria joined the University of Windsor faculty in January. Her previous post was at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand where she headed a waterway restoration project that brought together farmers, local governments, Māori partners, schools and members of the public to rehabilitate freshwater ecosystems on farms across Canterbury.

“I am thrilled to be back in Canada, and to be joining esteemed colleagues and the vibrant research community here at GLIER and the Department of Integrative Biology,” Febria said.

She has also conducted research on the Speed River watershed near Guelph, and streams and river systems in the Chesapeake Bay United States and in the Canadian Arctic.

She is a member of the United Nation’s Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services science-policy platform.

Febria holds a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology and collaborative certificate in environmental studies from the University of Toronto, a master’s degree in geography from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and a bachelor of science in environmental science from the University of Toronto.

Febria said she will take the knowledge she had gained researching other waterways around the world and apply it to the Great Lakes, starting in Windsor, farms across Essex County and in the biodiversity hotspot that is Bkejwanong (Walpole Island) First Nation territory.

“Dr. Febria’s research provides a critical bridge between our knowledge about the Laurentian Great Lakes and the rivers and streams that discharge into them, as well as the land over which they flow,” said K.W. Michael Siu, UWindsor’s vice-president, research and innovation.

“We look forward to having her as a member of the GLIER team that safeguards the health of the Great Lakes.”

—Sarah Sacheli

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