About Joel

Recent News

  • Returned from my seven-week stay at the Mountain Lake Biological Station. Our experiment on dark-eyed junco evolutionary ecology went swimmingly!
  • I am excited to announce that two of my collaborative proposals were funded for the 2018-2019 period by the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action to research evolutionary ecology of songbird immune genes.


    Everything is better as a cartoon scientist

About Joel, his interests, and hobbies.

I was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, specifically in a small coastal town called Musquodoboit Harbour. This small fishing community sparked my interests in biology at a young age. I became heavily invested in the aquarium hobby. There were fish tanks throughout my childhood home. My interest in fish behavior, diversity, and evolution inspired me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and Oceanography at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. During my undergraduate program, I found behavioral ecology and evolution to be the most stimulating subjects. My cooperative program allowed me to perform taxonomically-diverse research (e.g. molluscs, aquatic plants, zooplankton, fish). However, it was not until I took a field-based ornithology


Fieldwork provides the best opportunity to appreciate your study system and understand the broad questions in evolutionary ecology. Pictured is my current model species, the dark-eyed junco in spring 2018.

course that I found a group of vertebrates that can be used as model organisms to answer questions about evolution and behavior. Since then, I have pursued research projects using birds to answer questions from parent-offspring communication to sexual selection. I completed my MSc from Saint Mary’s University in 2012. At SMU, I investigated how the coloration of throat feathers in European starlings was related to mate choice.

After completing my MSc, I pursued a PhD at the University of Western Ontario (aka Western University) in evolutionary ecology of songbirds under the supervision of Dr. Beth MacDougall-Shackleton. My PhD research explored parasite-mediated selection on the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in song sparrows, and how MHC may be signaled to potential mates, and how these birds use these cues to mate non-randomly at MHC. One of the most significant findings of my PhD research was finding preen oil may act as an olfactory (chemical) cue of MHC genotype in these birds (Slade et al. 2016, Proceedings B). This was the first study to discover a signal of MHC genotype in songbirds.

My research on chemical signalling in songbirds provided a jumping point to start an early postdoctoral research position the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. At BEACON, I am researching chemical ecology, immunogenetics, behavior, and microbial symbionts in a model songbird that is known to use chemical communication, the dark-eyed junco.


-evolutionary ecology


-sexual selection

-chemical ecology

-molecular ecology

-population genetics

-life history





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