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All about Yixin Zhang, "newtest" Research Assistant Professor in DEB (pdf)

by Yixin Zhang

I got my M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Department of Animal Ecology at Umeå University in Sweden. After graduation, I received s Post-Doctoral Fellowship of Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education and worked in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara in USA. After that, I worked in the Department of Forest Sciences at the University of British Columbia in Canada as a postdoc and research associate.

Over the years, I have been asked by many people, "Why did you decide to go to Sweden for your graduate studies?" My answer was always the same, "Sweden gives the Nobel Prize to the world, and Swedish universities have a high standard for scientific research." I had a tough beginning at the start of my graduate studies. The Department of Animal Ecology at Umeå University told me that it wanted to test my research capability first, before the department committee would discuss whether to accept me as a graduate student. I decided to take this risk to go to Sweden for my potential graduate study. I spent eight days travelling to Sweden by taking a cross-continent train from Beijing to Moscow, a train from Moscow to Helsinki, then to Waasa in Finland, and a ferry across the Baltic Sea to Umeå. After taking an advanced ecological course and completing a research project by working day-and-night, I was accepted as a graduate by the department committee.

My research direction in Sweden was to examine the effects of ecological processes on community structure of blackfly larvae in running waters, in terms of distribution, functional morphology and phenotypic plasticity, and feeding performance. In general, my questions were: how do blackfly larvae respond to variation in physical habitats at a large scale, such as hydrological change in a variety of river and stream systems, and how do these organisms respond, in terms of functional morphology and phenotypic plasticity, to variation in the availability of their food and hydrodynamic condition at a local scale? I was to immerse myself in these questions as well as in running waters. I sampled more streams and rivers than were visited by most Swedes; over 100 sites from the central coastal plain bordering the Gulf of Bothnia to the northern Swedish mountains within the Arctic Circle. These rivers often have elongated lakes and a number of falls and rapids. I enjoyed my fieldwork very much in those beautiful places with attractive scenery. My department at Umeå University had a high standard of academic requirement for PhD students: ten books for oral examinations, which covered many areas from evolutionary biology to scientific philosophy, from population ecology to theoretical ecology; writing grants for your own research funding; five papers including two single-author ones for the PhD thesis; an open defense of your dissertation, followed by a wonderful department celebration party, with a lot of drinking, singing, and dancing until midnight.

Having fledged from Umeå University, I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara. UCSB has a beautiful campus with a very wide sandy beach. Many students went surfing in the Pacific Ocean after classes. At UCSB, I studied the impacts of multiple predators on a shared prey to examine emergent predation effects on prey, which is not simply a sum of individual effects of single predator types. Emergent predation effects can be predation reduction referring to the case where the combined effect of multiple predators is smaller than the sum of single predator effects, or can be predation enhancement with a combined effect larger than the sum of individual effects. During the period working at UCSB, I was looking for postdoc possibilities in Canada because I already had Canadian permanent resident status.

In 2000, I moved to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I was told that UBC probably has the finest university campus in Canada. It is located on the tip of a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and has a nice "clothing optional" beach. At UBC, I studied several projects, most of which were conducted in UBC's Malcolm Knapp Research Forest. (1) Trout foraging-mode shift and its effects on benthic communities. (2) Detritus processing, ecosystem engineering, and benthic diversity. (3) Trophic flows across habitats and their effects on ecosystem processes. (4) Cumulative catchment effects of forest practices on stream ecosystems.

In May of 2004, I met Professor David Dudgeon by chance in "a beer session" at the 4th World Fisheries Congress in Vancouver. Thanks to Qingdao beer, I found that we have lots of research interests in common. Later, I noticed an advertisement for an RAP position at HKU in Nature. I was fortunate to get the position, and joined this department as a Research Assistant Professor in September of 2004. At HKU, I am going to keep working on above-mentioned projects. I have received HKU Seed Funding for basic research to study ecology and genetic diversity of the stream-breeding salamander, the Hong Kong Newt (Paramesotriton hongkongensis) (Fig. 1, 2). I have proposed a broadening course (Global Environmental Change) and a research project (Trophic flows across ecosystems and terrestrial-aquatic linkages). As an honorary member in the Department of Forest Sciences at the University of British Columbia, I am continuing my research project supported by the Forest Research Program in BC, which investigates cumulative watershed effects on stream ecosystems. As the picture drawing, a graduation gift from my department in Umeå, shows I have traveled around the world and have been working on aquatic ecosystems in three continents. For this stop in Hong Kong, I hope that I can stay long enough to do my best to contribute my efforts to this department and to ecological studies in this region.

Fig. 1. Adult Hong Kong Newt

Fig. 2. Larvae of Hong Kong Newt (Paramesotriton hongkongensis).




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