The Cristescu Lab

Lab Members

Joanne Littlefair
Postdoctoral Fellow

Environmental DNA as a next-generation biomonitoring tool for aquatic biodiversity

Research interests:
My research focuses on the ecology of environmental DNA, specifically with the aim of integrating this data into eukaryote biodiversity surveys and biomonitoring campaigns. In particular I am investigating how detection of species with eDNA may be confounded by the transport of eDNA in highly connected aquatic ecosystems, and disentangling these effects (the detection of regional versus local species richness) in natural field conditions. Currently, I am also exploring how spatial and temporal variation in eDNA contributes to species detection within different lake zones and strata. My research is often inspired by my partnerships with industrial clients. Currently I am employed as a Mitacs (Industrial) Postdoctoral Fellow, in a partnership with WSP, an environmental and building consultancy firm. Together we have been refining metabarcoding techniques for use in large-scale field campaigns of freshwater diversity.

In collaboration with Dr Beth Clare at Queen Mary University of London (my previous postdoc position), I continue to use metabarcoding to determine trophic relationships through dietary analysis, and to investigate the physical and environmental influences on predator-prey relationships. My study systems include 1) carnivorous plants and how abiotic gradients influence the trophic interactions between carnivorous plants and their invertebrate prey, and 2) Old World bats, including insectivorous and frugivorous species.

My background is in evolutionary ecology, specialising in the interactions between disease and diet. I studied transgenerational effects of parasitic infection and resource levels on life history traits within families during my PhD. I examined this in the context of applied pest ecology and chose a crop pest and its interactions with biopesticides (bacterial and fungal pathogens which are used to control insect pests) as my study system. Broadly, my past and current research topics are linked by an interest in the role of diet in shaping ecosystems, anthropogenic pressures on ecology, and investigating the applied side of research.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to collaborate on any of these themes.

Peer-reviewed publications:

  • Lim, V.-C., Clare, E.L., Littlefair, J.E., Ramli, R., Bhassu, S., Wilson J.J. The impact of urbanisation and agriculture on seed dispersal by fruit bats (accepted) Urban Ecosystems
  • Littlefair, J.E., Laughton, A.M., Knell, R.J. (2017) Maternal pathogen exposure causes diet- and pathogen-specific transgenerational costs Oikos 126 (1): 82-90
  • Littlefair, J.E., Knell, R.J. (2016) Within- and trans-generational effects of variation in dietary macronutrient content on life-history traits in the moth Plodia interpunctella PLoS ONE 11(12): e0168869.
  • Littlefair, J.E., Clare, E.L., (2016) DNA barcoding the food chain: from Sanger to high-throughput sequencing Genome 59(11): 946-958 (Barcodes to biomes special issue).
  • Clare, E.L., Chain, F.J.J., Littlefair, J.E., Cristescu, M.E. (2016) The effects of parameter choice on defining molecular operational taxonomic units and resulting ecological analyses of metabarcoding data Genome 59: 981-990
  • Littlefair, J.E., Nunn, K.?, Knell, R.J. (2016) The development of a synthetic diet for investigating the effects of macronutrients on the development of Plodia interpunctella. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 159: 305–310
  • Cotter, S. C., Littlefair, J. E., Grantham, P. J., & Kilner, R. M. (2013). A direct physiological trade-off between personal and social immunity. Journal of Animal Ecology. 82 (4): 846–853 (selected for entomology special issue)

Industry-related publications:

White Paper: “Environmental DNA (eDNA) as a next-generation biomonitoring tool” Littlefair, J.E., Carreau, J., Webb, M., Öberg, M., Cristescu, M., commissioned by William Sale Partnership (global company providing environmental management and consultancy services)


Contact Information
Joanne Littlefair
Postdoctoral Fellow
McGill University

Department of Biology
McGill University
1205 ave Docteur Penfield
Room S3/6A
Montréal, Québec