Recent Biography

Dr. Heath is an accomplished Canadian academic and filmmaker. He currently holds the prestigious 2014-15 Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington. He has over 15 years of field experience in the Arctic including close work with Inuit communities studying the ecology and oceanography of sea ice habitats (polynyas and floe edges).

During his Ph.D. he focused on the winter ecology of the Common Eider, and has since expanded this work to include studies of entrapments of beluga whales and changing sea ice dynamics influenced by climate change and hydroelectric projects in James Bay/Hudson Bay. His interdisciplinary programs combine his expertise in ecology, sea ice dynamics, Inuit knowledge and mathematical biology. He led one of Canada’s largest and most successful training, education and outreach projects for International Polar Year, developing community-driven research and monitoring programs, educational curriculum, and directing/producing the 16x award winning film People of a Feather . He has also contributed to TV productions including Planet Earth, Frozen Planet and Wild Canada.

He currently contributes his time as Executive Director of the Arctic Eider Society, a registered Canadian charity he helped establish to further connect eastern Hudson Bay Inuit and Cree through education, outreach and community-driven research programs, with a goal of contributing to solutions for sustainable northern development, assessing cumulative impacts of environmental change and development projects on sea ice ecosystems and developing environmental stewardship for the greater Hudson Bay ecosystem.

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Eider ducks, aerial view

Ecology Research Statement

I maintain a strong interdisciplinary framework to address theoretical and applied questions at the interface of population, community and behavioural ecology. I take a multi-scale dynamic systems approach to investigate the role of top predators in arctic sea ice ecosystems, where unique landscape structure and temporal processes allow conducting non-invasive natural experiments.

As a part of this process, I develop novel data acquisition and analytical techniques to model, quantify and describe patterns of behaviour, distribution and population dynamics in relation to community and ecosystem processes. I am particularly interested in understanding interactions between processes that occur at different rates or spatiotemporal scales. I apply my research to general paradigms in ecology and to issues of conservation and management concern. I work closely with wildlife managers and northern communities. I also place a major emphasis on education and outreach, using the multi-media techniques and capacity developed through my research program.

Selected Eider Winter Ecology Publications:

J. P. Heath, H.G. Gilchrist & R.C. Ydenberg (Sept 10, 2010; Cover Feature). Interactions between rate processes with different time scales explain counterintuitive foraging patterns of arctic wintering eiders. Proc. Roy. Soc. B

J. P. Heath & H.G. Gilchrist (2010). When foraging becomes unprofitable: energetics of diving in tidal currents by common eiders wintering in the Arctic. Marine Ecology Progress Series 403:279-290.

Heath, J.P., Gilchrist, H.G., and Ydenberg, R.C. (2007). Can diving models predict patterns of foraging behaviour? Diving by Common Eiders in an arctic polynya. Animal Behaviour 73:877-884.

Heath, J.P., Gilchrist, H.G. and Ydenberg, R.C. (2006). Regulation of stroke patterns and swim speed across a range of current velocities: diving by Common Eiders wintering in polynyas in the Canadian arctic. Journal of Experimental Biology 209, 3974-3983.

Education & Outreach

I place a strong emphasis on youth engagement, training, education and outreach. This is best exemplified by the critically acclaimed award winning film People of a Feather which I directed, filmed and produced as a part of one leading of Canada's largest International Polar Year projects for training, communications and outreach. Stay tuned for new project underway with the Arctic Eider Society!

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Quantitative Techniques

I have spent considerable time considering concepts such as variability and how they are measured. Proportional Variability is my first and most compelling technique.

Real quantities can undergo such a wide variety of dynamics that the mean is often a meaningless reference point for measuring variability. Despite their widespread application, techniques like the Coefficient of Variation are not truly proportional and exhibit pathological properties. The non-parametric measure Proportional Variability (PV) resolves these issues and provides a robust way to summarize and compare variation in quantities exhibiting diverse dynamical behaviour from contexts ranging from stock market stability to climate variation.

Heath, J.P & Borowski, P. (2013) Quantifying Proportional Variability. PlosOne 8(12) e84074

Heath, J.P. (2006). Quantifying temporal variability in population abundances. Oikos 115:573-581.

Eiders compete for benthic invertebrates

Timelapse towers

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