Finding a balance between research, education, and outreach through learning from nature


I grew up close to nature between a farm and the woods in various regions of the province of Quebec. I love nature and I decided early on to become a biologist as a teenager. Through my undergraduate and graduate studies, I returned to nature for reconnection and research. I rapidly discovered the importance of protecting nature and reducing human impacts. This is probably why my master’s degree was in conservation and my postdoctoral work on climate change. Then, everything changed when I became research associate at University of Sherbrooke where I discovered the importance of interdisciplinary research. This is when I realised how research alone is not enough. Education is important but especially community outreach. This is where the tires hit the road.

From my first position as a professor at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, I became very involved with protected areas, especially Kejimkujik National Park. This is where I learned about UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, as Cliff Drysdale from the park prepared the papers for the designation of the Southwest Nova Biosphere. It didn’t take long when I moved to Moncton as the KC Irving Chair on Sustainable Development to be approached to be part of the initial group to develop the proposal for the Funday Bay Biosphere. So, coming to Brock in 2009, it was not a surprise that I took great interest in the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere. When in 2012, Brock University asked me to become UNESCO Chair, I immediately thought on how the Niagara Biosphere could be an integral part of my work as a researcher, an educator, and a person highly interested in community outreach.

My inspiration comes from working with rural and coastal communities in Canada and abroad (e.g., Ecuador) to find paths to resilience in the face of multidimensional crises of climate and biodiversity, embracing traditional and local knowledge.

My current research is interdisciplinary. It embraces the concepts of conservation, ecosystem management, sustainability, understanding (and still learning) the importance of traditional knowledge and Two-Eyed Seeing, to find solutions that can help social-ecological systems adapt to these various crises and become more resilient. My projects are therefore related to sustainable agriculture in Canada as well as Ecuador and China, and ecosystem management and climate change adaptation of rural and coastal communities in Canada and abroad.

In most of my work, cultural, social, and environmental aspects are integrated in order to find solutions and strategies that will be more appropriate at the local level, an important principle in ecosystem governance. Interestingly, we also work with Biospheres in Ecuador and on issues such as cultural practices in sustainable agriculture and the right balance between economic development, tourism, and sustainability are discussed. In the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere, so much remains to be explored, learned from, and finding paths for better nurturing of Mother Earth for conservation and sustainability of this great ecosystem.

 Liette Vasseur is professor of Biological Sciences at Brock University