Peter Leavitt


  • Room 0G.107 - Biological Sciences

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

1988 …2020

Research output per year

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Personal profile

Research Statement

Research in my laboratory combines ecosystem and in situ experiments, modeling, paleolimnology, and long-term (25 yr) ecological research (LTER) to quantify the factors that regulate the structure and function of lakes and improve strategies for their protection.  Our main themes and advances are summarized below.

            Paleoecology-We pioneered the use of mass budgets and whole-ecosystem experiments to calibrate the use of algae, pigments, invertebrates and stable isotopes as fossils in lakes. In particular, we are global leaders in the use of pigments from algae and bacteria as indicators of environmental change, including novel compounds that allow reconstruction of past UV radiation (UVR) environments.  Our methods are now used by >10 international institutes and research groups, as well as national Research Chair appointments (e.g., Canada Research Chairs; NSERC Industrial Chairs). Our invited syntheses have been cited ~1000 times including one of the 10 most highly cited papers at J. Paleolimnol.  Recently, we developed new methods to reconstruct past nutrient influx, ecosystem variability, water temperature, DNA, metals and lake contamination by dust, and have used our techniques to help protect lakes worldwide.

            Nitrogen Effects on Lakes- Our research demonstrates that the structure and function of some lake ecosystems is regulated on annual to millennial time scales by the influx of nitrogen (N) from external sources, including atmospheric deposition, biological fixation of N2, migratory fishes, terrestrial dissolved organic matter (DOM), forestry, agriculture, and urban pollution.  Significantly, industrial N has polluted even remote polar lakes for over 120 years, thereby defining the onset of the Anthropocene. We show for the first time that early lake productivity and ontogeny is regulated by influx of N, not phosphorus (P), in sharp contrast to many modern freshwaters.  As well, we uniquely find that N and other subsidies from marine salmon regulates algal beta-diversity, predation regimes, and basic N biogeochemistry of natal lake ecosystems.  Finally, our experimental, LTER and fossil research has resulted in a new paradigm for lake eutrophication by demonstrating for the first time that pollution of P-rich lakes with urea and other forms of N increases production and toxicity of cyanobacteria by up to 500% on diverse temporal and spatial scales.  This work resulted in formal legislation (e.g., 2011 Save Lake Winnipeg Act) to regulate N and P pollution.

            Climate and Lakes-This theme investigates how lakes regulate climatic processes and how, in turn, climate influences lakes and society.  Our LTER program in the Canadian Prairies reveals that climate warming since 1990 has increased lake pH by 1.5 units and stimulated CO2 capture by lakes to rates equivalent to 35% of prairie agricultural emission.  Further, we show that influx of energy (E) increases spatial synchrony of lake properties, whereas the influx of mass (m) reduces temporal coherence, particularly that of aquatic food webs.  Our whole-lake experiments, surveys and stable isotope analyses reveal that variation in jet stream position, and consequently winter precipitation, is the main climatic mechanism structuring central Canadian lakes, despite chemical and food-web effects of E exchange during summer.  Finally, we are developing a series of paleo-climate reconstructions to forecast the risks of droughts on the Canadian Prairies. These conditional probability analyses estimate that the risk of severe (1930s) droughts is as high as 45% by 2030 AD, with expected losses of $650 billion.  This information is being used by crop insurance, agricultural and hydroelectric corporations in all Prairie Provinces to evaluate their susceptibility to climate extremes and resulted in an invited meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada.

                Ecosystem Sustainability and Management- Application of basic ecological knowledge is essential to sustain ecosystems and their services.  Here we use our novel limnological and statistical approaches to quantify causes of environmental degradation in diverse aquatic ecosystems, including First Nation’s territories, coastal estuaries, prairie lakes, northern freshwater deltas, salmon nurseries, high latitude ecosystems, alpine lakes, and iconic sites worldwide (e.g., Winnipeg, Windermere, Neagh, Champlain, Great Salt, Kinneret, Vatern, Okeechobee, Myvaten).  In all cases, we balance novel scientific discovery with clear management recommendations to initiate legislative change and enable sustainable management (see above).  Our leadership has resulted in the Energy-mass (Em) flux framework, a new conceptual paradigm adopted by 15 international research groups to quantify the unique and interactive effects of humans and climate on lakes, and formally unify limnology and paleoecology.  

Research Interests

Coupled Human-Natural Systems; Pathways of energy and mass transfer; Human impacts on environment; Climate change and social response; Long-term ecological research (LTER); Regulation of ecosystem structure and function; Variation as a system property; Social controls of biophysical environments; Paleolimnology and Paleoecology; Global cycles of major elements (C, N, P); Pollution ecology; Urbanization and the water cycle; Socio-economic trade-offs with ecosystem services; Centennial-scale effects of agricultural development; Regulation of primary production; Limnology and Aquatic Ecology; Environmental change; Disturbance; Regulation of food-web structure; Water.


2020    Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology

2018    Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

2017    Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and Society (Tier I) (third term).

2016    Sustaining Fellow of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

2010    Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and Society (Tier I) (second term).

2009    Selected for inclusion into Who’s Who Canada.

2008    Co-recipient Zayed International Prize for the Environment (2008) for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (chapter co-author).

2007    Frank H. Rigler Memorial Award, Society of Canadian Limnologists. (Highest society honour in recognition of importance and influence of contributions to Canadian limnology).

2004    University of Regina Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Research.

2003    Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and Society (Tier I).

1995    Kalium Professor of Natural Science and Engineering.

1991-2 NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship.

1989    Visiting Fellowship in Canadian Government Laboratory.



Biology 101 - General Biology (University of Regina) (1994-98, 2002)

Biology 276 – Environmental Biology (Regina) (2002-06, 2008-10, 2012, 2016-2018)

Biology 335 - Limnology (Regina) (1994-98, 2001-06, 2008-14, 2016-18)  

Biology 364 - Nonvascular Plants/Biology of Algae (Regina) (1995-1998)

Biology 490BP - Undergraduate Research Project (Regina) (2012)

Biology 835 - Climate Change and Impacts (Regina) (2003)

Biology 837 - Food-web Ecology (Regina) (1996)

Biology 837 - Practical Analysis of Plant Pigments (Regina) (1995)

Botany 491 - Practical Analysis of Plant Pigments (Alberta) (1989)


Biology 803 – Scientific Research Skills (Regina) (2008, 2010, 2012-14,2016-17)

Guest Lecturer:           

Biology 455 – Developmental Endocrinology (Regina)

Biology 375 - Systems Ecology (Regina)

Biology 476 - Quaternary Ecology and Palynology (Regina)

Biology 275 - Ecology (Regina)

Zoology 464 - Limnology (Alberta)

Zoology 322 - Community Ecology (Alberta)

Botany 333 - Aquatic and Wetland Plant Ecology (Alberta)


Professional Societies:

Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (formerly American Society of Limnology and Oceanography)(ASLO), Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution (CSEE), Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists (CSEB), Ecological Society of America (ESA), Geological Society of America (GSA), International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR), International Palaeolimnology Association (IPA), International Society of Limnology (SIL), Sigma Xi (SX), Society of Canadian Limnologists (SCL).

Professional Activities:


- Director, Canadian Institute of Ecology and Evolution (CIEE) (2012-2018).

- Founding Director, Institute of Environmental Change and Society (2011-present).

- Founding Director, Environmental Quality Analysis Laboratory (2000-2010).

- Board of Directors, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) (formerly American Society of Limnology and Oceanography) (2012-2015).

- Past-President (2006), President (2003-2005), and Vice-President (1999-2002), Society of Canadian Limnologists (SCL).

-Director, Limnology Laboratory, University of Regina (1993-present).


 - Scientific consultant to Prime Minister of Canada (2005), Leader of Official Opposition (2007), Premier of Manitoba (2010-11), Secretary to Manitoba Cabinet (2010-11), Environment Canada (2010), Chinese Environmental Protection Agency (2008), MB Clean Environment Commission (2008-10), Manitoba Water Stewardship (2008- ), SK Watershed Authority (2005), File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (2012), Sakimay First Nations Chief’s Council (2012), Utah State Dept Environmental Quality (2011-12), Saskatchewan Environmental Resource Management (1999, 2002), Buffalo Pound Water Treatment Plant (2010), Alberta Minister of Environment (2001), Northern Alberta Development Council (2002), Last Mountain Lake Stewardship Association (2009), Mayor of Regina (2008), City of Regina (2003, 2008, 2012), Wascana Centre Authority (1997-98, 2002), Royal Saskatchewan Museum (2006), J.D. Mollard and Associates (2004), Clifton Associates (1999), Stantec Consulting (2003, 2011), Agricultural Producers Association (2001-03), National Crop Insurance Managers Association (2001), Vice-Presidents, Saskatchewan Water Corporation (1995).

 - Media Liaison, Society of Canadian Limnologists (2001, 2002).

 - 127 media interviews since 2005, including CBC The National, CBC As it Happens, National Post, Globe and Mail, Canadian Press, National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Maclean’s, Radio Canada International, Radio Netherlands International, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Science and regional news outlets.  Career total: 254 unique media interviews.

 - Expert testimony to Saskatchewan Court in matter of aquatic resource use and environmental assessment (2017).

 - Expert testimony to Canadian Federal Court in matter of potash mining and aquatic resource use (2012).


Scientific Service

- Conference Co-Chair, American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (2006).

- Conference Chair, Society of Canadian Limnologists (2001, 2002).

- National Organizing Committee, 2007 Congress of International Association of Theoretical and Applied Limnology (SIL).

- National Organizing Committee and Working Group Chair, 2008 Chapman Conference on Lakes and Reservoirs as Sentinels, Integrators, and Regulators of Climate Change, (ASLO, AGU).

- Editorial Board: Ecology, Ecosphere and Ecological Monographs (2002-2014); Inland Waters (2010-present); University of California Press, Freshwater Ecology Series (2007-2014), Limnology and Oceanography: Letters (2016-present).

- Guest Editor, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (2011).

- US National Science Foundation (NSF) Committee of Visitors, Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) review (2015).

 - US National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant Selection Panel, Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (2009 and 2010).

 - Committee Member, American Society of Limnology and Oceanography: Redfield Lifetime Award Committee (2007-2010; Chair 2010-2012); Nominating Committee (2008-2010); Awards Committee (2010-2012; Chair 2012-2015); Hutchinson Committee (Chair 2012-2015); Endowment Committee (1997-1999).  

 - Scientific Committee, NSERC Lake Pulse Strategic Network (2016-18).

 - Society of Canadian Limnologists Visioning Committee (2012-2013).

 - Invited Panellist, The Future of Limnology in Canada, Society of Canadian Limnologists.  

 - Canada Research Chair, College of Reviewers (2002-present).

 - Manuscript reviewer: Advances in Limnology, Ambio, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Aquatic Microbial Ecology, Aquatic Sciences, Archiv für Limnologie, Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research, Biogeochemistry, Biogeosciences, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Canadian Journal of Microbiology, Canadian Water Resources Journal, Catena, Chemosphere, Ecohydrology and Hydrobiology, Ecology, Ecology Letters, Ecological Applications, Ecological Monographs, Ecosystems, Environmental Management, Environmental Science and Technology, Estuaries, Estuaries and Coasts, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, Freshwater Biology, Fundamental and Applied Limnology, Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin, Geophysical Research Letters, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Global Change Biology, Hydrobiologia, Inland Waters, Journal of Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Journal of Global Planetary Change, Journal of Global Planetary Change, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Journal of Hydrology, Journal of Limnology, Journal of the North American Benthological Society, Journal of Paleolimnology, Lake and Reservoir Management, Lakes & Reservoirs:Research and Management, Limnology and Oceanography, Marine Ecology Progress Series,  Mem, Ist. Ital. Idrobiol., Nature, Nature Communications, Nature Ecology and Evolution, Oceanologia, Organic Geochemistry, Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, Paleooceanography and Paleoclimatology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Quaternary Science Reviews, Science of the Total Environment, NPG Scientific Reports, Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Water Air and Soil Pollution, Wetlands.

Grant reviewer Alberta Challenge Grants in Biodiversity, American Chemical Society, Canada Research Chairs, Canada Council for the Arts, European Research Council, Exxon Valdez Trustee Council, Fond de recherché sur la nature et les technologies (QC), Fonds sur Foderung (Austria), Geological Survey of Canada, Israel Ministry of Science Technology and Space, Israel Science Foundation, Maryland Seagrant Program, MITACS, National Geographic Society, UK Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, US Geological Survey.

 - Session Chair: Annual Meetings of American Society of Limnology and Oceanography; Ecological Society of America; Society of Canadian Limnologists, Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution.

 - Student Presentation Award Judge, Annual Meeting of Ecological Society of America.


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