Current Students

PhD Students


Cate Little, B.Comm., B.Sc., M.Sc. (Ph.D Candidate) Spotted wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) is an invasive pest of soft-skinned and stone fruits in North and South America and Europe. I am investigating the evolution of olfaction and reproductive behaviour that allow spotted wing Drosophila to compete effectively with native Drosophila species. I will use electrophysiological and behavioural assays to identify chemical cues used by spotted wing Drosophila for mate attraction and host selection. I will follow up with field testing to capitalize on these evolved olfactory and behavioural traits to improve lure efficacy and specificity for early detection and monitoring programs.

Masters Students


Christopher Burgart (M. Sc. Cadidate) completed his undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University. His research is focused on cultivar preference in European apple sawflies and apple maggots and is being carried out at Acadia Univerisity and the Agri-Food and Horticultural Research Center in Kentville.


Jesse Saroli (M.Sc. Candidate) I’m currently working on developing a pheromone based control method for the blueberry flea beetle (Altica Sylvia), which is an important pest of the Maritime lowbush blueberry crop. I hope to be able to chemically identify any active pheromones used by Altica sylvia for possible future use in traps as a monitoring and control method. I’m working towards this goal by completing field and lab bioassays and pheromone composition identification in the lab with the help of Gas-Chromatography Mass-Spectrometry.


Rebecca Rizzato (M.Sc Candidate) The goal of my research is to examine the evolution and divergence of olfaction in heliothine moths. Heliothine moths are notorious crop pests in North America and around the world, feeding on a variety of plants such as corn, cotton, and tobacco. My research involves using a comparative approach combining behavioural, genetic, anatomical, and physiological techniques to examine the mechanisms in which pheromone production and detection may have evolved and diverged within the heliothine group. The findings of my research could potentially contribute to a global initiative to find new strategies for pest monitoring and management.


Heather Crozier (M. Sc. Candidate) I am from Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, and have attended St. Francis Xavier University where I obtained a B.Sc in Biology, then I attended the former Nova Scotia Agricultural College, and graduated from Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture with a B.Sc Agr. in Environmental Science, where I published my undergrad research on the Susceptibility of Chrysochus auratus, a natural enemy of spreading dogbane, to insecticides used in wild blueberry production. My research is on the effects of odorants from cultivars of highbush blueberry on Drosophila suzukii (Diptera: Drosophilidea), which is a relatively new insect pest to this region.


Loay Jabre (M. Sc. Candidate) Loay Jabre is a Masters student investigating the interaction between the cabbage maggot, Delia radicum, and its host plants. He is using electroantennogram technology and bioassays to understand the relationship between the fly and its host plant volatiles as well as field studies to examine possible eco-friendly monitoring traps for this pest.


Rylee Isitt (M. Sc. Candidate) I did my B.Sc. in biology at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), and am currently a master's student at UNBC co-supervised by Dr. Dezene Huber and Dr. Kathy Bleiker. I am studying the geographical variation in pheromone blends between eastern and western populations of the spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis). Spruce beetles use pheromones to attract mates and for coordinating mass attacks on host trees. Forestry professionals can take advantage of these pheromones to lure spruce beetles into traps as a way of managing beetle outbreaks. By better understanding if and how spruce beetle pheromones differ across North America, more efficient lures might be formulated. Although British Columbia is my home province, I have come to Acadia University to work with eastern populations of spruce beetle. Other interests of mine include macrophotography, electronics, software engineering, and other similarly geeky pursuits.


Simon Pawlowski (M. Sc. Candidate) I completed my undergraduate degree in 2014 here at Acadia and am currently continuing on my Honour’s work on Orchestes fagi (Coleoptera: Curculionidae). Alongside the Canadian Forest Service, my project aims at developing effective monitoring tools for this invasive pest of beech trees in Nova Scotia. I have also done research with the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy on harbour porpoises in the Minas Passage.

Honours Students


Melissa McGuire (Honours Student) I am working on my Honours this summer with Kirk and the team! My main focus includes the evaluation of the survivorship and fitness of larval progeny from non-choice mating assays and mate choice by conspecfic females in relation to hairpencil compound composition released by males. I have investigated mating behaviour of Heliothis virescens and Helicoverpa zea that are both growing concerns for agriculture success in North America. I will be starting my fourth year at Acadia University this fall and plan to be completed this project and graduating in the spring of 2015.


Rylee Oosterhuis (Honours Student) I have completed my third year in the Bachelor of Science program at Acadia University with a double major in Biology and Chemistry. I am currently working on my Honours in Biology and concurrently completing my first co-op term in the Hillier lab. My research focuses on identifying potential attractants of Varroa destructor mites, a parasite of honeybees, based upon pheromones produced by honeybees. The goal is to identify and synthesize semiochemical analogues similar to those produced by honeybees which will attract V. destructor but not disrupt normal honeybee behaviour. These analogues could have broader applications to control mite infestations and provide an alternative to existing miticides.


Mark Hanes (Honours) My research focus is to develop techniques to easily identify, monitor, and trap Varroa destructor mites within hives of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera). One major area of exploration is to develop odorant lure-based Varroa mite traps that do not fundamentally influence honey bee behaviour. Identifying volatile organic compounds (VOCs) specific to mite-infested honey bee colonies is also under investigation. Monitoring certain VOCs and their concentrations could potentially aid apiculturists in identifying mite-infested hives.



Lara Thomas (Laboratory Technician) I am working in the Hillier Lab this summer as a lab technician and I love it! I have previously worked in the lab as both an honours and a co-op student. My research at that time, focused on lure development for Spotted Wing Drosophila, an invasive species of fruit fly posing a threat to Canada's fruit crop industry. I performed electroantennograms, flywalk trials and field trapping studies, in attempt to develop an early monitoring system for the species.

Colin MacKay, M.Sc., Biologist (Laboratory Technician) is a biologist with Acadia University/Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and is based in Halifax, N.S. Colin is a former Honours and Masters student in Dr. Kirk Hillier’s lab (co-supervised by Dr. Jon Sweeney, CFS) where he worked on the antennal sensilla morphology and olfactory physiology of the brown spruce longhorn beetle (BSLB), Tetropium fuscum. Specifically, he identified the likely candidate sensilla for olfactory reception on the antennae of T. fuscum and then used single sensillum recording (SSR) to test the responsiveness and sensitivity of male and female T. fuscum to a range of compounds such as fuscumol (the aggregation pheromone for T. fuscum), host volatiles, and non-host volatiles. Colin is currently working with several different species of forest pests in N.S., but his main focus is on possible control measures of the invasive beach leaf mining weevil, Orchestes fagi.


Alyson Carter (Technician) I recently worked in the Hillier lab for the summer of 2014. My primary duties were basic lab maitenance, assisting others on project tasks and updating and maintaining the lab webste

Matt Nunn (Honours) completed his honours thesis investigating “Pheromones of the Red-Striped Fireworm”, and simultaneously completed a side project to examine leafhopper diversity in wild Nova Scotian blueberry fields.

Jillian Kelly (M.Sc) The objective of Jillian’s research project was to develop a pheromone-based monitoring system for Red Striped Fireworm, Aroga trialbamaculella (Order Lepidoptera, Family Gelechiidae) an economically important pest of wild blueberries in the Maritime Provinces. Her research involved examination of ecological factors which influence Red Striped Fireworm (RSF) populations in Nova Scotia wild blueberries; testing the behavioural attraction of RSF to pheromone components in lure-based field trapping systems and wind tunnel trials; using electroantennography to test the sensitivity of male moths to candidate pheromone components from field pheromone trapping trials; and examination of female sex pheromone composition of RSF from gland extracts using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GCMS).

Elisabeth Frost (M.Sc, cosupervised with Dave Shutler) Elisabeth studied lethal and sublethal effects of a common pesticide (fluvalinate) on honeybees, by assessing mortality rates, learning, and memory. She also quantified levels of miticides in honeybees over time, looking for evidence of spread and/or detoxification. Fluvalinate is used to kill an invasive mite, but the side-effects of this treatment may do more harm than good. Lesser known fact: She was not stung the entire summer, earning the title of ‘Bee Whisperer’.

Lise Charbonneau (M.Sc., cosupervised with Dave Shutler) Lise examined the effects of Nosema infection on honeybees. Her work in the Hillier lab has included use of proboscis-extension reflex learning to evaluate learning and memory.

Adam Deveau (Honours) The purpose of Adam’s research was to use ratiometric pairs of odorants, such as pheromones, to decipher mechanisms which modulate interactions between olfactory receptor neurons and projection neurons. This was conducted using single sensillum recording (SSR). This will eventually be used to determine if the interactions at the synapse are pre- or post-synaptic, and hopefully help provide a piece of a model for synaptic and basic network function.

Stephanie Powell (Honours) Octopamine (OA), a biogenic amine, acts as neuromodulator, neurotransmitter, and neurohormone within invertebrates. In the peripheral insect nervous system, OA behaves as a neuromodulator which modifies the fat body, mobilizing and metabolizing lipids and carbohydrates. Furthermore, OA has been implicated in the development of ethanol tolerance in Drosophila. In vertebrates, OA binds to the receptors of other neurotransmitters, being closely related to noradrenaline, and has both noradrenergic and dopaminergic effects. Recently, humans have taken advantage of this fact, using OA in weight loss supplements, and it has been suggested as a potential treatment for ADHD, as a complementary medication with MAOI treatment and even for hangover relief. This is however accompanied by reports of increased blood pressure and stimulant side-effects. Stephanie used the model insect moth Heliothis virescens, to investigate the effects of OA on heart rate, mass of the fat body, and test for alcohol tolerance in moths, facilitated by OA. Data were further examined for effects on learned behaviour along with physiological/morphological shifts evident from OA administration.

Amy Larkin (Honours, cosupervised with Nelson O'Driscoll, Earth and Environmental Sciences) The transfer of mercury from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems occurs primarily via the consumption of predacious invertebrates by birds and fish. As intermediate predators, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs (Order Odonata) are important invertebrates in littoral zones and wetlands. The objective of Amy’s research was to identify changes in the foraging behaviour of damselfly naiads as a result of mercury bioaccumulation. A combination of field collected and lab reared damselfly naiads were used during the length of the experiment. Field-collected animals were acquired from Big Dam East and Big Dam West regions of Kejimkujik National Park, while lab-reared animals were be purchased from a supply house. A controlled subset of damselflies was be compared to a subset fed with standard reference material for mercury in fish tissue (DORM-2; low/high daily dosages of 250-1000 ppb). Exposed damselflies were sampled at the end of behavioural examination and analyzed for total mercury using thermal degradation the CARE laboratories at Acadia University. Data were examined to determine any relationship between dosage and rates of mercury bioaccumulation in the organism, neural deficits, or alterations in foraging behaviour.

Amy Buckland-Nicks (Honours, cosupervised with Nelson O'Driscoll, Earth and Environmental Sciences) Mercury is methylated in aquatic ecosystems and bioaccumulates in organisms resulting in neurotoxic effects. Higher trophic levels of freshwater food webs are the most affected and well studied; however very little is known about invertebrates and terrestrial food chains. Odonates (dragonfly family) are predacious aquatic insects that are key food sources and vectors for mercury bioaccumulation for both aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Preliminary data suggests odonate larvae may have high mercury concentrations (.14-1.92 ug g-1); however little is known about how life stages and tissue types affect mercury accumulation and transferral. Further research is necessary for better understanding the role of odonates in mercury bioaccumulation. The objective of Amy’s study was to determine whether mercury concentrations differ between the larval and adult stages, and between soft and hard tissues in adult dragonflies. A preliminary study examined the potential relationship between mercury concentrations in larval dragonflies, water, and fish of the area. Dragonfly larvae and adults were sampled from the shores and surrounding marshes of Big Dam West and Big Dam East lakes of Kejimkujik National Park in June, 2010. These lakes have extensive data available for mercury speciation in water, sediments, and fish. Larvae and adult dragonflies were collected using dip nets and sweep nets. Samples were counted and categorized by species (or genus), frozen in polyethylene tubes, and ultimately dried, homogenized, and weighed prior to analysis.

Ryosuke Ishigami (Technician) Ryosuke worked as a lab technician through the Co-operative Employment program during Winter and summer 2010. His primary responsibilities are maintenance of lab colonies and development of atlases of multiple species of insect brains using a combination of histology, confocal microscopy and 3-D reconstructions.

Scott Schaffner (Lead Programmer, 2008-2010)

Curtis Hughes (content editor, 2009-2010)

Aaron Lee (content editor, 2008 - 2009)

Samantha Sanford (content editor, 2009)

Cassandra Fraser (content editor, 2010)

Sam Coleman (videographer and media, 2010)

Nan Kang (programmer, 2010)

Kathleen Chiddenton (Honours and Technician) Octopamine (OA) is an important chemical in invertebrates acting similarly to epinephrine and norepinephrine in vertebrates. OA has an important behavioural role in motivation, sensory sensitivity, as well as in reinforcement of learned behaviours. The purpose of my study was to determine the effects of OA on learning and memory as well as testing the importance of physiological state in relation to recall through a learning assay, the proboscis extension reflex (PER). Comparisons of learning ability with and without OA injections were made in Heliothis virescens. It was found that OA had a significant impact on PER percentage in moths both during training trials as well as during initial recall at 45 minutes. During 24 hour recall, the memory significantly decreased, however moths injected with a second dose of OA showed increased memory. This provides evidence for the importance of state dependant learning in memory recall and is a critical first step in understanding further the effects of OA. Kathleen was also employed as a P/T technician for animal care within the lab, and conducted a research topics investigation of changes in brain neuroanatomy during olfactory enrichment or deprivation with synapsin-staining.

Sarah Rose (Honours) Helicoverpa zea (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), commonly known as Corn Earworm, is a major crop pest, affecting agriculture worldwide. Males have odour-secreting hairpencil glands found at the tip of their abdomen which are extruded during courtship. Previous studies have shown that hairpencil odours may make copulation attempts by males more likely to be accepted. My study was designed to determine the effects of the H. zea male hairpencil odour on the courtship behaviour of female H. zea. Normal mating assays were conducted to first determine stereotypical courtship behaviour within the moth species. Subsequent manipulations were performed on the moths to determine the importance of the hairpencil odour in mating. The first experiment involved the removal of the female antennae at the scape. The virgin antennectomized females were then paired with normal virgin males for the mating assays following a recovery period. In the second experiment, virgin male moths underwent hairpencil ablation surgeries and were paired with normal virgin females for mating assays following a recovery period. Control trials were performed with moths who had undergone similar ‘mock’ surgeries. The final experiment involved ablated males with the addition of an extract of hairpencil odour that was reintroduced to the female during courtship attempts; hexane was used as a control. Results show that presence of male odour is important in the courtship and mating of H. zea.

Laura Ferguson (Honours, cosupervised with Todd Smith, Biology) Laura investigated the potential effects of parasitism of mosquitoes by protozoa parasites, in particular in relation to effects upon host feeding behaviour. To facilitate this, Laura investigated feeding of Culex mosquitoes on Rana clamitans frogs while infected with variable infections of Hepatozoan parasites.

Emma McIntyre (Honours, cosupevised with Todd Smith, Biology Emma investigated host choice in two species of mosquitoes (Culex territans and Culex pipiens). In particular, cues from two different ectothermic host species, frogs and snakes, were investigated to isolate olfactory, thermal or hygroscopic cues which might affect host choice.

Gillian MacMullin Research Topics Gillian reconstructed the antennal lobe of two moth species, the armyworm and the tobacco budworm. In particular, she compared the structural organization of glomeruli, spheroidal structures in the antennal lobe which process different odour molecules.

Aaron Lee (Research Topics) In addition to his work on the AI project, Aaron also conducted a two- term research topics investigation of changes in brain neuroanatomy during olfactory enrichment or deprivation with synapsin-staining.

Rhys Kavanagh (Honours and Technician The purpose of this study was to determine whether octopamine increases sensitivity of female olfactory receptor neurons to conspecific female sex pheromone. Studies in this area will reveal more details on the evolution of sexual dimorphism and may be used in insecticide development. Extracellular neural recordings were made from female moths both injected and not injected with octopamine, and neural responses to odour stimulation were recorded. Results indicate that octopamine plays a significant modulatory role in female sex pheromone detection in female moths, increasing sensitivity to pheromones almost 1000X; and that male and female pheromone-detecting neurons share distinct pharmacological and physiological similarities in H. virescens despite their morphological differences at the antennal level. Rhys remained in the lab for an additional summer to continue this research as a technician.

Kathryn Landry (Honours) The objective of this study was to analyze the responses elicited by interneurons in both the medial region and MGC in the antennal lobes of H. virescens males when stimulated with blends of various host-plant volatiles and pheromones. Extracellular sharp-glass electrode recording from within the brain of male moths suggests that such blends primarily cause inhibition in neurons within the isomorphic glomeruli, but also that blend stimulation may evoke synergistic responses. In addition, the pheromone and host-plant odours independently demonstrated inhibitory effects. This study suggests that odour processing of blends is configural and that communication within the antennal lobe is global. In addition, this project will provide a standard for the detection of elicited responses and allow future research using the equipment and techniques developed in this project.

Chris Ogbuah (Technician) was working as a lab technician, and engaged in primary animal care and colony maintenance. Furthermore Chris also conducted an immunohistology-based investigation to localize octopamine within the insect brain.