Bruce Malloch: Documenting and discovering tiny species

A portrait photograph of Bruce Malloch

Tiny organisms have a champion in Bruce Malloch, an Acadia MSc student in biology and Irving Scholar. A keen naturalist, Bruce is an expert in the diversity and ecology of micro-fungi and their interactions with mites. Already, he has discovered several new species of marine fungi, and he expects the results of his research in the Wolfville salt marsh to be relevant to future research into ecosystem health.

In this period of catastrophic extinction levels, young scientists like Bruce Malloch are in a race against time to document species on Earth. Although scientists have formally described approximately 1.5 million species worldwide, the vast majority of life on Earth remains undocumented. Many species are in danger of becoming extinct before they’re even known.

“The incredible complexity of natural systems is rapidly degrading, and it is this imperative to learn all we can as soon as possible, which led me to pursue biological study almost 10 years ago,” Bruce says. A keen naturalist since childhood, he has developed expertise in the diversity and ecology of micro-fungi and their interactions with other organisms, especially mites. Besides doing independent studies as a hobby, he has taken part for many years in the New Brunswick Museum’s two-week BiotaNB biodiversity survey, working directly under experts in many biological fields.

Now, as he pursues a master’s degree in biology at Acadia University, Bruce has already discovered several new species of marine fungi. He presented his discoveries at the Atlantic Canada Coastal and Estuarine Science annual meeting in May 2019 at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax.

With a working thesis title Structure and succession of salt marsh decomposer communities, Bruce is conducting monthly taxonomic surveys of fungi and mites from the Wolfville salt marsh as well as recording decomposition rates of the dominant grass species. The aim is to place biodiversity trends into context through time. “These taxa have largely been unexplored in Canadian salt marshes, with the vast majority of mite species remaining undescribed,” Bruce says. “Although poorly studied, they are some of the most abundant and easily sampled inhabitants of salt marshes.” He expects the results of this research to be relevant to future research that uses biodiversity data to understand ecosystem health and function.

Mentorship matters

A 2018 biology graduate (MSc Hons) of the University of Toronto, and a native of Little Lepreau, a small fishing village in New Brunswick, Bruce chose Acadia because he needed to find a research advisor whose interests aligned with his own.

“I study the ecology and natural history of fungi, which is not a topic studied by many scientists,” he says. “I had met my current advisor, Dr. Allison Walker, several times as an undergraduate, and she seemed like a great person to research with, and she has taught me cutting-edge techniques that have shaped modern mycological research. I will carry this knowledge with me once I finish my degree at Acadia.”

“Bruce is a self-motivated and talented field biologist, microscopist and taxonomist of both fungi (including lichens) and invertebrates,” says Dr. Walker. “He exemplifies what an Acadia MSc student should be, in terms of his commitment to research excellence and community leadership (environmental stewardship).”

At Acadia, Bruce has stepped into the role of Annapolis Valley Regional Co-Director of the Nova Scotia Mycological Society. Working with Dr. Walker, he has helped organize events such as the fall 2018 mushroom foray at Mooselands Research Forest on the Eastern Shore, which introduced 90 members of the public to the wonders of the fungal kingdom through guided hikes, display tables and culinary sessions.

He has also had the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers on different projects unrelated to his degree, which he describes as “exciting and a great learning experience.”

Thankful for support

Bruce expresses sincere gratitude to the Irving family for his Arthur Irving Academy Scholarship. “I would like to thank the Irving family for all they have given to the students of Acadia University. Their generosity has undoubtedly changed many lives,” he says. “The K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre is a remarkable contribution to the university. My workspace is in the Irving Botanical Collections, and getting to meet all the incredible people that work in the building has enriched my time at Acadia.”


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