Kate Brown


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    University of Toronto

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I am broadly interested in plant-animal interactions (e.g. herbivory, pollination), and how these interactions influence plant ecology and evolution. In my undergraduate degree, I studied the evolution side of plant-pollinator interactions, with an interest in how pollinator declines alter floral trait evolution. In my MSc, I am focusing on the ecology of plant-animal interactions, specifically focusing on how trophic interactions (pollination, herbivory, and graivory (seed predation)) influence plant species coexistence and rare species persistence. I use field experiments to answer these questions, which means I get to run around outside all day, looking for bugs, counting plants and seeds, and watching species (both insects and plants) interact!

  • Profile Question 1
    What is best about being a scientist?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    For me, the thing I like best about science and doing research is that it's kind of like solving a puzzle. While we know so much about the world around us, there are still so many unknowns. Although this can be daunting at times, it's a unique opportunity to continue learning, but also allows us to ask interesting questions that we can test using experiments and observations in nature. Conducting studies is where the puzzle comes in - we have certain pieces of the puzzle based on what we already know, but our experiments create new pieces that help complete the puzzle. And what is probably more exciting than this is that we can share these findings with people all around the world, and together, we are building a network of knowledge that helps us understand the natural world, but can also have practical purposes. For example, by understanding how plants reproduce, we can transfer this knowledge to people working in agriculture to better understand how to grow their crops to produce the most or best fruits, vegetables and grains. Or by understanding how wild fish populations grow and reproduce, and how they interact with other fish populations in aquatic communities, we may be able to develop better fishing methods to sustain fish populations yet harvest the seafood that we find in our supermarkets. I find this part incredibly cool – we are studying something because we find it interesting, but it can have larger impacts that can affect other people and future generations. That’s my favourite thing about being a scientist – knowing that even a small study can make a big difference down the line.

  • Profile Question 2
    What was the first science experiment you ever designed? How did it turn out?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    The first experiment that I designed outside of classroom experiments was for my senior thesis (research project) in undergrad, where I was interested in understanding if and how floral traits evolve in response to pollinator declines. At this point, I was really interested in environmental change, but I was also interested in these different aspects of plant ecology and evolution - this seemed to be a fun way to bring together my different interests, and allowed me to work with a professor who was a great mentor and collaborator.

    For this experiment, I took plants out into a field and reduced pollinator access to certain plants by bagging them, which mimicked future pollinator declines, but left another set of plants exposed to pollinators. I wanted to see which plants were more successful (which plants produced more seeds). I also wanted to know which plants would be most successful in a world with fewer pollinators – are these the taller plants, plants with bigger flowers, etc.? Knowing this tells us how plants would be expected to evolve overtime, and what populations would look like following pollinator declines. To do this, we measured traits that are known to attract pollinators, and compared seed production to these traits to see which plants were most successful.

    What I found matched my predictions - plants that were bagged (i.e. experienced pollinator declines) produced 25% fewer seeds than plants that were exposed to pollinators for the entire experiment. I also found that plants with taller stems produced more seeds than plants with shorter stems, meaning that tall plants were better at attracting pollinators, and so they will produce more offspring to contribute to the following generation compared to shorter plants. What does this mean for the populations evolving overtime? What we would expect to see in this population is that taller plants will be more successful in a world with fewer pollinators, so we would expect populations to adapt or evolve in response to pollinator declines, and produce taller plants over time.

  • Profile Question 3
    Can you describe your attitude toward science when you were in high school?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    Science was probably my favourite subject in highschool, though definitely not my best. I did really well in history, math and music, and was encouraged to pursue those subjects in university, but I knew I was more interested in biology and so I decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in zoology based on my interests, rather than what my report card suggested I pursue. And that may be one piece of advice that I have for highschool students looking to pursue science -- even if you don't have the best grades in your science courses, as long as you have an interest, that is really what counts. Studying something just because you find it easy or you get great grades in it doesn't mean that you need to go that route. Make sure you love what you do :)

    Back to my interests in science - besides always having an interest in nature, loving animals and wanting to save the environment, what really spurred my interest in biology, ecology and evolution was my grade 12 biology class. My teacher was previously a research technician with the government, so he had access to equipment for extracting and analyzing DNA samples, and instead of lecturing us about cells, plant physiology and other textbook topics, he set up mini-experiments and hands-on activities that really got me thinking about how cool science is, and how you can use all these techniques to answer specific questions. Hold strawberry DNA was probably the highlight of that course for me - something so simple, but to be able to use a bunch of enzymes to extract DNA from a common fruit blew my mind, and I knew I wanted to keep doing experiments and learning hands-on about the world around me. If that's what excites you about science, encourage your teachers to create hands-on activities, or ask your parents if you can try to some simple experiments at home!

  • Challenge, ELL, Honors
    Academically Challenged
    Honors or AP - Advanced Placement
    ELL - English language learners

  • In addition to English, I am comfortable communicating with students in the following languages:
    (not set)

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

Recent Posts

nhscohbrabgspring2018 project 16 Kate Brown

Hi everyone! I just wanted to check in to see if there are any updates on your project, and was curious as to what you're learning in class right now. Would love to hear an update. 



5 - ZEB and Co. Germinators Kate Brown

Hey guys, 


Thanks for the update and sorry for the delay! Great to hear that things are sprouting! 

What is the average height for each treatment so far? Are all the "Hot" plants taller than the "Room…

5 - ZEB and Co. Germinators Kate Brown
commented on a blog post

A picture of the germination process is now in the files! Let me know if you'd like any other diagrams to answer any questions! I find it really useful to have a picture in front of me to understand how plants work :)

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