Suzie Currie

Adjunct Professor

Suzie Currie

Contact Information

Office hours
Other websites

I am a comparative animal physiologist, interested in understanding how animals cope with environmental stress in marine and freshwater environments. 

We conduct experiments on campus in the Harold Crabtree Aqualab as well as field-work in marine stations in Canada, the US and the Caribbean (preferably, during the Canadian winter!).  

My research group usually consists of several undergraduate and graduate students, our excellent Aquatic Biotechnology Research Assistant, Natalie Donaher, as well as visiting graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Our research is supported by NSERC, NBIF, CFI and the NB Environmental Trust.

For an overview of our work, please check out:



Postdoctoral Research: Department of Zoology, The University of Cambridge, UK; Charles and Katherine Darwin Research Fellow, Darwin College

PhD Biology: Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

MSc Biology: Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

BSc Honours Biology: Acadia University, Nova Scotia

Research interests

My research program is focused on understanding the feedback between behavioural and physiological responses allowing animals to compensate and maintain function in changing, often stressful environments.  My research uses fish as models to determine how this phenotypic integration could lead to stress resistance. Over the past few years, we have been focused on thermal physiology and behaviour, dominance hierarchies, exposure to toxicants, and salinity stress. We study a range of animals including sharks, elephant fish, skate, Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, hagfish, mangrove rivulus, killifish and seals.

 seven gill(2)

Current Research Questions:

I. How plastic is the integrated response to environmental stress in animals?

In order to understand how animals respond to the stress of changing environmental conditions, it is important to understand the influences of genetic and environmental variability and the interaction between the two (i.e. phenotypic plasticity). This aspect of our research program capitalizes on a unique fish model, the mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus - an air-breathing fish, native to south Florida and the Caribbean and is the only known selfing hermaphroditic vertebrate. We can use this fish to isolate genetics and examine contributions of environmental variation on behavioural and physiological phenotypes. Generations of selfing have resulted in populations composed of distinct homozygous lineages with a variety of identifiable phenotypes.  We are using mangrove rivulus to understand phenotypic plasticity in thermal and salinity tolerance and how changes in behaviour may impact the responses to environmental stress.

Our research in this area involves lab experiments here at Mount Allison as well as field work in Belize.Belize team 2012   

Students, collaborators:
-    Kaitlyn Lister, BSc Honours – current
-    Keri Martin, BSc Honours – current
-    Madalon Burnett, BSc Honours – current
-    Justin Trueman BSc - current
-    Laura Steeves, BSc Honours 2016
-    Kirsten Weagle, BSc Honours 2016
-    Dr. Pat Wright, University of Guelph

II. Can we use thermal biology to predict impacts of climate change on Miramichi River Atlantic salmon?

The Miramichi River is home to one of the largest Atlantic salmon runs, producing more than 20% of the total North American population. Unfortunately, the population is in decline with returning adult salmon hitting historic lows in 2014.  High temperatures and low water levels associated with climate change are hypothesized to be key contributing factors in this decline. In addition, temperature changes are frequently quite rapid, allowing little time for fish to acclimate or recover from such stressful conditions.

This research is focused on characterizing the thermal physiology of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), focusing on how climate change may impact populations in the Miramichi. Thermal stress is a major concern for Atlantic salmon populations, with mass mortalities observed after several days of high summer temperatures. To date, many of the physiological and cellular mechanisms underlying thermal stress in Atlantic salmon are poorly understood. We are seeking to address this issue to better understand how temperature affects the health of this important species. The study will address whether multi-day exposures to high temperatures prime or ‘precondition’ Atlantic salmon to better cope with later, more severe temperature stresses, or if such exposures are additive and further sensitize the animals to stress. In addition to characterizing any whole animal responses to changes in temperature (i.e. altered metabolism or cardiorespiratory health), this work aims to determine the mechanisms underlying how salmon cope with natural increases in temperature. For example, we know that Atlantic salmon synthesize heat shock proteins (HSPs), but the function of HSPs and their effectiveness at preventing or predicting cellular damage at high temperatures is not clear. 
Wild salmon Salmon swim tunnel

Students, collaborators:
-    Claire Neufeld, BSc Honours MTA - current
-    Dr. Andrea Morash, MTA - current
-    Dr. Cindy Breau, DFO Moncton - current
-    Emily Cory, PhD, UNB – current
-    Louise Tunnah, MSc MTA 2016
-    Courtney Aube, BSc MTA  2016
-    Melanie Gallant, BSc Honours 2013
-    Dr. Rick Cunjack, UNB
-    Dr. Tyson MacCormack, MTA

III. How do juvenile elasmobranchs cope with the fluctuating environmental conditions characteristic of their nursery grounds?

This research began in Tasmania, Australia in collaboration with Dr. Jayson Semmens at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic studies (IMAS).  Shark nurseries are usually located in shallow, protected coastal areas and as such, can be susceptible to dramatic fluctuations in temperature and salinity.  We are studying the movement and physiological responses of juvenile sharks (school, gummy), elephant fish and a predator of these fish – the broadnose seven-gill shark, in response to acute and realistic changes in salinity.

Elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, rays) are one of the most ancient lineages of vertebrates and using these fishes as our experimental model will further our understanding on the evolution of osmoregulatory processes.  

Students and collaborators:
-    Louise Tunnah, MSc, MTA 2016
-    Sara Mackellar BSc Honours 2015
-    Courtney Aube BSc 2016
-    Dr. Andrea Morash, MTA - current
-    Dr. Jayson Semmens, UTAS, IMAS

 Tassie team           Sara and Louise      

IV. What is the relationship between chemical and molecular chaperones?

Here, we are using elasmobranchs as models to understand the role of a key osmolyte/chemical chaperone, the organic solute trimethylamine oxide or TMAO. Marine elasmobranch fishes balance ions and water in unique and fascinating ways – they are osmoconformers, but ionoregulators and maintain internal osmolality slightly higher than seawater, in part by synthesizing and retaining urea. TMAO is also present in body fluids in significant quantities where it acts as a chemical chaperone, counteracting the protein destabilizing effects of high levels of urea.

The physiological responses of elasmobranchs to changes in environmental salinity have been well described as have the potentially deleterious effects of osmotic stress on cellular proteins. However, the role and nature of TMAO’s chaperone function and the relationship of TMAO with other molecular chaperones such as heat shock proteins (HSPs) under these conditions is less clear. Is TMAO independently regulated to preserve osmotic balance or is its primary role as a chemical chaperone, protecting protein structure/function along with HSPs? Our previous work and those of others have demonstrated a reciprocal relationship between TMAO and HSPs following heat stress in isolated dogfish cells, such that when concentrations of one is high, the other is low and vice versa (Kolhatkar et al. 2014).  We have also recently shown that following a hypo-osmotic exposure in vivo, HSPs are induced in dogfish gills when TMAO concentrations are low, as the fish osmoconforms to the new lowered salinity (Tunnah et al. 2012; MacLellan et al. 2015).

Elasmobranch’s unique ureaosmotic strategy of osmoconformation that also relies upon high concentrations of chemical chaperones provides a unique opportunity to uncover potentially novel roles for the counteracting osmolyte, TMAO.

 shark sampling

Students, collaborators:

  • Louise Tunnah, MSc MTA – current
  • Robyn MacLellan BSc Honours 2014
  • Ashra Kolhatkar BSc Honours 2012
  • Nathan Walker BSc Honours 2012
  • Dr. Kurt Gamperl, Ocean Sciences Centre, Newfoundland
    Louise and Neal in the Aqualab  

We are also involved in other research areas including:
•    Pollutants and chemoreception (collaboration with Dr. Ashley Ward, University of Sydney, Australia)
•    Dominance hierarchies and environmental stress (collaboration with Dr. Katie Gilmour, University of Ottawa)
•    The physiological stress of feeding and fasting in seals (collaboration with Dr. Kimberley Bennett, University of Plymouth, UK)



Since 2014:

Gallant, MJ , LeBlanc, S , MacCormack TJ and Currie S .  2017. Physiological responses to a short-term, environmentally realistic acute heat stress in Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar . FACETS , In Press. 10.1139/facets-2016-0053

Corey, E, Linnansaari, T, Cunjak, R, Currie, S.  2017. Physiological effects of environmentally relevant, multi-day thermal stress on wild juvenile Atlantic salmon ( Salmo salar ). Conservation Physiology , In Press.

Tunnah, L   Currie, S and MacCormack, TJ.  2017. Do prior diel thermal cycles influence the physiological response of Atlantic salmon ( Salmo salar ) to subsequent heat stress? Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences . 74(1): 127-139, 10.1139/cjfas-2016-0157.

Morash, AJ , Mackellar, S , Tunnah, L,  Barnett,DA, Stehfast, KM, Semmens, JM and Currie, S.  2016. Pass the salt: Physiological consequences of ecologically relevant hypo-osmotic exposure in juvenile gummy ( Mustelus antarcticus ) and school ( Galeorhinus galeus ) sharks. Conservation Physiology  4(1): cow36; doi 10.1093/conphys/cow036.

Callaghan, N, Tunnah, L,   Currie, S  and MacCormack, TJ. 2016. Metabolic adjustments to short-term diurnal temperature fluctuation in the rainbow trout ( Oncorhynchus mykiss ). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 89(6): 498-510.

Tunnah, L., MacKellar, S.R.C ., Barnett, DA, MacCormack, TJ, Stehfest, KM, Morash, AJ  Semmens, J.M. and Currie, S.   2016. Physiological responses to hypersalinity correspond to nursery ground usage in two inshore shark species ( Mustelus antarcticus  & Galeorhinus galeus ). J. Exp. Biol . 219: 2028-2038. doi:10.1242/jeb.139964.

RP French , J Lyle, S Tracey, S Currie , JM Semmens.  2015. High survivorship after catch and release fishing suggests physiological resilience in the endothermic short-fin mako shark ( Isurus oxyrinchus ). Conserv. Physiol. 3: doi:10.1093/conphys/cov044.

MacLellan , RJ,  Tunnah , L, Barnett, D, Wright, PA, MacCormack, TJ and Currie , S. 2015.  Chaperone roles for TMAO and HSP70 during hyposmotic stress in the spiny dogfish shark ( Squalus acanthias ). J.  Comp. Physiol. B . 7: 729-740. DOI 10.1007/s00360-015-0916-6.

Bessemer, R, Butler, K, Tunnah, L , Callaghan, N, Rundle, A, Currie, S,  Dieni, C and MacCormack, TJ. 2014.  Cardiorespiratory toxicity of environmentally relevant zinc oxide nanoparticles in the freshwater fish Catostomus commersonii . Nanotoxicology  9: 861-870. DOI: 10.3109/17435390.2014.982737.

Bennett, KA,   MacMillan, IS,  Hammill, M, Hall, AJ and Currie, S.   2014. HSP70 abundance and antioxidant capacity in feeding and fasting gray seal pups: suckling is associated with higher levels of key cellular defences and circulating HSP70. Physiol. Biochem. Zool.  87(5): 663-676.

Templeman, NM , LeBlanc, S,  Perry, SF.and Currie, S.   2014. Linking physiological and cellular responses to thermal stress: β-adrenergic blockade attenuates the heat shock response in fish. J Comp Physiol B 184: 719-728.

Kolhatkar, A , Robertson, CE , Thistle, ME, Gamperl, AK and Currie, S.   2014.  Coordination of the chemical chaperone, trimethylamine oxide (TMAO), and the molecular chaperone, HSP70, with heat stress in elasmobranch red blood cells. Physiol. Biochem. Zool.  87(5): 652-662.

Polymeropoulos ET, Plouffe D, LeBlanc S ., Elliott NG, Currie S , Frappell PB  2014. Growth hormone transgenesis and polyploidy increase metabolic rate, alter the cardiorespiratory response and influence HSP expression to acute hypoxia in Atlantic salmon ( Salmo salar ) yolk-sac alevins. J. Exp. Biol.  217: 2268-2276.

Stitt, BC,  Burness, G, Burgomaster, KL, Currie, S,  McDermid, JL, Wilson, C.C.  2014. Intraspecific variation in thermal tolerance and acclimation capacity in brook trout ( Salvelinus fontinalis ):  physiological implications for climate change. Physiol. Biochem. Zool.  87: 15-29.

Currie, S  and Schulte, PM 2014. Thermal stress In: Evans D., Claiborne, J.B., Currie S.  Physiology of Fishes, 4 th  Edition. Pp. 257-288.

Physiology of Fishes, 4 th  Edition.  2014. Edited by:  Evans, D., Clairborne, J.B., Currie, S.  CRC Press, Boca Raton.