Jean Polfus is a Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow. She recently completed her PhD at the University of Manitoba conducting genetic and traditional knowledge studies on caribou populations in partnership with the Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (Sahtú Renewable Resources Board) and five Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę (Renewable Resources Council) in the Sahtú Region, Northwest Territories, Canada. Her project built a comprehensive understanding of the identities and relationships among caribou populations and Dene people in order to inform and prioritize management efforts. She is committed to an approach to conservation that respects the lives and experiences of people that depend on natural resources for their livelihood, facilitates cooperative long-term problem solving, improves the performance of ongoing research, and affirms the value of community caribou stewardship.
Areas of Expertise (26)
Ecology - Animal Movement and Space Use
Photography and Image Making
Natural Resource Management
Non-invasive Conservation Methods
Community-based Indigenous research
Community Based Participatory Research
Community Based Research
Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow (professional)
This fellowship seeks to support early-career scientists to conduct and communicate world-class research that informs conservation and management issues relevant to Canada. Conservation science includes natural, social, and interdisciplinary research pursuits.
Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science (professional)
In 2015 Jean was one of 20 conservation professionals to received the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science. The newly established one-year fellowship included training workshops focused on enhancing science communication skills.
Dartmouth College: BA, Environmental and Evolutionary Biology 2006
University of Montana: MS, Wildlife Biology 2010
University of Manitoba: PhD, Natural Resources and Environmental Management 2016
- Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellowship
Media Appearances (20)
The Art and Science of Studying Caribou
Arctic Deeply online
Profile as part of the "Emerging Leaders in Arctic Research" series.
Jean Polfus live on Denendeh Sunrise - Caribou Research Interview
CKLB Radio Yellowknife radio
Live morning radio interview.
Reindeer riddle: How do you tell caribou apart?
New Scientist print
Studying indigenous names for the animals may help us clear up a decades-long mix-up over caribou classification and reverse population decline.
Sixteen Young Leaders Who Will Influence the Future of the Arctic
Arctic Deeply online
Meet the people who stand apart when it comes to improving education, fighting climate change, boosting international collaboration and revitalizing Indigenous culture in the Arctic. They are the ones we’ll be watching in the years to come.
There may be a type of caribou that science never noticed
In the Sahtú region of Canada, science has identified three distinct groups of caribou – but the local people believe there is a secret fourth caribou.
How to Name a Caribou
Last Word on Nothing online
Few species are more frustrating to taxonomists than the North American caribou. Ranging from the Canadian Arctic to the Great Lakes, caribou vary enormously in size, color, antler shape, habitat, and behavior. For more than two centuries, scientists have argued over the identities and distributions of caribou subspecies and populations, and while they now generally agree on the existence of four North American subspecies, naming criteria remains controversial and, in some places, wildly inconsistent.
Researchers around the world are learning from indigenous communities. Here's why that's a good thing.
From Canada’s Far North to Australia, pursuing a more respectful relationship between science and traditional knowledge.
What indigenous communities are teaching scientists about nature
In the rugged Sahtú region of Canada’s Northwest Territories, a district so remote that in winter only a single treacherous ice road connects it to the outside world, life revolves around caribou. For millennia, the Dene people lived as nomads, tracking vast herds across the Sahtú and harvesting the itinerant animals for their meat, skin, and bones.
A Lesson From Indigenous Communities
Arctic Deeply online
From Canada’s Far North to Australia, researchers around the world are pursuing a more respectful relationship between science and traditional knowledge. Here’s why that’s a good thing.
Caribou Study Merges DNA and Traditional Knowledge
Arctic Deeply online
The integration of Dene traditional knowledge into a genetic study of the different types of caribou in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories winds up providing some surprising results.
Rooting the Caribou Family Tree
Edge North print
A revealing new caribou study shows how science and traditional knowledge can come together with fascinating results.
BB98 – Here Comes Caribou -bou with Jean Polfus
Breaking Bio online
Jean Polfus is a PhD Candidate at the University of Manitoba, and joins us from the edge of the Arctic to talk about her research on caribou ecology and evolution. We also discuss the role of traditional knowledge and native peoples in studying northern ecology, and how science needs more art.
Drawn to Caribou
American Scientist print
In Canada’s Northwest Territories, an ecologist is replacing lab notes with sketches that blend genetic research with traditional ecological knowledge.
Genetic research meets Dene knowledge
Inuvik Drum print
Story on a public presentation on caribou research given in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.
A Novel Approach to Caribou Research
Wildlife Professional print
An article published in the Wildlife Professional (Fall 2015 Vol 9 No. 3: 28-32) on collaborative caribou research in the Northwest Territories.
Caribou poo 'important baseline' for DNA research
CBC North tv
Researchers hope caribou samples will help explain relationship between different herds.
New species at risk book comes out in Dene languages
Northern Journal online
Aboriginal language is being recognized in a big way in the Sahtu this month with the final touches going on a brand new book written in multiple Dene languages about species at risk in the region.
Caribou poo sought by research team
CBC North online
A new research study is aiming to learn about caribou herds by analyzing their droppings.
Sahtu caribou study looks for genetic links
Northern Journal online
Scientists are one step closer to unlocking answers surrounding the mysterious genetic pool of woodland and barren ground caribou in the Sahtu region following a large community effort to collect and submit scat samples over the winter.
The Northern Living Series: Jean Polfus // Tulı́t'a, Northwest Territories
Wild Fir Tree online
In our forth interview for the Northern Living Series we hear from Jean Polfus, a postdoctoral fellow, who studies caribou while living in Tulı́t'a, Northwest Territories along with her husband Joe and their newborn son Tristan. Here she shares her experience of living in a small, fly-in community in the heart of Canada's true north, touching on life with 3 hours of daylight, northern childbirth, and Dene celebrations...
Event Appearances (1)
Ɂełexé Eghálets’eda (Learning Together): Advancing sustainable strategies for caribou research through cross-cultural collaboration
Public Presentation hosted by UAlberta North and Faculty of Native Studies University of Alberta
Polfus, J. L., D. Simmons, M. Neyelle, W. Bayha, F. Andrew, L. Andrew, B. G. Merkle, K. Rice, and M. Manseau. accepted. Creative convergence: exploring biocultural diversity through art. Ecology and Society.
Polfus, J. L., M. Manseau, C. F. C. Klütsch, D. Simmons, and P. J. Wilson. 2016. Ancient diversification in glacial refugia leads to intraspecific diversity in a Holarctic mammal. Journal of Biogeography. doi:10.1111/jbi.12918.
Polfus, J. L., M. Manseau, D. Simmons, M. Neyelle, W. Bayha, F. Andrew, L. Andrew, C. F. C. Klütsch, K. Rice, and P. Wilson. 2016. Łeghágots'enetę (learning together): the importance of indigenous perspectives in the identification of biological variation. Ecology and Society. 21(2):18
Klütsch, C. F. C., M. Manseau, V. Trim, J. L. Polfus, and P. J. Wilson. 2016. The eastern migratory caribou: the role of genetic introgression in ecotype evolution. Royal Society Open Science 3:150469.
Polfus, J. L. 2015. A novel approach to caribou research: incorporating indigenous perspectives on biodiversity. The Wildlife Professional Vol. 9 No. 3:28-32
Derbridge, J. J., J. A. Merkle, M. E. Bucci, P. Callahan, J. L. Koprowski, J. L. Polfus, and P. R. Krausman. 2015. Experimentally derived δ13C and δ15N discrimination factors for gray wolves and the impact of prior information in bayesian mixing models. PloS one 10: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119940.
Galpern, P., P. Peres-Neto, J. Polfus, and M. Manseau. 2014. MEMGENE: Spatial pattern detection in genetic distance data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5:1116-1120
Polfus, J. L., K. Heinemeyer, M. Hebblewhite and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. 2014. Comparing traditional ecological knowledge and western science woodland caribou habitat models. Journal of Wildlife Management 78:112–121.
Polfus, J. L. and P. R. Krausman. 2012. Impacts of residential development on ungulates in the Rocky Mountain West. Wildlife Society Bulletin 36:647–657.
Polfus, J. L., M. Hebblewhite, and K. Heinemeyer. 2011 Identifying indirect habitat loss and avoidance of human infrastructure by northern mountain woodland caribou. Biological Conservation 144:2637-2646.