Winchester wins Faculty of Science Award for Staff Excellence

Neville Winchester climbing a tree while wearing a harness
Winchester climbs a tree as part of his forest canopy research. Photo provided.

December 11, 2023 | by Nicole Crozier

Anyone who has graduated with a UVic Biology degree anytime in the last 40 years will likely have interacted with Neville Winchester, a senior lab instructor in the Biology department. Since joining the Biology department in 1983, Winchester has reached over 16,000 students across a variety of courses, in his labs, as a lecturer, and as a supervisor to over 50 undergraduate students, and even a few MSc and PhD students. To recognize his contributions to the Biology department and the Faculty of Science, Winchester is one of two recipients of the 2023 Faculty of Science Award for Staff Excellence.

“The Award for Staff Excellence recognizes a staff member who has demonstrated excellence in their support of the teaching and/or research missions of the Faculty of Science, and/or for their contributions to civic engagement,” says dean of science Peter Loock. “Over the past four decades, Neville always made student learning his priority and has also contributed considerably to the research profile of the Faculty. He is an exceptionally deserving recipient of the Staff Excellence Award.”

Inspiring students through field-based learning

As a senior lab instructor, lecturer, supervisor and mentor, Winchester motivates and inspires hundreds of students every year. Over the years, Winchester has overseen the labs for a variety of biology courses, including Principles of Ecology, Study Design and Analysis, Chordate Zoology, Ichthyology, Economic Entomology and Advanced Entomology. He is currently the senior lab instructor for Entomology and Biology of the Vertebrates of British Columbia, and teaches Conservation Biology every summer. As a lab instructor, Winchester is a staunch advocate of courses with field work, where students get hands-on experience. He has incorporated field-based components into many of his courses, such as weekly bird trips in BIOL 329 where students get to practice their identification and natural history skills.

As the current instructor for Biology of the Vertebrates in British Columbia, biology professor Thomas Reimchen works closely with Winchester.

“Students have often come up to me after the course was over, praising the lecture and the labs,” says Reimchen. “I suspect it is primarily the labs that students appreciate, as they involve field trips as well the use of extensive visual, tactile and auditory techniques in the identification of tetrapods in British Columbia. Neville’s enthusiasm in teaching the labs is infectious and he has certainly motivated multiple students to seek a career in biology.”

World-leader in the study of insect diversity and conservation

Alongside his duties as a senior lab instructor, Winchester has also found time to develop and maintain an active research program focused on arthropod biodiversity and has become a world leader in the study of insect diversity and conservation. Winchester was the first researcher in Canada to investigate arthropod communities in the canopies of old-growth forests in British Columbia. His PhD research, conducted in the Upper Carmanah Valley, documented species and communities not previously recorded in Canada, including some arthropod species new to science in general. The results of this research were also an important contribution to the eventual protection of the Carmanah Valley, located 20 km northwest of Port Renfrew on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, as a provincial park.

Studying forest canopies in the Carmanah Valley was just the beginning for Winchester. He has since become an integral part of the International Canopy Network and has studied diversity in tropical rain forest canopies in many countries across multiple continents, including in Gabon, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Thailand, Costa Rica and Panama. His research has resulted in 42 publications, including a highly cited paper published in Science in 2012 that provided more reliable estimates of total arthropod species richness in a tropical rainforest in Panama. He has also written 11 book chapters, and his research has been featured in many popular science articles and movies, including David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things.

Leading the Metchosin Biodiveresity Project

Most recently, Winchester has been leading the Metchosin Biodiversity Project, a community monitoring study that is collecting long-term data on insect biodiversity in Metchosin. Winchester initiated this study following alarming reports of declines in insect biomass in Germany and elsewhere and aims to determine whether insect numbers are also declining on Vancouver Island. He also hopes to use the data collected to investigate species responses to impacts from local disturbances such as residential and industrial development, and large spatial-scale impacts associated with climate change such as increased fire risk, increased drought and erosion events.

“Neville's achievements and contributions demonstrate his continued commitment to the research and teaching mission of the University,” says Peter Constable, chair of the biology department. “Our staff, in particular senior lab instructors, tend to work quietly and behind the scenes. Neville is not one to seek attention, but he has a record of continued service to the university that is reached by very few of our colleagues. His commitment to our undergraduate students is unwavering, and I’m glad to see him being recognized with a staff excellence award this year.”

Fun facts about Neville

  • In the late 1990s, Cate Blanchett wore a dress on the red carpet that featured a picture of Winchester dangling in the canopy on the red carpet. It was part of a campaign to increase awareness for biodiversity conservation.
  • Winchester has had eight new species named after him by world experts, including Atheta winchesteri, a beetle that is only found in B.C.'s old-growth forest canopies.
  • Winchester maintains and curates UVic's vertebrate and insect collections. The vertebrate collection contains close to 1000 specimens, while there are thousands of insect species in the entomology collections, including some rare specimens.