David Gillespie

B.Sc. Biological Sciences, SFU 1976

M.Sc. Biological Sciences, SFU 1979

Ph.D. Biological Sciences, SFU 1982

Member of the Order of Canada

Research Scientist, Science & Technology Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Adjunct Professor, Dept of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University



I grew up on the west coast of British Columbia, where tide pools and things under rocks sparked my interest in biology and biodiversity. I enrolled at SFU, fully intending to pursue a career in marine biology. An introductory course in insect biology, taught by Professor Thelma Finlayson, dramatically and permanently changed my career course.

Since obtaining my PhD at SFU in 1982, I have been employed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Sidney, and Agassiz, British Columbia. I have maintained a close association with faculty and students of the Centre for Pest Management and am an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

My research on natural enemies of insects and mites has contributed directly to the widespread use of many of these species for biological control in commercial greenhouse operations around the world. Some of the species actively used in greenhouses include Amblyseius cucumeris, a predatory mite for western flower thrips control; Stratiolaelaps scimitis, a predatory mite for fungus gnat and thrips control; Feltiella acarisuga, a predatory midge for two-spotted spider mite control; Dicyphus hesperus, a true bug for whitefly control; Micromus variegatus, a brown lacewing for whitefly control (being developed currently by Applied Bio-nomics); and Praon unicum, a parasitic wasp for foxglove aphid control. These biological control agents are offered by major international producers, including Applied Bionomics, Canada. One of my first "discoveries", S. scimitus, continues to be one of the largest selling and most widely used beneficial mites in the world.  These natural enemies for biological control of important arthropod pests have led to a reduction of pesticide use in greenhouse agriculture.  

I have been recognized for my contributions to pest management, biocontrol and agriculture through several prestigious awards, including  the Award of Excellence from the Professional Pest Management Association of British Columbia (1997), the Award of Excellence from the Association of Natural Biological Control Producers (ANBP) of North America (2003), the Gold Harvest Award from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2011), and the  Entomological Society of Canada’s Gold Medal (2014). Canada’s Applied Bio-nomics requested that a previously unknown predaceous mite be named in my honour. This species was formally named Gaeolaelaps gillespiei.  I am an Honorary Member of the International Organization for Biological Control, which was awarded at the International Congress of Entomology in Korea, 2012. In recognition of my contributions to the reduction of pesticide use in agriculture, I was appointed to the Order of Canada, in July 2015.


Why did you choose to go to SFU?   

I have to admit that, for the most part, SFU chose me, not the reverse. I had applied for entrance to other universities, and SFU was the only acceptance letter I received. I was evidently not prime scholar material at the time. I stayed at SFU for my M.Sc. and Ph.D. because the professors in Biology provided me an opportunity to pursue exactly the things I was interested in.

Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?

During my B.Sc. I spent the majority of my time outside of classes in the biology/physics lounge. In my M.Sc and Ph.D. time, I had office and lab space in the biology trailers and have many fond memories of those "temporary" spaces and their eccentric inhabitants.

What is your favorite memory from your time at SFU?

My favourite memory is, hands down, entering the fourth year parasitology lab on the first day of class and being invited to join a group of three at the bench. One of the three was Beth Leary, now Beth Gillespie - we have been together now for over 40 years. I tell people I met my wife over a plate of parasitic worms, which tends to bring dinner conversation to an abrupt halt.

Who was your favorite SFU professor and why?

My favorite professor was (and still is) Dr. Thelma Finlayson. Thelma (Mrs. Finlayson as she was known then) gave the first lecture I attended at SFU (Biology 102, at 930 AM, in C9000) and was my introduction to SFU. In that class, she said "My door is always open to students" and that has always been true, even for past students. I took "Introduction to Entomology' from her and she inspired me to change my career track from marine biology to entomology - which I have never regretted.  Bryan Beirne, John Borden and Manfred Mackauer had a strong influence on my career and were especially important teachers and mentors.

How has your SFU degree impacted your career?  

My life is so intertwined with SFU that it is difficult to sort out the threads of impact. I have three degrees from SFU and have been an adjunct professor in Biology for many years.  My wife Beth has two degrees in biology (B.Sc. and M.Sc.), my son Gordon has a B.Sc. (Geography) and my daughter Sandra a B.Sc. (Biology) and is currently a PostDoc in Dr. Elle's lab in Biology. Thelma and Bryan Beirne felt strongly that their students should make a difference in the world, and this has remained with me my entire career (along with Bryan's gruff comment when I wore shorts to campus: "Gillespie! Put some pants on!"). My training in basic biology, entomology, pest management and other disciplines is used every day, as are Bryan's tips for coping with government bureaucracy. The SFU Biology graduates whom I met during my degrees have been important research collaborators and friends throughout my career.

What is your favorite SFU snow story?

Because I commuted by car to campus, my snow memories are mostly the stuff of recurring nightmares where I wake up in a cold sweat. One particularly vivid memory is sliding down Gaglardi Way after an unpredicted icy snowfall, while pulling up hard on the emergency brake to keep the car pointed downhill. 

If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?

If you love what you are doing, keep doing it!

What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?

Since graduation in 1982, I have watched SFU grow and change and I have continued to work closely with SFU undergraduate and graduate students and professors.  The physical structure and academic programs have grown and modernized, and support programs for students have emerged and grown: e.g. co-op employment, and academic advice.  Professors have retired and been replaced, programs have changed and departments have both changed and grown as a result. The university’s sense of itself has changed, from the unique little upstart radical on the hill to a world class centre of learning, exploration, and innovation. What should not change is SFU’s capacity for change, i.e., its flexibility to respond to the changing character of the world around it.