Our trainees are involved in research ranging from mapping & modeling of species' range changes due to climate change, to modeling of air pollutants in B.C. and analyzing functional genomics between species
Estimating differential vertical motion in Grand Banks region using Glacial Isostatic Adjustment models
Supervisor: Georgia Fotopoulos
Research Project: My research project relies on the integration of the fields of geomatics, biology, geology, and engineering; it aims to integrate both remote sensing data with small-scale (DNA-level) datasets to generate a robust model of a landscape and predict and model species’ distribution and dispersal. Remote sensing data sets include airborne LiDAR, TerraSAR-X, panchromatic and multi-spectral imagery. The integration of these data will allow for the generation of models of topography, hydrology, geology, infrastructure, drainage paths and water extent/volume in the area of interest. This in turn allows for the development of habitat and landscape models to shed light on the distribution and habitats of targeted species. The primary subject will be the Pseudacris crucifer, a small chorus frog common in eastern North America. Genetic studies, using microsatellite analysis, have already been performed on this subject. These genetic data will be used as a measure of genetic connectivity within and between populations, and used to test the effects of various barriers or corridors predicted in the landscape model.
Professional Placement: Land Conservancy of Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox Addington (Kingston, Ontario) – July 2017
Research Project: Many species are expanding their geographical range in response to climate change, which has the capacity to influence gene flow patterns among species and ultimately evolutionary processes. Introgressive hybridization is the process of genetic material moving from one species to another, which is occurring between southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) and northern flying squirrels (G. sabrinus), as the former expands its range northward in North America. This has resulted in interspecific hybridization, where viable offspring are produced that are capable of reproducing, or backcrossing, with both parental flying squirrel species. I will be examining the adaptive potential of introgressive hybridization between these species and whether this is a creative evolutionary process leading to novel advantageous adaptations, or conversely, if it is an evolutionary “dead-end” where hybrid and introgressed individuals are at an adaptive disadvantage. Using Next-Generation Sequencing technology, I will identify functional genes being exchanged across species boundaries via introgressive hybridization. By understanding the dynamics of this process in this system, we may be able to predict how hybridization will drive evolutionary processes in other wildlife species that are at immediate risk of interspecific hybridization as a result of climate change.
Professional Placement: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) – this work will involve working with government researchers on wild turkey surveys and helping to organize the Wildlife 70 Symposium on Long-term Research at Trent University in May 2017.
Research Project: The Canadian government has committed to establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas that will cover 10% of Canada’s oceans by 2020. It is important that Marine Protected Areas produce conservation benefits, given that biodiversity conservation was the motivating factor behind the 10% target (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010). This project will propose an optimal spatial network of Marine Protected Areas based on conservation value. There are currently 197 Marine Reserves in the Canadian Pacific Ocean. Many of these will likely be included in Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas so it is useful to understand where they occur in the seascape. We will quantify their spatial distribution, size distribution, and protection type (i.e. which MPAs have what IUCN value) at multiple spatial scales and optimize MPA network using MARXAN.
Professional Placement: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)-B.C. Chapter – this work will involve working on Marine Protected Areas in Vancouver in the summer of 2017.
Research Project: I am studying predator-prey interactions on isolated Pelee Island (Lake Erie) in southwestern Ontario, particularly how defensive behaviours in salamanders are perceived by predators. I will be creating artificial salamanders which will be deployed in the field where salamanders occur naturally with a diverse population of potential predators. Ultimately, I will deploy >1500 artificial salamanders to assess rates of predation to further understand how predators learn and respond to defensive behaviours and warning signals in prey. My research will simultaneously test a conservation question, by assessing the potential threat of predation on the small-mouth salamander Ambystoma texanum, a species-at-risk in Canada with a range restricted to Pelee Island. Little is known about the current threats to salamanders and their critical habitat on the island, so assessment is necessary for effective conservation. While on Pelee Island I am also actively involved in various aspects of salamander population ecology research and other conservation efforts.
Professional Placement: Peterborough Field Naturalists – this work involved working on a new study of brook trout populations in Harper Creek in Peterborough, developing stream assessment protocols, and determining the best ‘citizen science’ App for use in Harper Park (June to Sept 2017).
Research Project: I am determining how direct and indirect effects of climate change influence the distribution of moose across North America using ArcGIS to develop a map of historic and current southern limits of moose, and to generate climate and habitat spatial data to be used in species distribution models.
Professional Placement: Kawartha Land Trust (Peterborough, ON) – this work in 2016 involved mapping and spatial analysis using GIS, specifically focusing on developing spatial information for conservation projects on Clear and Stoney Lakes in the Kawarthas.
Research Project: I will be conducting fragmentation analysis of protected areas in Ontario, which will be followed by overlaying a Circuitscape analysis to identify corridors between them. I will then model the network into the future with climate change and determine if it mismatches species at risk distributions.
Professional Placement: Kawartha Land Trust (Peterborough, ON) – this work in 2017 involved using spatial analysis to identify potential wildlife corridors in the Kawarthas to help prioritize land securement decisions, as well as providing technical expertise during Land Securement Committee meetings.
Research Project: I will be investigating niche dynamics resulting from the effects of hybridization, particularly via genetic swamping and introgression, among wild canids in eastern North America. Specifically, I will be using an extensive bank of genetic samples to create species distribution models in order to evaluate niche differentiation among canid groups, with a particular emphasis on gray wolves. These results will be used to predict future niche overlap trends among wild canids in an effort to examine the possibility of historical niche erosion while providing useful models for conservation policy.
Professional Placement: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) – this work in 2017 will involve generating a minimum viable population estimate for Algonquin Park’s Eastern wolves.
Research Project: I will be studying the population dynamics of small-mouth salamanders (Ambystoma texanum), a Species-At-Risk in Canada that can only be found on Pelee Island in Lake Erie. Amphibian species are difficult to gather enough information for a population estimate due to their cryptic nature. This problem is compounded in my project due to a separate lineage of female salamanders that can incorporate small-mouth and blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale) DNA into their genome. This unisexual complex makes determining the species of an individual salamander virtually impossible using traditional methods (e.g. by sight), but fairly easy using genetics. My project will develop a non-invasive technique of DNA extraction that we can combine with a standard mark-recapture method to estimate the population size of the small-mouth salamander in Canada.
Professional Placement: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) in the fall of 2017
Research Project: Habitat loss and fragmentation together are considered to be primary drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide. Habitat fragmentation can also catalyze increased genetic drift and decreased gene flow between habitat patches, leading to loss of genetic diversity and reduced population fitness and long term viability. I will be exploring the effects that habitat configuration has on pollination dynamics and seed dispersal in Heliconia tortuosa, a tropical keystone plant species. Specifically, I will be determining the relative and combined response of pollen- and seed-mediated gene flow in varying degrees of tropical forest fragmentation, i.e. patch size and patch connectivity. This will be accomplished be quantifying different measures of genetic diversity, spatial genetic structure and contemporary pollen flow, and correlating these findings with habitat configuration. Ultimately, it is hoped that conservation strategies can be developed to maintain and promote gene flow between habitat patches to sustain long term population viability of H. tortuosa, which is dependent on hummingbird pollination.
Research Project: The Canada lynx, which is federally threatened in the contiguous United States and provincially endangered in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, has undergone a contraction of its historic range throughout North America by approximately 40%. Potential causes include climate change, habitat degradation, forest management techniques, and competition with other predators, including the closely-related bobcat. As the southern range boundary of the lynx has contracted northward, the bobcat has conversely expanded its range into territory formerly and currently occupied by lynx. My research aims to investigate the hierarchical habitat selection of these two species and the potential for their competition in sympatry. I will be assessing the current state of knowledge of factors that limit lynx and bobcats at each level of resource selection, and then use snow-tracking and GPS data from lynx and bobcats on the North Shore of Lake Huron in conjunction with land-cover data to address knowledge gaps. Specifically, I will combine literature review and/or meta-analysis with spatial analysis and modelling, which will inform conservation efforts of the Canada lynx.
Professional Placement: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (Peterborough) – this work in 2016 involved a variety of OMNRF initiatives and field biology work, including bat surveys, flying squirrel surveys, muskrat surveys & vegetation sampling.
Research Project: Human landscape alteration, such as tropical deforestation, may affect plant populations beyond initial reduction of population size due to habitat loss, by changing the behavior of pollinators and/or seed dispersers. Recent forest fragmentation in the surrounding area of Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica has affected habitat use of trap-lining hummingbirds, resulting in pollen limitation and reduced seed set of the red twist heliconia (Heliconia tortuosa) in small isolated forest fragments. Whether changes in pollination patterns could be leading to a population decline may depend largely on the effect of forest fragmentation on seed dispersal. I will be determining how forest fragmentation affects plant population dynamics and spatial distribution including indirect effects through alteration of animal-mediated pollination and seed dispersal patterns. I will also predict the effects of human landscape alteration and improve the effectiveness of landscape-scale conservation management. This project represents one of the first attempts to use empirical data to fully parameterize population models in a fragmented tropical system and could serve as a template for research in other systems.
Research Project: My research focuses on exploring the reliability, resolvability and utility of various multi-platform remote sensing data for geological applications. While remote sensing data is becoming a more prominent aspect of a geologists workflow (in particular for site investigation), the various spatial and temporal scales of available data implies that there is no straightforward application. The uncertainty in the data sets as well as innumerable processing options, requires that each type data set is investigated thoroughly before the utility to the overall geological workflow can be established. In particular, focus is placed on environmentally sensitive regions with available synthetic aperture radar data on a relatively large scale (tens of kms) and smaller scale rock and fossil studies using very close-range LiDAR data.
Professional Placement: Land Conservancy of Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox Addington (Kingston, Ontario) – July 2017
Research Project: Since the dawn of industrialization, elevated emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides have disturbed ecosystems on a global scale as a result of transboundary air pollution. High levels of acidic deposition to soils and surface waters have been associated with declining biodiversity and forest productivity. Accordingly, emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides have been regulated since the 1980s in North America and Europe through a number of national and international agreements, which has resulted in their significant decline. My research engages statistical and dynamic models to perform systematic assessments and scenario simulations of long-term trends in sulphur and nitrogen deposition and their impact on soils, surface waters and plant species diversity.
Research Project: As concerns over industrial emissions grow, so too does our need to understand the effects it may be having on our natural resources. Acidic deposition owing to industrial emissions and can lead to soil acidification, potentially leading to significant adverse effects on the surrounding flora and fauna. Soil exchangeable base cation pools are essential to prevent soil acidification. My project involves assessing the spatial variability of soil exchangeable base cation pools in forest soils and their ability to resist change from acidic deposition. The study is being carried within the Kitimat Valley, British Columbia, which after recent industrial development may receive increased sulphur deposition. Soils can vary greatly within a region, as such I will be assessing the magnitude of spatial variability within the study area and using predicted acidic deposition estimate the length of time required for any potential adverse effects to occur.
Professional Placement: Rio Tinto Aluminium (Kitimat, BC) – this work in July 2016 involved conducting soil sampling and establishing long-term soil monitoring plots for the Environmental Effects Monitoring (EEM) program that is required by the BC Ministry of Environment; working with an environmental consulting company to establish an urban air quality monitoring network within the Kitimat Valley in BC; and completing safety training.
Research Project: In 2013, Rio Tinto Aluminium (RTA) received a permit to increase emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from 27 to 42 tonnes per day at their aluminum smelter in Kitimat, British Columbia. In concert, RTA established an Environmental Effects Monitoring program to ensure that emissions of SO2 do not impact ecosystem health in the Kitimat Valley. Spatial maps of soil properties, such as exchangeable cations, exchangeable acidity, organic matter content, and bulk density, are essential to assess the potential impacts of the SO2 emissions on forest ecosystems; however, they are not available for the Kitimat Valley. My study aims to apply state-of-the-art digital mapping techniques to predict forest soil propertiess in the Kitimat Valley. These predictive maps will allow me to assess the spatial variation of the soil properties, and assees their buffering capacity against predicted sulphur deposition based on permitted SO2 emissions.
Professional Placement: Rio Tinto Aluminium (Kitimat, BC) – this work in July 2016 involved safety training, and working with Rio Tinto staff on study design and field sampling.
Research Interests: Broadly, I am interested in how landscape heterogeneity and species’ ecologies interact to create genetic structure, particularly in vertebrates. Much of my work falls under landscape genetics where I have been involved in a diversity of projects such as hybridization dynamics, genetic mark-recapture, phylogeography, and genetic impacts of fragmentation and habitat loss. Landscape genetics is a highly integrative field that has allowed me to diversify my skillset into spatial statistics, simulation modeling, and GIS technology while still maintaining my original passion for investigation both evolutionary and conservation-based questions in my academic career. I will also be helping to develop an online graduate-level course on Principles of Environmental Monitoring and Assessment for the CREATE Enviro program.
Research Interests: I have a highly applied and multidisciplinary background involving the use of small unmanned aircraft systems (drones) and their geospatial data products for wildlife, habitat and environmental monitoring. Drawing on this experience, I will be developing two online graduate-level geomatics courses that will emphasize cutting-edge technologies, student autonomy, and creative and resourceful use of commercial and freeware analytical tools to tackle real-world geomatics tasks. With a strong focus on specific areas of application (eg. biology, agriculture, forestry, geology, water resources, etc.) prefaced by theoretical fundamentals, the aim of these courses will be to equip students with the knowledge, problem-solving abilities and hands-on skills required to hit the ground running in their professional careers.
Research Project: Wild turkeys were hunted to extinction in Ontario in the late 1800’s, but have since been reintroduced to the province from populations in the northeastern United States. This species has been successful in re-establishing populations throughout their native range in southern and central Ontario. Wild turkeys have also been able to colonize regions north of their native range primarily due to the expansion of Ontario’s agricultural industry and increasing winter temperatures. When colonizing novel landscapes, species often face unique survival and reproductive challenges. My research aims to investigate these challenges, while also exploring aspects of turkey social behaviour. Through genetic analyses and the use of VHF/GPS transmitters, I aim to explore determinants of winter flock size and membership, the genetics and inter-relatedness of winter flocks, flock information transfer and movement patterns, and the impact that supplemental food sources, made available through the agricultural industry and residential bird feeders, have on winter survival.
Research Project: Roads act as barriers to the movement of many animal species. However, road effects often vary between species- some will not attempt to cross, treating them as impassable features of the landscape; others will attempt crossings but may suffer mortality during the crossing. In my research, I want to identify which factors (such as habitat availability & connectivity, traffic volumes, and road construction features) drive higher levels of road mortality; which species are more vulnerable to road mortality or to the physical barrier effect; how these aspects of the barrier interact in their impacts on metapopulation dynamics within the landscape; and how these impacts can be mitigated through the construction of passageways. I will be working in the Greater Toronto Area with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). The results of these projects will help to model the impacts of roads on landscape connectivity and habitat fragmentation, and can better demonstrate the threat that roads pose to several vulnerable species.
Professional Placement: TRCA (Toronto) – this work involved analyzing data helping to model impacts of roads on habitat fragmentation and recommend mitigation measures in the summer of 2017.
Research Project: As part of a collaborative research program with Blazing Star Environmental, my research aims to improve detection protocols and identification of critical habitat for at-risk snake species like the Massasauga rattlesnake and Eastern fox snake. These species are elusive, yet often present in areas slated for development in central Ontario. In aiming to develop more reliable protocols for assessing the presence or absence of these cryptic species, my research will have implications for how biological surveys are carried out by developers and their consultants, as well as for the protection and stewardship of lands inhabited by these strikingly beautiful animals.
Professional Placement: Blazing Star Environmental (Oshawa, ON) – this work will involve conducting field studies on cryptic species with Blazing Star in the Georgian Bay area in the summer of 2017.
Research Project: The Earth’s response to loading and unloading processes is seen through Glacial Isostatic Adjustment (or Post-Glacial Rebound), as evidenced by crustal deformation and vertical motion. Unloading since the Last Glacial Maximum approximately 21,000 years ago has led to vertical crustal motion of varying magnitudes, spatially distributed over a massive region where glaciation had occurred, thus leading to differential vertical motion. In the interest of resource exploration, differential crustal motion can impact hydrocarbon reservoirs by causing surface erosion, deformation, and tilting. As a result, hydrocarbon trapping structures can be destabilized and fluid leakage may occur, leading to tertiary migration of subsurface fluids – including oil and gas â€“ throughout the subsurface. In this project, I will use Glacial Isostatic Adjustment models in conjunction with a number of geophysical and geological data sets to estimate differential vertical motion in the Grand Banks region offshore Newfoundland. These results will be compared to those of previously published literature to interpret the extent and effect of vertical motion on hydrocarbon migration pathways.
Research Project: I will be genomically examining the boreal caribou of the Lake Superior islands. These populations are of high conservation concern; this species is experiencing population declines and range retractions, and these populations represent the southernmost extant caribou of the discontinuous range. These Lake Superior populations may represent a unique evolutionary unit, due to isolation from other Ontario caribou. Public concern is rising as one Lake Superior island population is currently experiencing a population crash due to predation by newly invasive wolves. I will compare genomes from several Ontario and Manitoba populations to assess if the Lake Superior populations are unique from other Ontario boreal caribou. I will also investigate local adaptation in these populations, by searching for functional genes in the Lake Superior populations and by comparing historic genomes to current representatives. This research will inform wildlife management decisions for these populations. If the Lake Superior caribou are genomically distinct and locally adapted, they could qualify for federal protection as a Designable Unit (DU, under COSEWIC). If they are classified as a protected evolutionary unit, interference may be necessary to prevent the population from being decimated by wolf predation.
Research Project: When I was younger, I hoped I would have a pill I could just pop in my mouth that would provide me with all the food energy I needed. Also, being from the isle of Saint Lucia, I often find myself being re-energized by the sun’s rays. So, imagine how interesting it was to find out about Euglena, a single-celled protist that survives autotrophically and heterotrophically! I have also become fascinated by Euglena’s ability to survive in toxic metal polluted environments. Thus, my research project will focus on enhancing sulfur group production of Euglena under metal stress conditions, in order to further enhance metal sorption. If the results are promising, Euglena could be used as a novel and effective bio-remedial application tool.
Professional Placement: Nobelgen Inc. (Peterborough, ON) – this work will involve biotech research in fall of 2018.
Research Project: I am interested in exploring the relative effects of various factors on the landscape genetic patterns of the wild bee community across the agricultural zone of Alberta, Canada. This study aims to explain spatial genetic structure, connectivity and diversity of six common bee species through developing a variety of models and evaluating their suitability for each species. I plan to use these comparisons to evaluate and disentangle the relative effects of canola agriculture, species sociality, body size and parasite prevalence on Bombus ternarius, B. rufocinctus, Halictus confusus, H. rubicundus, Andrena lupinorum and Hylaeus affinis. This study should serve to assess the relative influence of various threats to the bee community and guide conservation management in Alberta. I also hope this study will provide a useful framework for identifying species more likely to be a greater risk of decline, based on their characteristics and habitat.
Professional Placement: Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (Edmonton, AB)
Research Project: Both Northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and Southern (G. volans) flying squirrel populations have been experiencing massive geographical range shifts over the past few decades, likely due to both climate change and urbanization. These species are also difficult to trap, which makes monitoring of population changes challenging. In order to monitor these rapid changes, I will be building a complete library of ultrasonic calls in both species to compare differences in calls between species and dialects within species to improve acoustic monitoring techniques. I also want to explore the relationship between their calls and behavior to better understand what behaviours may be occurring during calls, and to be able to infer how these species interact with each other. Finally, I want to study the potential use of echolocation in both species to understand how flying squirrels interact with their surroundings, and the characteristics that allow these species to glide successfully in low visibility. By understanding why flying squirrels use ultrasonic calls, we will be able to better monitor these species through time and potentially gain more insight into the mechanisms driving this rapid species displacement.
Research Project: I will be analyzing seawater samples collected from the Canada Basin in the Arctic to determine the composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM). DOM plays a significant role in nutrient cycling in the environment. Through analysis using high resolution mass spectrometry, I will be able to identify sources and controls of DOM in the Arctic. The results will be used to determine the composition of DOM and its spatial distribution in the Canada Basin.
Research Project: Producing sustainable agricultural crops yearly is a challenge for farmers, given changing weather patterns and climate change. Soils within a farm field are typically treated as a uniform unit, receiving equal applications of fertilizers, pesticides, etc., which can lead to excess fertilizers and harmful impacts to the surrounding environment. To help solve these issues, my research will be looking at the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs/drones) equipped with multispectral sensors to create different vegetation indices. These indices show vegetation health over a certain area and outline areas that are succeeding and those that are not. Using these maps, along with a large number of soil samples, I hope to find a link between vegetation health and soil nutrients, which could be used as a more cost-effective method compared to costly and time consuming soil sampling techniques used currently. This could ultimately help to use fertilizers in a more precise way, while reducing negative impacts to the environment.
Research Project: The Municipality of Kitimat, located along the northern coast of British Columbia (BC), Canada, is home to the Rio Tinto Aluminum (RTA) smelter. In 2015, RTA completed a development resulting in a permitted increase of sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from 27 to 42 tonnes per day (t/d). Since 2011, ongoing studies have been conducted by RTA in-part to evaluate atmospheric sulphur (S) concentrations and deposition. Monitoring efforts have yet to produce sufficient measurements of particulate sulphate (SO42-) and sulphur wet deposition – critical constituents of atmospheric S processes which can serve as indicators of the potential extent and rate of acidic S deposition. My research is intended to evaluate atmospheric S composition and total S deposition throughout the Kitimat region via the application of atmospheric sampling and inferential deposition modelling methods.
Professional Placement: Rio Tinto Aluminium (Kitimat, BC) – this work involved routine air sampling and safety training with RTA as part of the Environmental Effects Monitoring (EEM) program conducted in the summer of 2017.
Research Project: My PhD work will focus on spatial ecology and ecophysiology of Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidae blandingii) in their northern range limit of Ontario. As with most turtle species in Ontario, this species is considered threatened. My general goal is to investigate how movement behavior and energy expenditure in this species are influenced by habitat quality and if there are differences between sexes and within the activity season. Since part of my study area is being altered for residential development, I will have the opportunity to study how anthropogenic influences such as habitat destruction and construction of artificial habitat affect the behavior and energy budget of this turtle. To address these issues, I will use GPS telemetry and accelerometry.
Research Project: Yearly, vast swaths of Canadian forests are changed from a variety of driving forces, such as wildfires, forest harvesting and the creation of logging roads etc. Remote sensing technologies, specifically the use of satellite imagery offers a cost effective and efficient platform for monitoring large scale landscape changes such as those mentioned above. Significant research has been conducted to detect changes, and the attribution of change agents to forested areas across Canada, and algorithms have been developed to monitor these events with high accuracy. Comparatively, less research has been dedicated to the monitoring of recovery after a site is disturbed. My research will focus on monitoring the recovery of disturbed forest ecosystems in the Kenora Forest Management district of Ontario, using the change detection algorithm developed by the Canadian Forest Service. The results of this research can be adopted by regional foresters as a cost effective method to monitor the recovery of forests within their district.
Professional Placement: Kawartha Land Trust (Peterborough, ON) – providing technical expertise and mapping advice techniques to create maps for land securement and land easement solicitation