ARP Fieldwork by Alison Martin

For my applied research project, I’m studying the blue carbon dynamics under different environmental conditions in tidal marshes across the Metro Vancouver region. Tidal marsh ecosystems are considered to be a natural resource of global significance as they are provide numerous ecosystem services. One of these ecosystem services is their ability to sequester and store large amounts of atmospheric carbon, or ‘blue carbon’. Blue carbon is a recently coined term that refers to carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere and stored in the sediments of coastal and marine ecosystems and these marshes can be highly effective carbon sinks when the ecosystem is healthy. However, tidal marshes are under high levels of pressure due to anthropogenic stressors and are declining by about 5% per year worldwide. As the ecosystem is degraded, they shift towards becoming carbon source, as they release more carbon into the atmosphere than removing from it. My project will also be looking at potential restoration techniques that can increase the health of the ecosystem, therefor, increasing its ability to sequester carbon.

For the past couple of months, I have been collecting sediment cores, as well as vegetation and salinity data, from multiple tidal marshes in Metro Vancouver. We will also be collecting greenhouse gas emission data in the next couple of weeks. The marshes I have selected are under different environmental conditions so that I can develop an understanding of how these conditions influence the marsh’s carbon sequestration ability. One of the marshes that I have selected is a man-made marsh in Tsawwassen to develop an understanding of what restoration techniques can be used to increase carbon sequestration in these ecosystems. Once the cores are collected, they are taken to the Parks Canada lab to be analyzed. The cores are sub sectioned and then placed into an oven for three days and then burned in a furnace to determine carbon loss on ignition. Some of the cores have been sent off for radiometric dating to determine the carbon accumulation rate of the marsh.

As a result of covid-19 restrictions, I was not able to conduct my research during this past summer but being able to get away from the computer screen and be in the field has really made the past semester much easier. Research during the fall and winter is a bit more challenging but I have lucked out (for the most part) and have had some beautiful days out on the marsh.

ARP Fieldwork by Kathleen Cathcart

My applied research project aims to model the carbon sequestration level along a 20 km stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway in Chiliwack, BC. I will that use that information to make recommendations for highway right-of-way management and create a vegetation plan that will increase the carbon sequestration potential along this vehicle corridor.

Back in the summer of 2020, I went out to various predetermined areas along the highway where I gathered tree measurement data, identified vegetation and took soil samples. The tree measurement data was used in a program called i-Tree Eco v6, which is a software applicated program designed to use single tree measurement data from randomly located plots along with local hourly air pollution and meteorological data to quantify forest structure, environmental effects, and to value to communities. The program provides various analyses included information on carbon sequestration and storage. I also used their online program i-Tree Canopy v7.1, which uses satellite imagery to define land cover types and generates information about carbon sequestration and storage.

I hope to use this information to encourage the BC Government to plant in the highway right-of-ways to increase carbon sequestration in these areas as well as highlight the use of the i-Tree suite of programs that can be used for free.

Galiano Island Conservancy Wetland Restoration

From November 6th to the 8th, 8 Ecological Restoration Graduate students went on a volunteer trip to Galiano to assist the Galiano Conservation Association with some planting in their recently restored areas.

We had a wild time getting to Galiano the first night and just barely made it onto the last ferry that night. When we arrived at the Conservancy, we were met with a beautiful night sky full of stars and a toasty warm cabin classroom where we all had a chance to hangout and chat until we decided to go to sleep that night.

The next morning, we woke up to a grey, windy day but we got our many layers on and headed out to the North East part of the Conservancy’s property to start planting. As like with many of the gulf islands, Galiano has a high population of deer so we needed to construct deer-proof cages to surround the newly planted plants so they wouldn’t disappear overnight by hungry deer.

On the last day, Adam Huggins, the Restoration Coordinator for the Galiano Conservancy Association, showed us around the property and the many places they have restored and plan to restore. One such part is the Nuts’a’maat’ Forage Forest in which they are attempting to cultivate traditional food and medicinal plants in a restored and regenerating ecosystem.

We planted about 300 pants over two days we had to plant while also having some time to hangout and explore the property. Saturday night we managed to get a fire going despite some gusty wind, and on Sunday we watched the sun set at Chrystal Cove on the property. Just before we left for the ferry terminal, we checked out Montague Bay to watch the last of the light fade behind the Vancouver Island mountain ranges. We finished off the weekend by getting pizza at a restaurant in town called Babes in the Woods. We highly recommend their BBQ Chicken and Galiano Sweetheart pizza.

While this was a one-time volunteer opportunity with the Galiano Conservancy Association, we hope to continue this relationship and visit with them year after year to help them with their grand plans to restore the land that they promise to protect.

SUMMER FIELDWORK by Alyssa Johnston

My ARP aimed to investigate the response of common rain garden species to different application rates of biochar in an engineered bioretention soil.  Rain gardens are bioretention systems used for stormwater management in urban centres. Bioretention soil (e.g. mixture of compost, topsoil and sand) within rain gardens effectively filters sediments, heavy metals and nutrients from infiltrated stormwater. Rain gardens also contain a variety of plants which assist in additional uptake of nutrients and metals. Minimal maintenance and other inputs are required from these systems resulting in harsh growing conditions for plants (e.g. intermittent drying and wetting). The use of native plants that are more suited to local conditions and organic soil amendments that produce more hospitable conditions are important to utilize in these systems.

Biochar is an organic matter that is heated at high temperature with little to no oxygen. When added to soil it can provides beneficial properties. These include improved soil fertility and plant growth, increased microbial activity and increased water and nutrient holding capacity which is effective in retaining nutrients and contaminants from runoff. With these known benefits that biochar can provide to soil and plants, my research set out to better understand native plant response to biochar in an engineered bioretention soil.

Near the end of June, I set up a randomized potted plant experiment using two native plants, Carex obnupta and Juncus effusus, 3 different biochar ratios (0.5%, 1.5% and 5% weight for weight) and a control (0% biochar), with 5 replicates for each plant-biochar/control combo. I followed municipal bioretention soil specification to engineer the bioretention soil that was used in the biochar-soil mixtures. Once the biochar-soil mixtures were weighed, mixed and put in pots, soil samples were taken and sent to the lab to assess basic soil fertility (N, P, K), pH, organic matter content, C:N ratio, cation exchange capacity, as well as the sand, silt & clay composition.

Each week over the summer, I measured height, percent cover and took observational notes on colour and any noticeable damage to the shoots to identify if the selected biochar rates were suitable to enhance the survival and growth of native plants in an engineered bioretention soil. At the end of September,  I harvested the plants and took soil samples to be analyzed at the lab. At the BCIT lab, I separated, processed and dried the aboveground biomass (shoots) from belowground biomass (roots). After drying I obtained the final biomass weight of both the shoots and roots. The data I have collected will hopefully be able to contribute to increasing the performance of rain gardens as bioretention filters by using biochar to improve physical, chemical and biological capabilities of the growth media and their ability to support a diversity of native plants.

Mission Field-trip Day 2

The following day, we went to check out what we had captured in the small-mammal traps. Most of our traps were successful! We caught multiple Deer Mice, a couple Red-backed voles and two or three Townsends’ Chipmunks. In the larger mammal traps, we caught a three or four Flying squirrels, which we were all excited to see! We tagged the ones that we could (the ones that did not slip out of our hands) and released them.

Following this, we checked out the amphibian gee traps down at the wetland. We successfully caught a handful of Northwestern salamanders! To cap the day off, we headed back into the forest and discusses pellet count surveys and other types of bird surveys.

The two days in the woods was a great way to start the semester and see our cohort for the first time since the abrupt end to in-person courses in March.

Mission Field-trip Day 1

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the second-year’s  field course was re-scheduled from May 2020 to September and October 2020.  The course was unique in the sense that the course was split between online and in-person learning. The course was spread out over the first two months of the semester with the lecture portion being held weekly that were complimented with in-person practical sessions. We were lucky enough to have five in-person/in the field sessions, which allowed us to learn and practice the field techniques that we were taught.

In September, the second-year cohort ventured out to the Mission Tree Farm for our first in the field session. This session was led by Doug Ransome, Brent Matsuda and Pontus Lindgren and we covered many field techniques that focused on amphibians, small mammals and raptors.  We began the first with amphibian sampling. We conducted terrestrial encounter transects, with some success. We also looked at cover boards and the pitfall traps that were already set up.

Following the amphibian sampling, we practiced our telemetry skills as we used the equipment to locate a transponder somewhere in the forest. It was definitely much harder than it looked but a great (and fun) learning experience.

We then separated into two groups to set up the small-mammal traps. There are two grids set up at the tree farm, one in a second growth stand and the other in a remnant patch of old growth forest. The old growth stand had been left unlogged so the grid was difficult but memorable, as it is very unique to be walk through an untouched old growth forest. The topography, the dense understory and downed logs made it difficult to move through as we set up the traps.

When the second-growth grid group were finished setting their traps, we set up the amphibians gee traps in the small wetland at the site that we would come back to the next day. 

We finished the day off with raptor  and owl call playback surveys. While we did not have any call back, it was a great way to cap off the first day! As we had a second day at the Mission Tree Farm, some of us camped out overnight nearby.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in March, doing science has not been easy for the second-year master’s students. Stringent restrictions have directly impeded progresses of some students’ research projects. Show and tell over Zoom virtual educational sessions as well have their shortcoming because restorations are mostly hands-on in which ecologists and biologists or student alike have to go down to the field and physically do science, for example, sampling, tagging, and vegetation removal, just to name a few. Therefore, to keep up with our progress that we have worked diligently for since the first term in 2019, we have to work in a more meticulous way so that we can keep doing science, and simultaneously help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by doing our parts.

SUMMER FIELDWORK by Lucy Quayle

Cetacean Observations in Boundary Pass

For my Applied Research Project (ARP), I am collecting information on cetacean distribution in Boundary Pass, British Columbia. For the summer, I moved to Saturna Island which is part of the Southern Gulf Island chain. The main species that use this area during the summer months are humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and both Biggs killer whales and Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca). I am interested in looking at how and when they use the Boundary Pass area near Saturna Island and what kind of interactions they have with commercial vessel traffic, recreational boaters and ecotourism vessels. I will also be incorporating underwater acoustic data and time-lapse photography with my observational data to investigate the use of these methods for cetacean detection. A seasonal ‘Interim Sanctuary Zone’ or vessel-no-go zone has also been in effect since June 1st, on the east side of Saturna Island. This area was set up with the aim to further reduce underwater noise and physical disturbance in Southern Resident killer whale habitat. I am also interested in investigating the effectiveness of the Interim Sanctuary Zone by collecting data on both cetacean and vessel use of the area. Observational data collection takes a lot of patience but definitely pays off when a pod of 20+ orcas or a humpback mother and calf pass by.

Join Lucy and Dr. Ruth Joy in the upcoming sharing session on her ARP!

SATURDAY, AUGUST 29, 2020

OBSERVATIONS IN A WHALE SANCTUARY

by DR. RUTH JOY & LUCY QUAYLE

Zoom link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86814922774

This summer, Simon Fraser University (SFU) Masters student and researcher Lucy Quayle has been living on Saturna Island, gathering data about humpback whales, orcas and boats in the Interm Sanctuary Zone (ISZ) for the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). Hear about her project and get a glimpse into her findings.

Ruth Joy is a Statistical Ecologist in the School of Environmental Science at Simon Fraser University (SFU). She’ll tell us about her research into predicting the movements of Southern Resident Killer Whales through statistics.

SUMMER FIELDWORK by Jan Lee

Fraser River Estuary Research

My name is Jan and my ARP is focused on the bottom of the food chain in the south arm marshes of the Fraser river estuary. invertebrates live in the sediment and are primary consumers, which are important in bringing solar energy, that was harvested by plants, up the food chain to higher trophic. Juvenile salmon use the marshes as places to feed on the invertebrates and hide until they are large enough to go out to the ocean.

In the past 50 years the south arm marshes have seen the arrival of the european cattail which is an invasive plant species known for growing in large monotypic stands. The cattail is highly competitive making it difficult for native plant species to grow in these stands. My ARP is aimed at determining what impacts this invasive cattail is having on the local invertebrate communities.

To determine invertebrate community composition and diversity I took 50 sediment cores 25 from invasive cattail stands and 25 from native vegetation dominated areas. The cores were sifted to remove the sediment and leave only the invertebrates and the organic materials for analysis. The samples are then going to be sent off to a lab to determine what invertebrates are in each core as well as the number of each invertebrate.

SUMMER FIELDWORK by Cassie Friesen

Western Painted Turtle Predation Research

This summer I have been working on the Sunshine Coast for my Applied Research Project (ARP). The best part about my research is that I get to work with turtles every day! My research is investigating predation of the endangered Western Painted Turtle species here on the Coast and will focus on a long-term solution to protecting these turtles.

The Western Painted Turtle is the only remaining native freshwater turtle here in B.C. Previous work has been done to increase its nesting habitat by installing various turtle nesting beaches. These were created in hopes to increase the populations reproductive rates. But these beaches now create a problem, and experience higher rates of predation due to densification of nests.

For my research I implemented two enclosure designs at various installed turtle nesting beaches along the Sunshine Coast. These enclosures are designed to allow for free roaming access to the turtles, while protecting the hatchlings and eggs from avian predators, such as ravens. I monitor these sites in person weekly and have multiple wildlife cameras set up to capture all the critters that pass by. Thankfully I had my experiment all set up before COVID-19 restrictions (early March) so I was able to carry on with my work without too many issues. I currently live on the Sunshine Coast while my experiment continues, and I hope to see significant results in the fall.  

Denman Island Trip 2019

Back in November, students in the first-year cohort travelled to Denman Island for their first field trip as a class. Throughout the weekend, we met with the community members and visited potential restoration sites across the island. On our final day on the island, we presented three different restoration ideas for the sites that we visited to a group of community members. It was a great weekend that allowed us to step away from the classroom and have a hands-on learning experience.

When we arrived on the Friday afternoon, a small group of community members joined us and presented one restoration project idea at Windy Marsh. The marsh had been cut into two when a road was built across it, which altered the hydrology of the marsh. The community members that live around the marsh want the natural flow to be restored so the marsh can be restored.

<p style="line-height:1.2" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The next morning, we were up and out early to explore the island and visit more restoration sites. The first stop was Hinton Beach, where aquaculture activities are taking place on both sides of Baynes Sound. The beach has been compacted by vehicles that are related to the aquaculture activities. As well, plastics and other garbage from the aquaculture has begun to wash up along the beach. The community members are interested in finding a way to minimize the impact of the aquaculture on the beach environment and the species that rely on it.The next morning, we were up and out early to explore the island and visit more restoration sites. The first stop was Hinton Beach, where aquaculture activities are taking place on both sides of Baynes Sound. The beach has been compacted by vehicles that are related to the aquaculture activities. As well, plastics and other garbage from the aquaculture has begun to wash up along the beach. The community members are interested in finding a way to minimize the impact of the aquaculture on the beach environment and the species that rely on it.

The next couple of spots were related to re-connecting Windy Marsh to Morrison Marsh. One of the community members allowed us to come on to their property to get a better view of the marsh. We also went to another resident’s property on Morrison Marsh to look at the road that split the two marshes as well as a weir that helps prevent a local beaver from damming the marsh outflow.

We headed by to the camp and had a delicious lunch that was catered by a local chief. Following lunch, we headed out again for the last stop of the day. We went to Morningside Park to look at the bluffs along the beach. The bluffs are beginning to fail and the local residents are concerned that the slope might fail. The combination of beach and sunny weather made for a great final stop on our little tour of the island.

Following the beach site, we headed back to the camp, we were staying at and divided into groups to begin working on potential restoration ideas for each site. We also had one final presenter, the land manager of the Denman Conservancy Association, to tell us about the work that has been done on the island to help bring back the Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori). The butterfly species is considered Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act and considered ‘critically imperilled’ on the global conservation rating. The decline of the butterfly species is directly related to anthropogenic activities, such as habitat conversion, and the population has drastically shrunk across the eastern Vancouver Island area.

<p style="line-height:1.2" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The rest of the night was dedicated to us finishing off our restoration ideas so that they are ready for presentation the next morning. Between the beautiful sunset and the delicious dinner we had, it was a great final night on the island. The next morning, we headed to the local community centre to present our restoration ideas to a small group of residents. It was a great experience to interact with the community and it was a fantastic way to cap off a great weekend.The rest of the night was dedicated to us finishing off our restoration ideas so that they are ready for presentation the next morning. Between the beautiful sunset and the delicious dinner we had, it was a great final night on the island. The next morning, we headed to the local community centre to present our restoration ideas to a small group of residents. It was a great experience to interact with the community and it was a fantastic way to cap off a great weekend.