Previous ARPs

Kathleen Cathcart: Modelling carbon sequestration, Chiliwack BC

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.

Alison Martin: Blue carbon dynamics in tidal marshes across the Metro Vancouver region

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.

Alyssa Johnston: Investigating the response of common rain garden species to different application rates of biochar in an engineered bioretention soil.

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.

Lucy Quayle: Cetacean distribution in Boundary Pass, British Columbia.

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.

Jan Lee: How invasive cattail impacts invertebrate communities, Fraser River estuary BC

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.

Cassie Friesen: Western Painted Turtles Predation, Sunshine Coast

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.  

2019 ARP Summer Field Updates

As the winter rains set in, here’s a post harkening back to our summer adventures. We’ve been posting fieldwork photos on our new Instagram account (check out the latest posts in the sidebar). Here’s an aggregation of what some of the second-year cohort got up to over the summer while collecting data for their Applied Research Projects.

Kyla Sheehan was out on the the tidal marsh islands of the South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area in the Fraser River Delta, gathering elevation and vegetation data to build a predictive vegetation model for Frenchie’s Island. On the right is a particularly diverse quadrat from her vegetation surveys. Some of the species in this quadrat are: Lyngbyei’s sedge (Carex Lyngbyei), Douglas aster (Aster subspicatus), and the native cattail (Typha latifolia).

Lynn Pinnell got the opportunity to camp for on Tumbo Island in the Gulf Islands. She and her supervisor shared the island only with numerous seals, eagles, raccoons, an abundance of deer and eight river otters. She collected soil samples from burnt and unburnt plots from a prescribed burn conducted in 2016. Once collected, she processed her samples in the lab to prepare them for chemical analysis and then traveled to Summerland to the Agriculture Canada Research Centre there to do a crash course in Nematology!

Maddie Edmonds was out peering at agricultural hedgerows, doing bird point counts and arthropod surveys to study the features that optimize breeding bird habitat at Alaksen National Wildlife Area and Serpentine Fen Wildlife Management Area, and look at the negative impacts of invasive Himalayan Blackberry.

Zane Zondervan travelled out to the Cariboo-Chilcotin region to study restored wetlands as waterfowl habitat. He performed breeding pair and brood surveys of waterfowl of various sizes and habitat characteristics.

Kate O’Neill installed temperature loggers in the Tsolum River in locations where there could be groundwater input, as well as within and near tributaries to understand the influence that the tributaries are having on the Tsolum River mainstem. It was fun and tiring work, with lots of diving down to the bottom of the streambed to install the temperature loggers. A big shout-out to Katie Wiese, Emma Cummings, Jay Baker-French, for volunteering to help.

Emma Cummings and Jay Baker-French joined the Guardians of Mid-Island Estuaries Society to measure the success of restoring Carex channel edge vegetation that has been degraded by the overabundant population of Canada geese.

Burrowing Owl Habitat and Rangeland Health Assessment

Learning how to write effective proposals is a key skill for restoration practitioners, and a main focus of one of our courses, Project Management & Policy for Ecological Restoration (ECO 622). One group of students chose to write a proposal for the Nature Trust of British Columbia. In an exciting development, showing us just how realistic our coursework can be, the proposal was approved and funded.  This allowed a group of students to implement the vegetation and habitat survey they designed over the summer of 2018.

In early May, we completed a physical and biological grassland assessment outside of Osoyoos, B.C. We wanted to determine if this property would be suitable habitat for reintroduction of the extirpated and SARA-listed Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea).

To do this, we divided the site into habitat polygons, using parameters such as slope, slope aspect, drainage, and plant species. We assessed these polygons using criteria specific to Burrowing Owls, such as number of available perches, presence of small burrows, and density of shrubs.


Through our surveys, we found 78 native plant species, and evidence or sightings of seven animal species on site. We also conducted bat surveys and found six bat species on site, two of which are SARA-listed (Threatened and Endangered), and one red-listed in BC. Two invasive plant species were found within plots (Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) and Holly (Ilex aquifolium).

While our site surveys indicated that the grassland health was fair, no polygons on the site contained the correct combination of shorter grass, perches, low shrub density, and existing burrows that would be suitable for Burrowing Owl reintroduction. If small mammal populations on site are high, it could support Burrowing Owl reintroductions in neighbouring properties which are more suitable. A small mammal trapping survey could help identify the abundance of the small mammal population on site.

Other management suggestions stemming from our surveys include repairing or deactivating the dirt road that goes through the site. This would ensure that vehicles do not drive in the grasslands to avoid potholes or flooded roads. Performing controlled burns in the area could also help control invasive species and decrease the shrub density, making it more suitable habitat for Burrowing Owl reintroduction.

This project was a great opportunity to get out in the field and implement the proposal that we had designed to assess grassland health and habitat suitability. Our results will now help to inform management decisions for Burrowing Owls on this property.

Jane Chow: Himalayan Blackberry removal

With the support from Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, Jane Chow is currently monitoring the effect of hand removal and mowing on the regrowth of Himalayan blackberry, an invasive species in the lower mainland. Her capstone project will determine which method is most effective in blackberry removal over one growing season. Jane began her fieldwork in March 2017 with the support of many volunteers to assist with manual removal. She will continue to monitor her experiments until the end of the growing season (i.e., October 2017). BCIT/SFU Supervisor: Scott HarrisonJaneChow_capstonepic

Rebecca Tranmer: Nighthawk habitat

Rebecca and her crew did a 6 day field program on Sidney Spit researching nighthawk habitat to gather important details for her capstone project. (Image credit: Rebecca Tranmer)


Julie Porter: Katzie Slough Water Quality

Here is MSc Candidate Julie Porter and trusty field assistants taking water quality measurements for her capstone project in the Katzie Slough. (Image credit: Julie Porter)