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Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Abstracts - Environmental Sciences Seminar Series

Winter 2017

View the full seminar schedule.

DateSpeakerTitle and Abstract
Jan 26 Mr David Fraser Mining criteria and threats assessments – making your research count for species at risk
The move to structured, criteria-driven species assessments, and an internationally recognized system of threats assessments provides a rich source of research topics for those interested in conservation biology. This talk will go over the way a species becomes designated “at risk” by the two common systems being used in Canada, will look at the threats assessment process used by assessment and recovery programs, and will review the flags for key research topics that they identify.
Feb 2 Dr William Mohn Long-term effects of timber harvesting on forest soil communities and their catabolic
We examined the effect of organic matter removal during forest harvesting on metagenomes of soil communities in ecozones across North America. After more than ten years, the overall effect of harvesting on community composition was very small relative to major differences between soil horizons and among geographically distinct ecozones. However, in some ecozones, harvesting substantially altered bacterial and fungal community composition and diminished the genetic potential for biomass decomposition while increasing the potential for nitrogen cycling. Stable isotope probing identified populations involved in lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose decomposition. Known cellulolytic organisms were found in the organic soil layer, while novel cellulolytic organisms were identified in the mineral soil layer. Lignolytic populations identified were mainly bacterial, and metagenomics analysis identified lignin degradation enzymes in the genomes of some of these populations. In some ecozones, cellulolytic and hemicellulolytic populations were substantially impacted by harvesting. Soil carbon, nitrogen and pH were related to the relative susceptibility of forest soil communities in the different ecozones to harvesting impacts.
Feb 9 Dr Arne Mooers Can (and should) the tree of life help guide conservation?
What do conservation biologists actually aim to conserve? According to legislation like the Species at Risk Act, one goal is to conserve species. But are all species equally important? Probably not, but it is not clear how to measure importance. One (relatively untested) measure of relative worth is the contribution of a species to the Tree of Life. Species with fewer close relatives would be worth more using such a measure, because if we were to lose such species, we would lose more unique evolution. I will explore this idea a bit, using examples from major vertebrate clades.
Feb 16 Dr Meghna Babbar-Sebens The Participatory Web – A medium for human-computer collaborative design of watershed management solutions
Over the last few years, Web 2.0 has generated a large-scale transformation in the way our society interacts and generates content via collective intelligence. In watershed planning and management field, Web 2.0 provides previously unimagined possibilities for stakeholder engagement and interactions via blogs, wikis, and social networks. Common use of these technologies have underpinned the need for innovative software algorithms, architecture, and models to manage the unique set of challenges and opportunities that arise in this new “participatory” and “collaborative” version of the internet. In this presentation, I will present a new participatory design tool, Watershed REstoration using Spatio-Temporal Optimization of Resources (WRESTORE), which engages with stakeholders via the Web to design potential runoff management alternatives on their landscape. In this presentation, the effectiveness of WRESTORE for designing alternatives of conservation practices in a Midwestern watershed in the US will be demonstrated, along with opportunities for future research and developments
Mar 2 MSc Students MSc Showcase
Mar 9 Dr Saisamorn Lumyong Friends with benefits: the beneficial effects of epiphytic fungi on plant health and survival
Due to global warming, plants are likely to be faced with stressful and changing environments. An improved knowledge of plant-microbe interactions can help us understand how plants survive and increase their life expectancy. Endophytic fungi that colonize plants without causing visible disease can serve as a good model for studying specific plant-microbe relationships. Endophytic fungi are often advantageous to the host plant by increasing its resistance to mammalian and insect herbivores and by improving host tolerance to pathogens. These endophytes also produce phytohormones which are important for the regulation of plant growth and development. Additionally, this group of fungi can produce many useful secondary metabolites such as volatile and nonvolatile active compounds that are effective as antimicrobial, anticancer, antioxidant and antitumor agents. 
Mar 16 Dr Ann McKellar Waterbird and shorebird monitoring and conservation in the Prairie Provinces
Assessing the population status and trends of wetland-associated birds in the prairie region is challenging due to extreme fluctuations in water levels that affect the quality and quantity of suitable habitat. Large scale monitoring programs such as the Breeding Bird Survey are often ineffective for monitoring waterbirds and shorebirds due to their unique habitat preferences and life histories, as well as low human population density and few qualified observers in areas suitable for surveys. In this talk, I will outline my current and future work aimed at population monitoring and conservation of waterbirds and shorebirds in the Prairie Provinces. I will first describe a large-scale census of colonial waterbirds conducted on lakes in central Manitoba that detected population declines in several species, and a follow up study that used bird-born tracking devices to understand the migration and winter ecology of one such species, the Common Tern. Switching to shorebirds, I will describe a study that identified a previously-unknown but critically important stopover area in a remote region of northern Manitoba for the federally endangered Red Knot. Finally, I will describe recent work done in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan to establish migration monitoring of shorebirds in southern Saskatchewan. As a whole, my research program demonstrates the exciting opportunities that exist for answering questions about poorly understood prairie bird species and their habitats, and shows the potential for using emerging technologies to address these questions.
Mar 23 Dr Garrett Whitworth Identifying a beneficial use for an industrial by-product    Biomass fueled power plants produce ash residuals as a by-product to power generation. These ash residuals are full of nutrients, however, due to their high pH, they are usually transferred to landfills. We have identified a chemical amendment that is environmentally safe and reduces the pH of the ash residuals to a level that would be suitable for use as an agricultural fertilizer. Studies are currently underway, on an industrial scale, to identify the beneficial uses of amended ash residuals through the use of soil sampling and drone based crop health monitoring with the goal of reducing the amount of ash residuals that end up in landfills.

Mar 30

Dr Andy Suarez Mechanisms of ecological success in ants   My research capitalizes on two unique aspects of the biology of social insects: their social organization and their developmental plasticity. My talk will focus on how polymorphism and specialization within complex societies contributes to the ecological success of ants. Specific examples include the biomechanics of mandibles in trap-jaw ants, and using invasive species to understand the ecological consequences of global trade.
Apr 6 Dr Michael Robidoux Analyzing the impact of local food production in rural Lebanon and rural Canada: local solutions to global challenges?
This presentation will focus on ethnographic fieldwork studying local food practices as a food security solution in rural Lebanon and in Indigenous communities in northern Canada. In national and international contexts, local food procurement is being proposed as a means of addressing the growing challenges of food insecurity. Over the course of my research in rural Lebanon and northern Canada, the complexities of maintaining land-based lifestyles were revealed, putting into question how viable local food production is to increase people’s access to nutritious foods. If proponents of local food production are advocating for the preservation of local practices, it is critical to understand what is taking place in the communities and the environmental and economic factors communities face as they attempt to move forward engaging in a new global economy.