Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Abstracts - Environmental Science Seminar Series

Fall 2017

View the full seminar schedule.

DateSpeakerTitle and Abstract
Sept 21  


Sept 28

Dr Karen Hodges

Biosolids for birds? Grassland insects and birds seem to like treated pastures
Degraded grasslands are common worldwide, often a result of overgrazing by domestic stock animals. Recent efforts have used biosolids, the stabilized and pathogen-treated remains from wastewater treatment plants, to restore soil nutrients, improve water retention, and increase forage production. Although biosolids have strong impacts on soil nutrients and plant growth, there is very little known about impacts on higher trophic levels. Given the clear impact of biosolids amendment on plant growth and biomass, we expect positive responses for insect herbivores and for insectivorous birds, possibly even with impacts on higher trophic levels such as raptors or terrestrial mammalian predators. We are working on northern grasslands on the OK Ranch in British Columbia, Canada, to test impacts of biosolids on (a) insect abundances, (b) grasshopper abundances and species richness, (c) blue grouse (Dendragopus obscurus) habitat selection, and (d) songbird and raptor communities. Our results support the idea that there are strong impacts throughout the food web. Insect abundances were higher on sites treated with biosolids, and we found significantly higher (~5.6x) grasshopper densities at sites where biosolids were applied 1-2 years prior to sampling compared to control sites or sites where biosolids were applied in the year of sampling, but there were no significant differences in grasshopper species richness or equitability. Grouse often used pastures treated with biosolids. The songbird and raptor surveys suggest pastures with biosolids offer more resources and support many individual birds and species of bird. Collectively, our results show the biosolids amendment affects much of the food web, potentially supporting more species, higher abundances, and rare species.

Oct 5 Dr Lori Daniels

Wildfire 2017: Causes, Consequences and Solutions to a Wicked Problem  Wildfire is an essential process in forest ecosystems, but can be incredibly destructive in the wildland-urban interface. Wildfire is driven by climate, weather and fuels that vary among ecosystems and through time. Combined, land-use change, fire exclusion and global warming have made many forests highly susceptible to intense fires that are difficult to control and spread to large sizes. Revolutionizing forest and fire management will improve ecosystem resilience to climate change, but we will not stop future fires from burning. Successful adaptation must also include individuals and communities learning how to live with wildfire.

Oct 12 Dr Sean Smuckler

The ecosystem services right under our feet: Managing agricultural soil from the farm to the landscape    Healthy agricultural soil is a critical component to ensuring the availability of a wide range of ecosystem services. Agriculture dominates roughly 40% of the terrestrial ice-free surface of our planet making farmers one of the primary stewards of soil. Despite ample evidence that soil mismanagement has been clearly linked to the decline of previous civilizations, our society largely neglects soils and degradation continues unabated in many parts of the world. In this presentation, I will discuss the relationship between soil management and multiple ecosystem services. I will share results from some of the recent studies I have been involved in to better understand how farmers are managing soil for these services at the field to the landscape scale. I will present analyses from studies that have looked at some of the management options farmers are employing to protect and enhance their soils including planting hedgerows and grassland set-asides, installing drainage tile, using organic nutrients, and adopting agroforestry to ensure a suite of ecosystem services in both temperate and tropical regions.

Oct 19  


Oct 26 Dr Jianping Xu

Agricultural fungicides and clinical drug resistance in the human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus    Drug-resistance has become a global health threat. While most of our attention has been focused on bacterial pathogens, drug resistance in eukaryotic pathogens, including fungal pathogens, have also become increasingly common. Many of the human fungal pathogens have an environmental reservoir and are widely distributed in a diversity of ecological niches, including agricultural fields. Due to the structural and functional similarities between agricultural fungicides and many of our antifungal drugs used in clinics, there have been growing concerns about the threat that agricultural fungicide use will lead to clinical drug resistance in human fungal pathogens. In this presentation, I will share our recent results on this issue in the opportunistic human fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus, at both the local and the global levels.

Nov 2  


Nov 9  

No seminar

Nov 16 Ken Day

Hints at resilience:  What I saw while fighting fires    The Alex Fraser Research Forest is 10,000 ha of crown land managed under tenure by the UBC Faculty of Forestry.  This year marks its 30th anniversary.  The Gavin Lake Block of the Research Forest is 6,500 ha in the SBSdw1 and the ICHmk3.  Management goals have caused us to use many different silvicultural systems through the years, including group selection in various spatial arrangements, commercial thinning, and pre-commercial thinning.  July 7, 2017 we entered a new chapter in our history when a lightning storm started seven fires.  An aggregate area of more than 1,000 ha has burned through many treated stands.  This presentation will review the impacts of our silvicultural treatments on apparent fire behaviour, in an attempt to demonstrate that we can manage forests for resilience.

Nov 23 Dr Nathan Pelletier

Sustainability as (re)organizing principle and moving target: Considering the past, present, and future of industrial agri-food systems    Agri-food systems are fundamental to human well-being. Not only are they central to our survival, they also play important roles in our cultures, as well as in the definition of our individual identities. At the same time, we are increasingly cognizant that food system activities, taken together, contribute a large fraction of the overall resource demands and environmental pressures that we collectively bring to bear. Current patterns of food production and consumption also support the incongruous co-existence of malnutrition and obesity, both within and between countries. These trends strongly suggest that sustainability must be at the centre of how we think about and seek to manage food systems, across geographical and temporal scales, and that these considerations must balance what will often be interconnected nutrition, health, environmental quality, and other sustainability objectives. This presentation will bring a systems-level perspective to describing the recent history, status quo and potential futures of industrial agri-food systems, highlighting opportunities, constraints, and trade-offs.

Nov 30 Dr Jim Hare

With a little help from their friends: Richardson’s ground squirrel alarm communication     Ground squirrel alarm vocalizations warn neighboring colony members of the presence of presumptive predatory threats, encoding valuable information regarding potential predators and the signalers themselves. My students and I have conducted controlled field experiments over the last two decades documenting the ways in which Richardson’s ground squirrels (Urocitellus richardsonii) broadcast and respond to alarm vocalizations. Our findings provide valuable insight into the rich information content of these alarm signals, as well as the cognitive abilities squirrels employ in decoding and utilizing the information conveyed by those signals. My presentation summarizes these findings revealing the nature of information encoded and decoded by ground squirrels regarding presumptive predatory threats, and how that information is integrated by receivers to reduce their risk of predation.