Monthly Archives: June 2015

Thinning Pine Plantations for Ecological Restoration of Oak Savannah


In the Carolinian Life Zone, St. Williams CR is a standout with 1000 ha of forest. Originally conceived as a reserve for timber production, the area was planted with the typical uniform density of rows and rows of trees.  By 2011, colleagues at OMNRF decided that given the changes to our knowledge of forest management and new goals of win-win for both timber and ecosystem services, new methods were needed.

stwcr sign

A variable density thinning treatment was planned and then implemented. This emulates the more natural conditions that exist when succession occurs and produces a heterogeneous and diverse ecosystem.  Modest in scope, the VDT experiment underway will show us how much timber production can result when the smaller trees are not only thinned to allow for larger, more economically desirable trees to remain but also how much ecological complexity results.  Shelley Hunt at U Guelph is working on the vegetation on this project; CaRE is working on the below-ground portion of the ecosystem – an oft-neglected angle.  CaRE is especially  interested in how the mycorrhizal community will respond to VDT disturbances.

stwcr about

Using the stratified design OMNR already has implemented, we are using a BACI experimental design (before-after-control-impact) to assess how each thinning treatment affects the soil fauna, soil fungi, duff layer, and nutrient dynamics. Thirty small 5 cubic cm bore hole size samples will be taken from each replicate treatment plot 6 times a year (April, May, June, August, September, October) for at least 3 years to assess dynamic changes. Repeated measures, autocorrelation, and multivariate analysis will allow us to test the impacts of the thinning treatments. Year 1 and Year 2 work is complete.

stwcr pano

So far, we’ve found there to be no significant differences in any of the key variables of nitrogen, phosphate, potassium, mycorrhizal hyphal density or mycorrhizal spore density.  We have detected significant declines in the duff layer in the VDT treatments vs. controls.  Soil fauna is trending towards a shift away from collembola dominated systems and this is beginning to show up in fungal response – this is not a surprise as collembola have been shown to directly or indirectly affect fungal biomass in other studies of pine and other types of forest ecosystems. We’re detecting more beetles in the VDT treatments but their diversity and numbers are not yet significantly greater than the controls.

stwcr oak

Restoration in urban areas

MES graduate Patricia Huynh continued on with CaRE as a PhD student.  Her work is shifting from a watershed characterization study in the Grand River (her MES) to one focused on BACI of restoration and urban impacts in several Toronto region subwatersheds.  We’re working with U Waterloo’s Bruce MacVicar, Concordia’s Andre Roy, and Western’s Peter Ashmore on a NSERC stragetic grant for Assessing and Restoring the Resilience of Urban Stream Networks.

We were out scouting field sites and as a bonus UBC’s John Richardson is also working there on a NSERC SPG on larger scale watershed characterization – effectively, his group is working on a bigger version of what Patricia has been doing for her MES and with John involved, the two UW and UBC led groups will be able to combine forces to produce some even more ambitious research on urban ecology in watersheds,


UW + UBC led teams on site in Vaughn Ontario.  Now that’s what I call bank erosion!

Katie Kish, Ph.D. candidate


Hello! I am Katie Kish. First and foremost I am a wifey, sister, daughter, friend, and am committed to community. Thankfully, my position as a PhD student in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies allows for all of that to be nourished alongside my research. No small part of this is from the encouragement and support of my two supervisors, Dr. Smurph and Dr. Steve Quilley.

Together, our collective (but very different) passions and interests are forging many interesting research projects. Some of these projects include the Experiential Learning Group, and a faculty wide festival (- ENVigorate), that was a huge success in bringing people across the faculty together. We are also working on Open Source Ecology UW, a first year Big History course, and a tacit knowledge and hands-on curriculum (with Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge).

My primary research focuses on the Metcalf Foundation and SSHRC funded reMaker Society – a part of my overall Environmental Politics at the Margins project – and a larger group project on the ‘third basin’ of attraction

Most of this work is done in collaboration with the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (where I am the PhD research fellow) and the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation.

My background is in environmental science (geomorphology – UVic), ecological economics, and systems approaches to health (YorkU). Having started in the hard sciences, I have since come to realize I am definitely a big-picture/interdisciplinary thinker (with a serious love-fest with tedious event management and paperwork…). Some of my (very broad) research interests include:

  • Resilience studies and global ‘opportunity in a post-release state’ (aka: what happens after a collapse of society… without saying ‘collapse’)
  • Big History – the civilizing process and growth of complexity over the past 6 billion years and what these both might look like into the next 6 billion years (note: thinking in these time scales makes getting a puppy seem like a very good idea)
  • Big History as an origin myth for ontological security
  • The role of open source and micro technology, innovation, and political-philosophy as a new approach to a globally connected commons-based distributed political economy
  • Terror management, meaning frameworks, and community development for long-term behavioural change

My primary work centers on the idea that ‘we’ (global society) have passed environmental and social thresholds beyond what ‘sustainability’ plans promised to save us from. Because of this, any future socio-ecological world must include radical social transformation and innovation.

I am broadly interested in the roles to be played within a new future, as well as in the ways people find meaning and hope through newly defined political, economic and social systems. We are close to a tipping point, and on the other side of this tipping point, there is great possibility for creativity to emerge, prosper, and help shape a new future. There are a number of people already tapping into this creativity, within which lies solutions to our deepest problems. I am interested in learning more about these people and what their attitudes, perceptions, and socio-economic frameworks can tell us about larger environmental behavioural change.

This all rests on a caveat…to allow any of these solutions to take hold more broadly, we must be ready to challenge the status quo – to be a little uncomfortable and let go of our security blankets. It may be a long dark road ahead, but there are already people lighting lanterns along the way… I look forward to meeting them.

willowBeyond school… I recently got a puppy – her name is Zoe (props to all those who immediately got the Firefly reference), she is a lot of work, and I love her.

I am the newest of newbies on the guitar, crochet quite a lot, camp regularly, sing constantly and am dipping my toes into the maker world (mostly wood working). I’m currently working on a fairly epic crochet blanket, rag rug, abstract painting, reclaimed wood dining room table, pair of moccasins and a terrarium … if I ever finish one, it’ll be a really good piece of work and my house will be slightly less cluttered with glitter, glue, and sawdust. Thankfully, I have a patient, loving, and supportive husband.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya & Steve Murphy publish on impacts of BC free ranging horses

Jonaki’s PhD thesis has yielded its core paper: Assessing the Role of Free-Roaming Horses in a Social–Ecological System –

Jonaki’s work was a brilliant tour-de-force that examined how biases and assumptions can lead to confabulation of impacts of apparently invasive and exotic species – in this case free ranging horses. This is a complex story of First Nations’ governance and rights of self-determination, solid ecological research, and the socio-ecological interplay that involves multiple stakeholders. In the end, we concluded that the situation was not dire and was not comparable to locations like the southwestern USA where free-ranging horses are more of an ecological problem.

CaRE and its many facets



You can take the smurphcare story with you anywhere as a pdf:
Conservation and Restoration Ecology (CaRE) Research july 15

One main focus is on conservation ecology especially in parks and protected areas. We take an inclusive approach as projects include population and community ecology studies on different habitats (e.g. prairies, forests, wetlands, shorelines, rivers) and taxa (e.g. plants, fungi, herptiles, arthropods, annelids). We work on the larger socioecological issues involved in management and governance needed to provide a desirable and resilient ecosystem – we have worked with cities, other municipalities, NGOs, private sector partners, federal and provincial agencies, and world organizations like UNESCO and UNEP.


Dianne, Jessica, Cheryl, Gwyn, Holly, Particia;
Smurphcrew takes over yet another conference

Restoration ecology/resilient ecosystems frame our other major focus. Steve has chaired the Society for Ecological Restoration of Ontario, organized several of the International Meetings of the Society for Ecological Restoration, and been Editor-in-Chief of the journal Restoration Ecology. Steve and his team have led or participated in over 1500 restoration projects. We’ve restored functional aspects of novel and more historical ecosystems and restored prairies, forests, wetlands, shorelines, rivers, and meadows in rural and urban areas.


We work and play nice; Ph.D.  student Michael McTavish with Laurentian U’s Nate Basiliko and Peter Beckett and U Toronto’s Jason Shebaga at the Sudbury restoration sites in 2015

We mostly work in the real world – outside – but do have a nice sample processing lab, This is equipped mainly with items you’d expect an ecology lab to have like nets, sampling boxes, quadrats, light meters, datapads, shovels, rakes, flagging tape and booby traps for any would be thieves reading this and taking notes.  Suffice to say, we’re well suited for field ecology research and spend most of our research dollars on student salaries, transportation to the field, and mass sample processing.


The CaRE lab;
not shown – grad students who will go medieval on you if you mess up their stuff


Smurph in the lab; this is the face Smurph makes if grad students start going medieval on you

We have a terrific array of projects that have made a difference. We have restored over 70,000 ha of habitat, helped conserve over two dozen species-at-risk, and provided management plans and advice to hundreds of worldwide communities and organizations that balanced sustainable livelihoods with a desirably functional ecosystem. The CaRE group and its alumni are everywhere!


Smurph at SER 2013 with Lauren Hallett, Mike Perring, Tara Davenport and alumnus Dr. Darby McGrath; this was not the first time she had to support Steve


We really are everywhere – steve and/or his team have done research in ALL of the countries shaded in blue above – yes, that’s most every sovereign nation on earth

CaRE runs or works with several allied research centres; these are 3 examples:

Centre for Applied Sciences in Ontario Protected Areas – as this eponym suggests, this focuses on socioecological research and applications for management in Ontario protected areas – Provincial Parks, Provincial Nature Reserves, National Parks, Conservation Authorities, NGO run areas like those of the Nature Conservancy Canada and Carolinian Canada Coalition, First Nations governed sites like Serpent Mounds, and Municipal Parks.

The journal Restoration Ecology.  Steve Murphy is Editor-in-Chief.  This is the major publishing arm of the Society for Ecological Restoration and represents the latest in one of the major foci of CaRE – best practices, policy, and science in restoration ecology. We are regularly found at the centre of conferences like the SER biennial international meetings. Steve was past-chair of SER Ontario; CaRE alumnus Sal Spitale is the current chair.

The rare Charitable Research Reserve.  This is one of the largest urban research areas and provides an excellent venue for conservation and restoration ecology research. Steve Murphy is part of the team that reviews research proposals and steers the ecological management plan.  Many of our students have done research there, worked there, or volunteered there.

CaRE has received extensive funding – over $20 million in the last 19 years.

We are or have been funded by every NSERC program and most SSHRC programs available. We have been funded by MITACS, Environment Canada, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Parks Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Candian Foundation for Innovation, CANARIE, City of Kitchener, City of Waterloo, Region of Waterloo, BC Ministry of Transportation, Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculturem and Rural Affairs, United Nations Environmental Program, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of the Interior, several dozen private sector companies – mainly related to small scale consulting that give our students work experience but do not subvert a research agenda in any way. Our success at obtaining funding speaks to the quality and relevance of our research and applications.

CaRE has completed many projects and mentored many students.

CaRE has completed/participated in over 1200 projects and has graduated 20 post-docs/research associates, 175+ graduate students and 500+ undergraduate students. Our alumni are found across the globe but do dominate the Great Lakes restoration and conservation fields.