Monthly Archives: September 2015

Heather Cray, Ph.D. candidate

Greetings and salutations! My name is Heather Cray and I have the great fortune to be a PhD candidate supervised by Dr. Stephen Murphy in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. As an ecologist (and especially as a restoration ecologist), my job is to resolutely ignore traditional boundaries between the sciences in a relentless pursuit to understand connections. In less grandiose terms, I couldn’t chose between fields like botany and soil science, reasoned that they are both inextricably connected anyway, and decided to do all the things.

My main research focus is restoration ecology, and tallgrass prairie is the primary ecosystem of my PhD dissertation. The most endangered ecosystem in North America, less than 1% of tallgrass prairie remains in Canada, mostly located in small patches across Southern Ontario. Conservation alone is not enough at this stage – without active restoration, this pollinator-supporting ecosystem will disappear. The field research component of my dissertation speaks directly to practitioner concerns, and will support our research partners, Ontario Parks, Conservation Halton, MTO, MNRF, private land owners, and others in their restoration goals.

My main research interests are:

  • Testing techniques for restoration: what are the benefits and trade-offs and how can we optimize the process?
  • Novel Ecosystems and the perception of ‘natural’ vs ‘human’ systems
  • The role of invasive species and soil microbial community in the restoration process.
  • The effect of prairie restoration on pollinator communities: if we build it, will they come?
  • Assessing the current state of restoration: what is being done and by whom?

My academic background is Geography, specifically biogeomorphology looking at succession patterns following thermokarst in the Canadian Arctic. In addition to my main plant and soil foci, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program through OFAH and MNR in Ontario and to bat conservation with El Parque Natural Metropolitano in Panama. In deciding the course for my PhD research, I looked to my childhood – Holland Landing Prairie, one of my field sites in partnership with Ontario Parks, is down the street from where I grew up.

Speaking of family, I have three non-photosynthesizing dependents in my life, all of whom are furry. Bruce and Sarah cause their own flavor of trouble indoors and are SPCA kitties, Paul is in a class all of his own, as you might expect from a blue-eyed Paint.

Sarah and Bruce

Sarah and Bruce



When I am not in the field or working away in the lab doing plant ID or data/soil/photo processing, I can usually be found at the barn volunteering. If I am forced to be indoors by way of injury or inclement weather, I split my time between crocheting small creatures, playing the flute, tin whistle, or harp (passably, poorly but happily, poorly but exuberantly), playing board games, doing puzzles, watching Doctor Who and reading.

Count on me for macro photos of insects and plants, field updates, and wearing sunglasses in 95% of all photos.

Dr. Sara Ashpole: Restored/Constructed Wetlands for Herptile Conservation

Sara defended her PhD Sept 9 2015 – expertly as always.  She’s been working on her project for longer than just her Phd – undertaking the task of working on Constructed & Restored Wetlands for Amphibian + Reptile Conservation.  The gist of her project is that if you build it, they will come.  This is not always true but when you are dealing with a location like Sara’s (south Okanagan BC) that is heavily disturbed by urbanization and farming, then whatever organisms are left are desperate.  So far, her results have been laudable as the populations and communities are showing signs of stabilizing in some locales but, as always, there are mixed results and struggles with ensuring sufficient connectivity exists to allow for metapopulations to thrive and avoid becoming roadkill.  Some ponds seem to foster excellent breeding conditions while others might become ecological traps.  Stay tuned for more once Sara and I publish this whole story.




Success – and a novel ecosystem, no less.

Novel ecosystems in the Waterloo Region

One of the larger projects my students and I are working on is the application of novel ecosystems management schemes to urban parks.  Despite what some may claim, this is not giving up on ecological restoration.  To the contrary, the novel ecosystems framework helps managers decide on when a park has crossed an ecological or economic or social threshold that makes restoration to some ideal historical range of variation unlikely or perhaps impossible (though we scientists rarely like that word – improbable is better).

Students Josh Shea and Dianne Watkins lead this effort, in places like Homer Watson Park and the Huron Natural Area. Former students Sal Spitale, and Katelyn Inlow began the work.




SmurphCaRE @ Society for Ecological Restoration World Conference 2015 Manchester UK


Alan Turing memorial, Sackville Park, Manchester UK

The smurphcare crew took Manchester UK by storm – delivering a series of excellent talks, workshops, and posters.

London Road (Manchester) old fire station, London Road, Piccadilly, Manchester, Greater Manchester

Old firehall (London Road) Manchester UK

As usual, we helped drive the social aspects of the whole conference experience, with much merryment and serious chats about research with old and new friends.


John Rylands Library in Mannchester UK

Our circle includes stalwarts like SER Chair Al Unwin, Restoration Ecology ME Valter Amaral, Jim Hallett, Loretta Battaglia, Brandon Bestlemeyer, Stu Allison, Nancy Shackleford, Peter Bridgewater, Heather Bateman, Vicky Temperton, Karen Keenleyside, Allen Thompson, Dan Spencer, Marcus Collier, An Cliquet, Karel Prach – and former SER Chairs, George Gann, Jim Harris, Eric Higgs, & Steve Whisenant.

better ph

clockwise from upper left back: Dianne, Alex, Michael, Heather, Patricia, Smurph
(via Heather Bateman)

bb eh1

Brandon and Eric


Loretta (she is not bitter; just this beer is bitter)

bb jh

Brandon and Jim Harris


Michael, Patricia, Alex, Heather + Valter


Al Unwin, Jim Hallett, SER’s Levi Wickwire, Valter, George Gann


Al, smurph, Jim and Moira Harris, Allen, Eric, Karen


Patricia’s poster with Jim and Moira Harris


Alex and her poster


Valter, Steve Whisenant, Stu Allison

ser2015 tues

The resilience symposium goes to dinner

via dan s

Most of the smurphcrew and friends


Manchester City Hall

Our Talks:

Creating tallgrass prairie from retired cropland: Initial results. H.A. Cray, M.J.M. McTavish, S.D. Murphy, Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada.

Managing for the forest not the trees: beyond the vertices of historical, hybrid, and novel. S. Murphy, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada

Learning to live with belowground novelty: Integrating exotic earthworms into the restoration of
abandoned agricultural lands. M.J.M. McTavish, H.A. Cray, S.D. Murphy, Environment & Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada.

Adding insult to injury: resilient but undesirable ecosystems are created by poor land use decisions
& an ice storm. S.D. Murphy, Department of Environment & Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada

Examining best management practices for roadside ecological restoration through seed mix germination rates in fine textured soils. A. Novacic1, S. Murphy1, D. McGrath2 – 1Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada, 2Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Vineland, Canada

Towards improved social and ecological urban resilience, via assessment of plant community nutrient. density in protected areas in Kitchener, Ontario. D. Watkins, S.D. Murphy, Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada

Assessing the efficacy of livestock restriction in rural creeks of the Grand River watershed to improve water quality. P. Huynh, S. Murphy, S Courtenay – Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada.

Getting published in Restoration Ecology: A workshop for students and early career professionals. SD Murphy and V Amaral.

Teaching restoration: global perspectives to local outcomes. M Hughes, SD Murphy, E Higgs.


SER 2015 or Ninja Warriors? You choose – but choose wisely

Lauren King, Ph.D. Candidate

Who is Lauren King? I am a daughter, sister, aunt, guardian, learner, researcher, feminist, and environmentalist for starters. I’m also a PhD candidate in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. I have the privilege of working with Dr. Stephen Murphy, a brilliant and eccentric ecologist (I resemble those remarks – SDM), and Dr. Bryan Grimwood, an equally brilliant and thoughtful social scientist. Working with both a natural and social scientist allows me to better understand the complex socio-ecological systems that I am researching. Importantly, I am also honoured to be working with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation . This is a strong and vibrant Denesoline community located on the east arm of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.

My research interests are:

  • The establishment, planning, and management of parks and protected areas (PPAs)
  • The negotiation and operation of co-management arrangements for PPAs
  • The application of power theory to the study of co-management
  • The rights, roles, and responsibilities of Indigenous peoples in PPAs governance and environmental governance, more broadly.

I came by my research honestly. When I entered the Master’s in Environmental Studies program at York University in 2010 my academic advisor and I were discussing my research interests and he asked me what I loved? I responded by saying, I love being in nature, paddling my canoe. He proceeded to ask me, why I wasn’t studying something I loved? After that conversation, I decided to study parks and protected areas governance and I’ve never looked back.

My deep respect and appreciation for the environment began as a child along the canoe routes of Ontario and later as a guide, and has evolved through my research and experiences in academia and life experiences. I start each day with a walk through High Park’s ravines with my dog, Darwin, and continue to take every opportunity I can get to explore parks or protected areas (and other natural places), preferably by canoe.


Paddling the Deh Cho (Mackenzie) River from Fort Providence to Inuvik in 2014 (1,500kms!!!)

My PhD research is focused on the negotiation of two co-governance agreements between the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, Parks Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories for the creation of Thaidene Nene national park reserve and territorial park. The negotiation processes and outcomes will be examined through the lens of power in order to uncover the power dynamics between and among the actors and structures. Following community-based participatory research principles, this research is designed to benefit the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, and possibly assist other communities negotiating co-management regimes in areas where Indigenous peoples rights and title remain unresolved. The research findings should also result in important theoretical, conceptual, and methodological contributions to knowledge. Specifically, the application of social power theories to the study of co-management; a central theme in co-management that remains to be thoroughly and systematically examined, and an exploration of the effects that power has on the negotiation phase of co-management; a phase that has been largely ignored by the co-management body of literature. Finally, this research should provide useful insights into the opportunities and challenges of a non-Indigenous, graduate student engaging in community-based participatory research.

I have spent nine years studying different ways to protect, respect, and responsible use the environment and look forward to spending a life-time doing so.

If you would like to connect with me, my email address is