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

Paulomer

Paulomer

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.

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