Category Archives: graduate students

2017 in SmurphCaRE Land

2017 started off with a bang – literally.

I broke my ?&*!! clavicle on 9 January.  This was 24 years after my thesis defence – to the very day.  Weird.

That’s why there’s been a bit of a gap in posting updates – by the time I healed in March, it was nearing field season and conference season so that occupied the rest of 2017 as we had warm weather through mid November.  I had the posts ready but duty called.

Here, then, is the 2017 story of the smurphworld.  Brought to you by Bob’s Slings and Other Things. Yes, when you break your clavicle, think Bob.

Despite the busted clavicle, we launched a successful course in ReWilding and Ecological Restoration. As part of this course, we did a case example working with the Ontario Water Centre – ReWilding Lake Simcoe Project.  This was a good way to launch the course with an on the ground example of how different groups interpret ReWilding.

 

At the beginning of a very warm spell in March, I helped run a workshop under the Centre for Applied Sciences in Ontario Protected Areas banner.  We worked with The Niagara Escarpment Parks and Open Space System Council (NEPOSS) on what we called Big Box Greenspace – meaning they run the risk of becoming subject to ‘high numbers of visitors and an intensity of use beyond the resources of managers to accommodate’.  We had a full house – the extended SmurphCaRE group plus awesome students from my unit, the School of  Environment, Resources & Sustainability, were there – that’s Jonas Hamberg (PhD student) hamming it up as usual below.  I also managed to visit Mount Nemo Conservation Area – a favourite spot of mine on the Niagara Escarpment.  My left arm (the side where the clavicle broke) was just fresh out of the sling.

 

In April, we did the defences for all of my undergraduate thesis students – most of whom focused on various aspects of restoration and conservation ecology – and the cohort for all of my home unit of SERS.  One of the defences is pictured below as is the final SmurphCaRE extended year-end party in April to launch field season 2017 and to say farewell to graduates.  Yes, I know, my extended lab group is huge.  It does include folks in my classes (many of whom join the lab in fall 2018 as thesis students) and some other friends of smurphCaRE.

 

I went up to Peterborough in late April to meet with OMNRF (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) about the 2017 CASIOPA AGM that occurred later in 2017 (see post near the end of this update).  It was nice and warm. Very warm.  Got to see some of the local provincial parks too. I did not actually go into Petroglyphs itself since it was not yet officially open and I don’t abuse my privileges, especially where First Nations’ culture is concerned – I just like their signs so I took some shots of the edge of the Park.  Quackenbush PP is also sensitive (no sign there – this really ensures there is no unauthorized access) but I got to visit the edges of it too – again, it has a lot of cultural value to First Nations so I never have gone in that park without permission and simply walked near its borders where possible.

A big highlight – the Kawartha Highlands PNR’s new access areas are really great – those I could enter.

 

Field season started and my graduate students are really busy even now with analyzing all their 2017 data (and before).  We’ll add some nice pics soon but here is the summary:

  • Jonas Hamberg started working our new $1.1 million NSERC-CRD with The Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation and Walker Holdings Inc. as we explore rapid ecological restoration approaches to old quarries.   This project owes much to the efforts of my post-doc, Paul Richardson (who is project manager).
  • Andrew Moraga joined this project later in September as our spatial ecological guru.
  • Heather Cray is finishing her PhD work on restoration ecology in prairies.
  • Michael McTavish is also finishing his PhD on earthworm impacts on conservation and restoration ecology.
  • Patricia Huynh’s PhD on conservation and restoration of urban streams and salamander habitats progresses nicely (funded by another NSERC grant – a Strategic Grant with Bruce MacVicar in Engineering at UWaterloo).
  • Meaghan Wilton is finishing her PhD on greenhouse gas management in the Argentinian Pampas farmlands.
  • Katie Kish (co-supervised by Steve Quilley who is the lead advisor) is nearing the finish line with her thesis on Ecological Economics 2.0:Reincorporating the socio-sphere in ecological economic theory and practice.
  • Tomm Mandryk is finishing his Master’s on conservation and restoration with prescribed burns in alvars, working with the Nature Conservancy.
  • Alex Novacic is in the midst of examining how we can remediate and reforest roadsides; her pic is below – this is one of her field sites

    PPA17 Trt 2 looking towards Trt 3

  • Amanda Shamas and Sheralyn Dunlop are working on a couple of different aspects of trait-based approaches to wetland restoration ecology for their Master’s degrees.
  • Chelsey Greene is out west in Alberta working on her Master’s on how restoration and remediation ecology can fulfill mandates for carbon capture and greenhouse gas mitigation in general as part of urban and landscape sustainability.
  • Ian Blainey started his Master’s on how we can assess impacts of invasives in ecological restoration management for the Cheltenham Badlands, working with the Ontario Heritage Foundation.
  • Cassy Wiens is ramping up her new Master’s project on the role of backyard conservation and restoration in landscape scale urban restoration ecology.
  • Gwyn Govers is finishing her part time MES degree with her penultimate draft of her thesis on how garlic mustard and forest fragmentation impact some of Ontario’s key species of ants.
  • Natasha Lukey successfully defended her MES Thesis (Sara Ashpole, a smurphCaRE alumnus was co-advisor); she worked on managing invasive bullfrogs in the Okanagan corridors in BC. Natasha is pictured here post-defence. Yes, she’s happy. She did a great job.

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In May, I was invited to Galiano Island BC to help officially launch REGEN – the new Restoration Ecology Education Network that Eric Higgs (U Vic) and I have been organizing for a couple of years.  This was with the Templeton Foundation and we discussed the intersection and tensions between culture, religion and restoration ecology.  Eric, Jim Harris, and me had a great evening to close the event on Galiano Island; before that, it was many days of great discussion and journeys with people like Emily Gonzales, Carol Hall, Erin Beller, Willis Jenkins, Katie Suding, Jeanine Rhemtulla, Val Schaefer, Jeremy Kidwell, Steve Jackson, John Volpe, Allen Thompson, Loren Wilkinson, Dan Spencer, and Chad Wigglesworth.

 

June brought me to Edmonton Alberta where the North American Forest Ecology Workshop kindly invited me to do a plenary on Anticipation Ecology: Determine When and How to Initiate Forest Restoration and Reclamation.  I got to catch up with a lot of people, including my former Master’s student Kylie McLeod, who is working for Ducks Unlimited out west.

 

The next big event was the 2017 Ecological Society of American conference in Portland Oregon.  Michael and Heather presented; Michael had won the 2017 Braun Award from ESA and got a big moment in the sun (literally – it was a blistering 41 C; the smoke from the forest fires soon blotted out the sun in spots).  Many of the great gang was there – Richard Hobbs and Gillian Henderson, Loretta Battaglia, Cara Nelson, Pam Weisenhorn, Katie Suding, Steve Jackson, Lauren Hallett, Lizzie King, Kris Hulvey, Jonathan Bauer, Anna Groves, Chad Zirbel, Nancy Shackleford, Brandon Bestelmeyer, Keith Bowers, and so many more.   A highlight for me was visiting one of my favourite places – the Cascade Head region of Oregon and then down the coast.  Spectacular!

 

 

I had to do SER 2017 in Brazil in absentia; it has been a bit of a trying 2016-2017 in some regards (the broken clavicle was icing on the cake, shall we say), so I ended up focusing my attention elsewhere during the meeting, sadly.  My contributions were handled by Loretta Battaglia, Pati Vitt, and Pam Weisenhorn.  They are awesome. No pix because I was not there physically.  2019 is in South Africa so that will make up for it.

The fall and early winter of 2017 brought more research grants (a big one as part of the Global Water Futures – we’re advertising for PhD students so see that separate post).

Related, we won a nice grant from Microsoft to get access to their Azure platform for machine learning and big data analysis.  I’m also part of a OMNRF Big Data group that will meet in March 2018. Good times.

Fall is for teaching my now 3rd year course in Restoration Ecology!

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The end of September saw our big 20th Anniversary of CASIOPA – we’re overhauling the website site right now in 2018 so I’ve left the post update there lag but we had a full house with speakers like Nik Lopoukhine, Christina Davy, and Pamela Wright.  Lots of great fields trips thanks to OMNRF’s Susan Cooper. Alumni from my home unit of SERS and SmurphCaRE attended; this included Nigel Finney, Kelly Moores, Scott Parker, and Lindsay Campbell.

 

Perhaps the biggest thing from 2017 was the publication with Stu Allison (the real leader here) of our Routledge Handbook of Ecological and Environmental Restoration. This has some truly exceptional authors so buy a million copies today.  (there is a less expensive e-version so it is pretty affordable given it is over 400 pages of rock-em sock-em restoration ecology).

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“Excellent….”

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Bookending fall’s start and finish, Smurph lab did the social whirl – grad house on a warm Sept day and a good Sushi bar meal near xmas; the SmurphCaRE gang prospers:

 

I still have to add some of the 2017 publications (I am at that stage of career where the process is the best part – mentoring the next generation is fun) so there will be a few more updates but this is a pretty good reflection.

What will 2018 bring?  No broken bones for me, I hope.

It is the Silver Jubilee of the journal I edit – yes, Restoration Ecology.  And I led off with an editorial where I am not too kind to shady politicians, am not too fond of splitters rather than joiners, but talk about the best of who we are in restoration ecology and where we might go – so the message for 2018 is hope.

 

We went to ESA 2016. Boy, did we ever

I’ll post the scientific stuff soon enough.  Below are some pics of the crew and friends. We know how to do conferences right. Patricia Huynh, Heather Cray, and Michael McTavish rocked the conference.  The usual suspects included Richard Hobbs, Eric Higgs, Bryan Norton, Steve Jackson, Allen Thompson, Edie Allen, George Gann, Brandon Bestelmeyer below – not too shabby a group.  It was great to hang out with Lars Brudvig and lab.  And catching up with Carolina Murcia was a real bonus on the last day of the conference.

smurphcare students busy as bees…literally

The wacky 2016 weather meant a slow start but then a sudden plunge into field season – the phenology is running 2-3 weeks ahead.  We’ll need to catch up with posting in the fall.  For now, here’s some shots of what Tomm Mandryk (using burn boxes to simulate prescribed burns for restoration), Heather Cray (assessing prairie restoration), Michael McTavish (earthworm impacts), Patricia Huynh (urban impacts on conservation and restoration), Jonas Hamberg (assessing success of ecological restoration) and others have been up to:

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2015 CaRE Xmas Lunch

We work hard, we play hard, yes I stole that from a 1970s commercial.

I’m a restoration ecologist, dammit, not a PR flack.

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Heather Cray, Michael McTavish, Emily Trendos, Patricia Huynh.
Tomm Mandryk, Jonas Hamberg

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Jonas Hamberg, Erica Calder

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Katie Kish (pensive!), Gwyn Govers, Shari Thomas

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Patricia is Queen of the selfie

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We can look (sort of) dignified

The 2015 AGM of the Ontario Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration

The 2015 AGM of the Ontario Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration

speakers

Most of the lineup: Heather Cray (CaRE), Josh Shea (CaRE), Michael McTavish (CaRE), smurph, Perin Ruttonsha, Peter Beckett, Daniel Campbell

[CaRE’s Dianne Watkins was helping close up and CVC’s Kate Hayes & Scott Simpson had to go back to work – on a Saturday, so how about that, taxpayers?]

The SER Ontario AGM and Workshop was held at the University of Waterloo on November 14 and we had an overflow crowd and CaRE’s Patricia Huynh was the emcee!

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Lead us, O Patricia!

The subject was Novel Ecosystems and the allied concept of Socioecological Resilience. It was led off by the past-chair of SERO and current Editor in Chief of Restoration Ecology, Stephen Murphy. Steve set the stage for the day by focusing on the utility of the novel ecosystems concept, noting that is akin to triage in some cases.

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CaRE must be in the front row…. PhD student Patricia Huynh (emcee!),
MES student Gwyn Govers, MES student Tomm Mandryk

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CaRE watches closely – PhD student Erica Calder & MES student Emily Trendos

The main message was that we are beginning to understand how novel ecosystems can be used as a management framework, how we can measure when we cross a threshold to a novel ecosystem and how the concept focuses on restoring as much native species diversity and functionality even if the local ecosystem can no longer meet the ideal of being fidelous to a reference state.

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A series of talks from graduate students in the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Resource & Sustainability ensued, with Cristobal Pizzaro first up and focused on using migratory birds and human immigrants as proxies for examining the social dimensions of the Anthropocene.

And the CaRE took center stage for a couple of hours.  Michael McTavish outlined how we can design better restoration objectives and approaches for ecosystems that have become novel via invasions of exotic earthworms that will be impossible to dislodge.

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Dianne Watkins’ work examined how socioecological resilience can be achieved in urban natural areas and that included the notion of sustainable harvests of exotic species as food, turning the process into one of using novel ecosystems as an agroecosystem which can then be restored to a higher standard of function and diversity once exotics are harvested.

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Heather Cray explained that while we seem to know a lot about prairie restoration, a lot of it is actually creating prairies as novel ecosystems and some of the techniques are confided to the grey literature and not tested formally in any experimental and quantitative way.

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Josh Shea outlined how he – as graduate student and a City natural areas manager – has found the novel ecosystems concept to be very useful as a management tool; he particularly noted that it does not give license for ‘anything goes’ but guides managers to alternative stable states, restoration goals, and laddered approaches wherein exotic species may be allow to exist for a time because they provide the only food source left for desirable species like rare or uncommon migratory native species of birds.

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SERS’ Perin Ruttonsha (with Steve Quilley) finished the morning with a tour de force that examined Big History and the Big Picture of how novel ecosystem fits into the notion of more resilient and innovative socioecological systems.

In the afternoon, Kate Hayes and Scott Sampson of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority did a groundbreaking presentation of how they have used the novel ecosystems concept in working with land and water management, especially given that there are (for example) housing developments that have been long approved and are legally binding. They showed how it was possible to restore to historical conditions in some cases, in other cases the historical conditions were an illusion to begin with, and in still others how novel ecosystems could be a positive if planned and implemented well – they need not be a negative. SERO was fortunate to have their experience.

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Our final two presentations were from one of the hubs of restoration in Canada, Laurentian University in Sudbury. The legendary Peter Beckett gave an eloquent, strategic and well detailed presentation on one of the most famous restoration and rehabilitation experiments and outcomes – the legacy of Sudbury’s industrial landscape. This is an excellent example of how restoring to a novel ecosystems state and function was necessary but still has accomplished so much, so fast given that legacy. The area is still under restoration efforts but the positive impacts on the ecosystem as well as the human community are something to be celebrated and emulated.

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Daniel Campbell completed our presentations with a sophisticated study of mining sites in the Arctic wherein they recommend restoration to broader functional/diversity outcomes related to effect size rather than specific endpoints. The area has been mined for diamonds and was peatland but now has upland landforms that can host what Daniel classifies as hybrid ecosystems that create and sustain valuable functions, i.e. ecosystem services.

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SERO Members were given good news about our financial state and activities; our student members have very active in local university and college chapters and are planning a meeting in 2016 so stay tuned! Repairing for dinner and beverages, the SERO crowd colonized (invaded?) a local pub to restore our energy.

2015 sero board

2015 SERO Board at the AGM held November at the School of Environment, Resources & Sustainability, University of Waterloo: Rachel Voros, Sal Spitale (CaRE alumnus), Smurph, Steve Smith, Dale Leadbeater, Ash Baron (CaRE alumnus), Nigel Finney (CaRE alumnus), Jeff Warren. Absent: Jenny Foster, Megan Ihrig (CaRE alumnus).

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.