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.


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


Jonas Hamberg, Erica Calder


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

2015 xmas

Patricia is Queen of the selfie

2015 xmas 2

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


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!


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.