Current and On-going Research at rare

Researcher Andrew MacDougall and students look over rare’s Blair Flats.     Photo courtesy of Peter Kelly.

At rare, we welcome researchers in a multitude of disciplines and are always looking for new and exciting research opportunities. We view rare as an opportunity to examine restoration and agricultural initiatives and to study the structure and functioning of a natural environment within an expanding urban area. Due to our goal of keeping over 900 acres intact and in perpetuity, we can uniquely offer stability to projects that extend over the long term. Individuals interested in conducting research at rare are encouraged to contact our Research Department to discuss their research ideas and needs. All researchers must file an Application to Conduct Research prior to initiating their project.

Below are the current and ongoing research projects taking place at rare. Click on any to be taken to the respective summary:

Reimagining historic forests, measuring tree growth and reproduction, and understanding tree range expansion
University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability
Dr. Andrew Trant

Summary: In an era of climate change, understanding changes to forest composition and productivity requires detailed knowledge of factors influencing growth, regeneration and establishment. However, this is
complicated by the long-term history of people interacting with the environment. Failing to consider these forests as coupled human-environment systems may impair our ability to understand how they will respond to changes in site and growing conditions. The long-term focus of my lab’s research is to measure past and present patterns of ecosystem services across culturally rich, economically important, and biodiverse
landscapes. Through quantitative assessment of past, present and future forests, this research will provide important insight for guiding management and conservation decisions. To accomplish this, I will
establish long-term field sites on rare properties. Using a variety of ethnobotanical, dendroecological, and experimental approaches at multiple spatial scales, my research will provide important information on the future of these landscapes.

Impact of hybridization on native crabapple (Malus coronaria) by domestic apple (Malus domestic) in southern Ontario
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Elaina Greaves, MSc Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Brian Husband

Summary: In this field study, I will determine if adding hybrid pollen to native crabapple trees can have an impact on the reproduction of the native species. This native species is relatively uncommon in Ontario and often grow in areas close to commercial grown domestic apple trees, or in areas where these domestic trees have escaped (called feral domestic apple trees). These two species can then hybridize, which is the crossing of two closely related species that produces an offspring. Using several series of pollination treatments on native crabapple trees at rare Charitable Research Reserve and one other location, I will address three questions: 1) what is the impact of hybrid pollinations on the population size and dynamics of crabapples; 2) does hybrid pollination influence the frequency of asexually produced offspring; and 3) what is the primary source of hybrid pollen, from orchards or feral trees? The results provide insights into the impacts of agricultural environments on native biodiversity. This information can also be transferred to other native species who have the ability of reproducing with their domestic relatives.

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Examining patterns of insect population dynamics and biocontrol in natural and agricultural systems
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Aleksandra Dolezal, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: The aim of the study is twofold: 1) to understand the combined effects of semi‐natural area and insecticide spraying on insect predator-prey populations and, 2) evaluate the importance of habitat for predator biocontrol service. An in-field cage experiment will be conducted using three treatments (habitat, crop, habitat+crop) and two levels of insecticide (sprayed and unsprayed) to assess recovery of predator and prey populations and the baseline level of biocontrol. The habitat treatment will consist of a plant community dominate in the oldfield ecosystem at rare Charitable Research Reserve, the crop treatment will be conventional soybean, and the habitat and crop treatment will be a 20% oldfield and 80% soybean plot which follows the Alternative Land Use Service (ALUS) model of farming. Each cage will be stocked at the beginning of the growing season (May 15) with 15 ladybird beetles (Hippodamia convergens) and 100 soybean aphids (Aphis glycines). Insect density and biocontrol will be monitored during the whole growing season from May- August. We expected that: (a) habitat plots will have a smaller benefit to biocontrol in sprayed than unsprayed cages and (b) recovery of biocontrol service after insecticide spraying will be faster in plots with habitat.

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Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to determine the relationship of Canopy Temperature Depression to Beech Bark Disease Severity in Southern Ontario
University of Waterloo, Faculty of Environment
Rohit Verma, MES Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Murphy

Summary: American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees are currently dying off at rates higher than previously recorded as a result of the rapid spreading of beech bark disease (BBD) in North America. Beech trees are a principal tree species in Ontario’s hardwood forests and are a significant source of nutrition for wildlife. Currently, identifying BBD and severity is performed with on the ground visual inspection of individual beech trees. However, this technique would not be the most efficient if a large area needs to be sampled. Alternatively, recent studies have shown that it is possible to identify certain diseased plants and trees using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with thermal imaging technology because tree leaves, stem and root diseases can cause water stress, reduce transpiration rates and increase canopy temperature. However, whether beech trees infected with BBD are identifiable using thermal imaging is unknown. Consequently, this project will investigate whether capturing thermal imagery of American beech trees, via UAVs, can discern healthy individuals from diseased individuals. If successful, UAVs equipped with high resolution cameras can be a more efficient method at identifying and mapping the extent and severity of BBD than on the ground surveys.

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City living: the influence of urban induced environmental and maternal stress on early rates of neurogenesis in eastern grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Alannah Grant, MsC Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Amy Newman

Summary: The urban environment is currently the fastest growing habitat type on the planet. This rapid expansion of the urban landscape poses new stressors and challenges to which wildlife in these environments must respond and adapt. My study examines the affects of the urban environment on eastern grey squirrel stress and brain development in mother squirrels and their pups. To do this I will be comparing the physiology of squirrels found in urban locations to squirrels in non-urban locations, like rare, that provide a non-disturbed, organic habitat in the midst of urbanization.

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Disentangling the effects of ice formation and the non-growing season on phosphorus and nutrient mobility in agricultural soils
University of Waterloo, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Heather Townsend, MSc Candidate. Supervisors: Dr. Fereidoun Rezanezhad and Dr. Philippe Van Cappellen

Summary: My research project specifically aims to improve our conceptual and quantitative understanding of changes in phosphorous stocks, speciation, and fluxes driven by variations in snow-cover and freeze-thaw cycles as they relate to phosphorous export from agricultural soils to water resources. In my MSc research project, I am conducting a series of novel laboratory-controlled experiments that will specifically investigate the role of the seasonal freeze-thaw events on the fate, transport, and cycling of phosphorous in agricultural soils during the winter transition (fall-winter and winter-spring) and non-growing season. The experimental results will be integrated into a reactive transport model to quantitatively assess the effects of winter conditions on below-ground phosphorous speciation, transformation rates and bioavailability. This research
has implications for soil fertility, groundwater and surface water quality, and our understanding of seasonal variability in phosphorous losses from agricultural soils. The model results will predict how the export of
water, phosphorous, and other nutrients in cold regions may respond to projected winter warming and advise best management practices regarding Canadian’s agricultural future in a changing climate. The data and insights gained through the proposed experimental and modeling activities will yield a better conceptual understanding of soil phosphorous cycling and strengthen its representation in coupled biogeochemical-hydrological models.

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Validating eDNA metabarcoding of vernal pools with conventional amphibian survey methods
University of Waterloo, Department of Biology
Nathaneael  Harper, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Barb Katzenback

Summary: My research focuses on detecting the traces of DNA shed by amphibians into vernal pools. Sampling for traces of genetic material in the environment, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), is a next-generation bio-monitoring technique that can non-invasively identify the species in a waterbody with much greater accuracy and far less effort than conventional survey methods. Metabarcoding is a big-data technique that uses high-throughput sequencing (HTS) technology to characterize the eDNA of multiple species from a single sample. No research to date has focused on using eDNA metabarcoding to monitor amphibians in the Grand River watershed. I will sample eDNA from vernal pools and compare the species detected by eDNA to those amphibian species detected by visual encounter surveys, egg mass surveys, and the Marsh Monitoring Protocol. My research will validate the utility of eDNA metabarcoding for use as a
monitoring tool while improving knowledge of eDNA metabarcoding sampling methods in vernal pools.

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Intraplant micrometeorology (Temperature regimes inside flowers and stems)
University of Guelph, School of Environmental Sciences & the Arthur Dobbs Institute
Dr. Peter Kevan

Summary: The internal temperatures within flowers and stem of herbaceous plants are not well studied.  Most of the information on temperatures within flowers and their ecological significance has been gathered in cool, Arctic and alpine environments.  Temperature regimes in the hollow stems of herbaceous plants seems to never to have been studied, yet probably 2/3 of temperate zone herbaceous plants have hollow stems.  Our project is to survey the incidence of hollow stems in Canadian plants and to assess how elevated temperatures that build up in them is achieved (microgreenhouse effects) and to measure the temperatures within flowers that can act as parabolic/spheric dishes, as simple discs, and as microgreenhouses as in air enclosing blossoms.  The measurements obtained will be related to growth and maturation rates, reproductive ecology of the plants, their phenologies, and habitats.

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The effects of agricultural nutrient deposition on the functioning and community structure of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Kevin MacColl, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Hafiz Maherali

Summary: We are researching the effects of agricultural nutrient loading on the relationships between plants and symbiotic fungi. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi form nutritional mutualisms with over 80% of terrestrial plant species. AM fungi colonize plant roots and exchange nutrients, particularly phosphorus, for photosynthetically-derived carbohydrates. Plants exclude the fungi from their roots in more fertile soils, resulting in a decline of AM fungi in terms of abundance, and species diversity. It has also been hypothesized that AM fungi adapt to elevated nutrients by colonizing plant roots more aggressively, and essentially becoming parasitic. In this study, we are collecting soil and plant samples from several farms around Southern Ontario to determine if nutrient enrichment has caused a decline in AM fungal abundance and diversity. Soils will also
be used to inoculate plants under growth room conditions to determine if the fungi have defected to parasitism. The rare Charitable Research Reserve will act as a reference site to study plants and fungi that are less affected by agriculture.

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Assessing the potential exposure of birds and mammals to raccoon roundworm in the environment
Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Department of Pathobiology
Shannon French, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Claire Jardine

Summary: We are investigating the role of rodents in the ecology of Baylisascaris procyonis, the raccoon roundworm. In this study we aim to identify and quantify the species visiting established raccoon latrines through the use of motion-sensitive trail cameras directed at identified and accessible latrines. Images will be assessed for presented behaviours in addition to the number of species present.

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Collaborative activities in support of Mottled Duskywing and other butterfly SAR recovery
Natural Resource Solutions Inc.
Jessica Linton

Summary: In 2015 NRSI began a multi-year collaborative project to address key actions and knowledge gaps identified in the Draft Recovery Strategy for Mottled Duskywing. This proposal builds on previous projects by focusing on achieving the government-supported recovery goals for the species. The current project involves inventory work, research, and collaborative activities which support multi-species SAR butterfly recovery.

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Taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity of earthworm communities and their responses to land uses along a latitudinal gradient
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Marie-Eugénie Maggia, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Dirk Steinke

Summary: This study is an assessment and comparison of species richness and impact of agricultural practices of earthworm communities in three different regions (south of Ontario, south of France, and French Guyana). I will estimate the sensitivity of earthworm communities to land use changes and study the historical and ecological factors that condition the structuring (assembling rules) of earthworm communities.

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Impacts of multiple stressors on fish populations and health in the Grand River watershed using environmental DNA and RNA measurements
University of Waterloo, Department of  Biology
Heather Ikert, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Drs. Paul Craig & Barb Katzenback

Summary: With an ever-growing human population, increasing stress is placed on the aquatic environment, impacting biodiversity. Stressors such as wastewater, agricultural and urban runoff, and the introduction of invasive species, all affect natural communities. To study the impact of these stressors in combination continues to be a keystone in ensuring that we limit our global ecological footprint. One aspect of monitoring the effects of our actions on the environment is detection/identification of fish populations to ensure that all native species are at a sustainable level, and no invasive species are present. Historically, the only way to measure this was via sampling and identification, which is time-consuming, costly, and disruptive to the environment. In the last decade, an alternative technique has been developed where DNA in the water column, environmental DNA (eDNA), is used to identify the presence or absence of certain species. Furthermore, environmental RNA (eRNA), could be used to identify fish heath or stress levels. Therefore, using non-invasive measures of eDNA and eRNA will allow for measurement of changes in fish populations and health in response in multiple stressors in the Grand River watershed.

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Assessment of habitat use and ecology of native bee communities in a fragmented ecosystem
University of Guelph, School of Environmental Sciences
Janean Sharkey, M.Sc Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Nigel Raine

Summary: With increasing concern about population declines and range reductions, it is important to research the current state of bee fauna in Canada. I am interested in how restoration and land management influence the structure of wild bee communities. I will assess bee community composition and characterize vegetation in remnant and restored tallgrass prairie and naturalized meadow habitat in southern Ontario. Only 1% of the original tallgrass prairie communities remain in Canada. My research will also investigate the movement and habitat use of bumble bee species on a landscape scale using innovative radio-tracking and molecular techniques. I aim to track the movement of queen bumble bees during selection of overwintering and nest sites and examine factors that limit population success. Little is known about bumble bee queen movement, habitat use and specific life history requirements and how these factors may differ between species. Linking patterns of movement with landscape use and structure will facilitate improved habitat management strategies to support and enhance pollinator populations. Research outcomes will have implications for restoration ecology, land management, pollinator conservation and best management practices.

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The effect of habitat structure on arthropod predators and parasitoids
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Bernal Arce, M.Sc Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: Insect populations worldwide are declining and agricultural activity is partly to blame. Agriculture involves simplifying the landscape in both structure and composition, disrupting natural food chains in unexpected ways. One major consequence is the decline of insect predators and parasitoids because structure shapes their hunting strategies and determines their success. If native insects could be encouraged to predate herbivores in neighbouring agroecosystems, food production could be done with lower pesticide use therefore reducing its ecological impact and possibly creating new habitat in currently unproductive lands. Experimental farm plots with different configurations of habitat structure will be established at rare and sampled for insects and arthropods. The arthropod abundance and identity at each plot and surrounding areas will be recorded and analysed to test which habitat structure configurations are preferred by native predators and parasitoids. The aim of this study is to gain a deeper understanding between beneficial predator arthropods and simplied farm landscapes so that new solutions may be developed in the future.

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Winter soil processes in transition
University of Waterloo, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Dr. Fereidoun Rezanezhad, Principal Investigator

Summary: In an uncertain future climate, both the quantity and quality of water supplied by headwater wetland source areas in cold regions are expected to change significantly. However, our knowledge of how climate change will impact the biogeochemical functioning and hydrochemistry of these source areas remains limited. We propose to elucidate the role of winter soil processes on the export of carbon (C) and nutrients (N, P, S, Fe) to the river network under changing climate conditions. The project builds on the hypothesis that spring pulses of dissolved organic and inorganic C and nutrients by these headwaters reflect the cumulative effects of microbial and geochemical processing of redox sensitive elements during the non-growing season. The project will advance the predictive understanding of C and nutrient cycling in soils of headwater source areas under seasonal snow and ice cover. The project specifically aims to improve our conceptual and quantitative understanding of changes in C and nutrient stocks, speciation and fluxes driven by variations in snow cover and freeze-thaw cycles. Overall, the proposed project will enhance our ability to evaluate the impact of different potential climatic scenarios on C and nutrient export and speciation along the aquatic continuum.

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Why do avian colour patterms differ in sympatry?
Queen’s University, Biology Department
Haley Kenyon, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Paul Martin

Summary: Colour pattern differences appear to play an important role in allowing closely related species of birds to live together, but we don’t yet know exactly what this role is. One relatively unexplored hypothesis for why colour pattern divergence might be favoured when closely related species live together focuses on the role that species recognition plays in costly aggressive interactions; if species share similar signals, then intraspecific aggression may be misdirected towards members of other species. I will test this hypothesis that selection against interspecific aggression drives colour pattern divergence in birds by presenting Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) with models painted to look like their close relatives which have varying degrees of colour pattern similarity (i.e., Vermilion Cardinals, C. phoeniceus are very similar to Northern Cardinals, while Pyrrhuloxia, C. sinuatus, are much more dull).

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Terrestrial Arthropod Monitoring Program- Mixedwood Plains
University of Guelph, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG)
Jeremy deWaard

Summary: Despite their importance, arthropods only represent a minor component in most biodiversity assessments because of the difficulty in their identification to a species level through morphological study. Our project will overcome this barrier by coupling high-throughput sequencing platforms with the capacity of DNA barcoding to discriminate species. This approach will allow us to document patterns of species distribution and diversity at scales and in settings where this was previously impossible. Arthropods will be collected using Malaise traps across over 50 sites in southern Ontario and Quebec, including the rare Charitable Research Reserve. This project will contribute to the international Terrestrial Arthropod Monitoring Program which aims to detail arthropod diversity across ecoregions in ten nations. Particularly, this project will provide data for the Mixedwood Plains ecoregion in Canada. This study is also an extension of previous surveys using the same collecting method and sampling sites in order to assess long-term trends in arthropod biodiversity.

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Understanding the decline of native bumble bee (Bombus spp.) pollinators in Canada using citizen science data
York University, Faculty of Environmental Studies
Victoria MacPhail, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Sheila Colla

Summary: Pollinators are very important ecologically and economically but some are in decline.  Habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change may have contributed to the declines, but many hypotheses have not been tested for rare species in Canada due to lack of data.  BumbleBeeWatch.org (BBW) is a program where volunteers upload bumble bee photos to a website and work through an identification key to determine a species name, which experts verify.  Although many records have been submitted, this data has not been analyzed or compared to that collected by experts.  By using a database of expert-confirmed observations, data from BBW, and targeted field surveys, I will attempt to answer questions including: 1. Does BBW show increased distribution and abundance of bumble bees as compared to expert data? 2. Is habitat loss and/or land use changes driving the decline of bumble bees in Canada?  3. How can BBW data allow for increased conservation status assessments and effect conservation actions?  4. What is the diversity of bumble bees at high quality habitats like the rare property?  My work will fill knowledge gaps, improve conservation status assessments, recommend recovery actions and influence policy for actions related to bumble bees.

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Reducing noise pollution through ecosystem restoration
University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability
Jonas Hamberg, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Murphy

Summary: Noise is an increasingly important pollutant in the developed world, causing stress, high blood-pressure and lowered quality of life in humans and reducing habitat and diversity of wildlife. Natural areas are often relatively quiet because of the sound-dampening properties of vegetation and distance from human development. Fragmentation and disturbance of natural areas make it more difficult to find relative quiet, both for humans and for animals that communicate and avoid threats by sound. While noise-reduction and attenuation are considered ecosystem services, there is very little research quantifying the ability of restored ecosystems to reduce noise. This research will look at how restored tallgrass prairie and forest can be used to reduce and attenuate noise. Environmental noise will both be measured passively over time, and by playing back recorded noise at set frequencies and decibel level, measuring its reduction over a distance using a decibel meter. Noise pollution reduction is an important ecosystem service that can be added to the arguments for ecosystem restoration. It may also inform what type of restoration, conservation and enhancements are needed near sources of noise, for both human and animal wellbeing.

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Assessing the consequences of gene flow between cultivated apples (Malus x domestica) and their wild relatives
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Paul Kron, Research Associate. Supervisor: Dr. Brian Husband

Summary: Closely related species can sometimes reproduce to produce hybrid organisms. Two such species are the domestic apple and the wild crabapple. Paul is studying the complex genetic interactions between these two species. This involves several components. What is the genetic variability within the wild crabapple? What is the fate of hybrids in the natural environment; i.e. do they survive and reproduce? Over 25 saplings from each of five genetically different apple strains were grown from seeds collected on rare property (three crabapple variants plus two hybrids with the domestic apple) and planted in the alvar complex. The fate of these individuals is being monitored over a ten-year period. The genetic variation of pollen and seed from mature trees of both species will also be determined. This will provide insight into the nature of the reproductive pathways that occur among these two species that lead to the production of fruits and seed. This research will provide important information on the potential impacts of introducing genetically-modified organisms (organisms intentionally modified by humans) into the landscape.

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Long-term restoration of tallgrass prairie
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: Tallgrass prairie formerly occupied 80,000 to 100,000 hectares in southwestern Ontario but less than 5% of that remains. Andrew plans to convert an agricultural field on rare property (most recently used to grow soybeans) into a native tallgrass prairie. There are several main goals of this research. The first is to determine the factors that ensure success in prairie restoration especially the ability of tallgrass prairies to resist invasion from non-target species; particularly exotic agronomic grasses. The second objective is to determine the factors that influence the pattern of distribution of plant species in a tallgrass prairie; i.e. are these factors environmental or non-environmental? The third objective is to restore a tallgrass prairie research site that will eventually look like a tallgrass prairie rather than a checkerboard pattern of research plots that will require constant maintenance. This sampling design will help address the research questions but will also restore the function of this ecosystem for creatures such as birds, insects and small mammals. The research project consists of a five-year building phase followed by a longer-term monitoring and manipulation phase.

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Influence of riparian and hyporheic zones on stream hydrology and nutrient biogeochemistry
University of Waterloo, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Philippe Van Cappellen

Summary:Traditionally, management of water resources has focused on surface water bodies (streams, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, etc.) or on groundwater as if they were separate entities. As the use of land and water resources intensifies, the hydraulic connection between surface water and groundwater has become recognized as a crucial element in water management. This research will monitor the spatial distributions of nutrient elements (C, N, P, Si, K and S) and key biogeochemical redox indicators (in particular, iron) in the riparian and hyphoreic zones of a small, groundwater-fed stream on the rare Charitable Research Reserve over the course of one year. The spatio-temporal patterns will be used to unravel the key biogeochemical transformations affecting nutrient speciation and fluxes within the riparian and hyporheic filter zones, and establish their response to seasonal variations in stream hydrology, soil temperature and biological activity.

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A constructive approach to maintaining nesting habitat for Barn Swallows in Ontario 
Bird Studies Canada
Kristyn Richardson

Summary: Barn swallows nest almost exclusively on human-made structures such as barns, sheds, bridges and culverts and are the most widely distributed of all swallows. As such, many people would be shocked to learn that the Ontario populations has declined by 66% since 1970. Despite how frequently humans overlap with these swallows (part of a group of birds collectively called aerial insectivores because of their habit of eating flying insects while flying high in the air) we know relatively little about them. While the causes of these declines are unknown, here in Ontario educations in the amount of available nesting habitat as well as human-caused disturbance are two potential reasons. The results of the artificial nesting structure project on the rare property, as well as the complimentary social cues research, will be used to determine what breeding habitat characteristics are most important for Barn Swallows in Ontario and inform Best Management Practices for the conservation of this species.

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rare Charitable Research Reserve
1679 Blair Road
Cambridge, ON N3H 4R8
(519) 650-9336
Charitable Registration:
#8776 15914 RR0001