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Past Research at rare

Spring wildflowers. Photo courtesy of Stefan Weber.

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.

Below are the past research projects that have taken place at rare. Multi-year projects are listed under the year they were completed at rare.

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Frogs, Food and Feces: Analyzing anuran diet across a habitat disturbance gradient in southern, Ontario
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Natalie Houde, MSc Candidate. Supervisors: Dr. Dirk Steinke and Dr. Alex Smith 

Summary: Frogs are great, not only because they are well-loved by many, but also because they are important to nature. Frogs are an irreplaceable food source for many animals, and they keep insect populations under control by feeding on them. Unfortunately, frogs and their prey are facing alarming declines because of habitat loss. It is still poorly understood how this affects food webs in Canada. For these reasons, I am researching the diets of frogs across Southern Ontario by using poop! The frogs caught for my project will stay in comfortable cages overnight. The next morning, their cages will be checked for poop and all frogs will be released back to the wild. By collecting these poop samples and analyzing them with state-of-the-art molecular techniques, I can learn what the frogs ate without causing them any harm. Learning this information is valuable for Canada’s efforts towards amphibian conservation. 

Investigating plastic ingestion in turkey vultures (Cathartes aura)
University of Guelph, Department of Pathobiology
Kerry Schutten PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Claire Jardine 

Summary: This pilot project is part of a broader initiative by the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative to investigate the impact of plastic pollution on Ontario wildlife, with a specific focus on birds. A major focus of the broader initiative is to use post-mortem examination of wildlife that are passively collected for surveillance to quantify plastic ingestion and investigate impacts of plastic on wildlife health. This turkey vulture project is intended to establish a baseline understanding of whether vultures are ingesting plastics in Ontario – this understanding will help us to develop future work that assesses health metrics in these species. Turkey vultures are scavenger bird species that regularly feed at landfills and other human-dominated landscapes, and therefore are potentially important sentinel species to study the impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife. 

Connecting Computers, Humans, and Nature
University of Waterloo, Department of Anthropology
Alice Xu, MA Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Goetz Hoeppe 

Summary: The purpose of this study is to learn about what smartphone applications like iNaturalist and eBird enable everyday users and scientists to do, and how it contributes to practical work done by scientists. The anticipated benefits of this study are to make visible the tangible benefits of everyday users to scientists’ work, and precisely what those benefits are. The basic procedures will include a self-study of how a novice user comes to learn to use the application and how expert users (i.e., scientists) use the application. These procedures will help to uncover how the mobile application helps to mediate between these two kinds of users. Interviews and audio/video recordings will be used to learn about how scientists and conservationists have integrated the mobile application(s) and the app’s user-generated data into their day-to-day work. 

Hybridization among Ontario cyprinid fish species in anthropogenically disturbed environments
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Amanda Meuser, MSc Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Elizabeth Mandeville 

Summary: Humans have had a profound impact on the environment in Southern Ontario, through means including agriculture and urbanization. These types of disturbances can disrupt ecosystems and bring previously distant species into close contact, which can allow for hybridization between these species. In my thesis project, I will assess how outcomes of hybridization vary between minnow species, and how the type of disturbance affects the frequency and type of hybrid individuals. Species of interest include creek chub minnows and their hybrid offspring with a number of other related Cyprinidae fish species. While creek chub and related minnow species are not endangered, this research is an opportunity to learn how human disturbance shapes evolution of species native to this area and will hopefully support conservation efforts of endangered taxa in this region and similarly disturbed areas.  

Recent demographic history of cyprinid minnow species living in agriculturalized and urbanized environments
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Amy Pitura, MSc Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Elizabeth Mandeville 

Summary: Much of southern Ontario has experienced three to four centuries of extensive European and contemporary land use, and millennia of Indigenous land use. Human land use in a stream’s watershed can cause a variety of disturbances to the stream that can, in turn, impact fish populations. Fish populations can respond to disturbance in many ways, including population size changes, splits, and between-population migration. These population-level responses are often reflected in the genetics of future generations. Using modern bioinformatics technologies, we can take advantage of this and use the genetics of modern fish to infer historical population-level responses. My work aims to characterize responses that were caused by human activities within the last 1000 years. 

Embodiment as Kinship: Human Tree Relations
York University, Faculty of Environmental Studies and Urban Change
Julia Aplin, MES Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Leesa Fawcett 

Summary: I am an interdisciplinary artist with a background in dance and a great love of trees. I am researching how deep listening and artistic practices can help us to better understand and relate to our natural world. I am curious about the sentience of all living things and enhancing our sense of kinship. We are all related, and everything is connected. What would trees tell us if we listen? I see artistic creation as a way to heal our relationship with the earth and through my creativity, I am investigating my place on this Indigenous land, while simultaneously investigating my own Celtic cultural heritage. I will be sharing my arts based research through multi-media projects, writing and community gatherings.  

Developing an eDNA sampling kit for community science and outreach
Queen’s University, Department of Biology
Haolun (Allen) Tian, PhD Candidate. Supervisors: Dr. Yuxiang Wang and Dr. Stephen Lougheed 

Summary: Monitoring biodiversity is a key part of developing climate resiliency in aquatic ecosystem conservation. However, sampling resources are often insufficient to assess the numerous low population density waterbodies present in Ontario. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a powerful emerging tool for non-invasive and economical environmental surveying. As organisms move through their environment, they shed genetic material that we can sample to identify what species are present in a waterbody. With eDNA, we can monitor the status of native plant, fish, and invertebrate populations, locate algal blooms, and detect invasive species. Our project aims to develop an easy-to-use community science oriented eDNA sampling kit and protocol, and field test it in Grand River at the rare Charitable Research Reserve. After developing our kit, we will conduct eDNA sampling with it as well as our lab sampling protocol for comparison. We will compare eDNA yield with the two types of sampling and use DNA metabarcoding to examine what species are present in the river at the rare reserve. By comparing our community science sampling protocol with traditional eDNA sampling techniques and existing lists of species known to be present, we will validate our kit for wider production and use.


The Bug-Network comparative study
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Aleksandra Dolezal, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall 

Summary: BugNet is a global network of scientists that aims to better understand the impacts of invertebrate herbivores and fungal pathogens on different aspects of plant communities. While a few studies have shown big impacts of invertebrates and fungal pathogens, we know little about how generally important they are, and how their functional composition varies across a range of different ecosystems. A powerful tool to quantify the variation in plant consumer communities and their impact are globally coordinated experiments, using standardized measurements and replicated experiments across ecological gradients. The “Bug-Network” will be such a project and aims to explore the context dependency of biotic interactions within a coordinated research network comprised of many grassland- and shrubland sites worldwide. 

Predicting population level effects of microplastics ingestion on the behaviour of fishes
University of Windsor, Department of Integrative Biology, Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research (GLIER)
Kathleen Church Mitacs Accelerate Postdoctoral Fellow. Supervisor: Dr. Christina Semeniuk 

Summary: Monitoring behavioural changes in animals can tell us how pollutants, like microplastics (plastic particles < 5 mm), are likely to affect populations. High numbers of microplastics are currently present in freshwater habitats, and these habitats are becoming more susceptible to microplastic pollution over time, especially in cities. Freshwater fishes, including salmonids, are known to mistake microplastic particles for food, and eat them. Laboratory studies show that behavioural changes often result from microplastics ingestion, including altered swimming and foraging behaviour, but it is currently unknown how these behavioural changes scale up to affect population size. This project aims to fill this knowledge gap by using Agent-Based Models (ABMs) to assess how behavioural changes that occur following microplastics ingestion will affect the population viability of stream-dwelling salmonids. This study identifies targets for microplastics pollution likely to prevent declines in salmonid populations, in combination with educational material for rare that aligns with the Canadian government’s intention to ban single use-plastics by the end of 2021, a first step toward zero plastic waste in Canada by 2030. 

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.

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.

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.


Effectiveness of vegetation and habitat characteristics as predictors of insect parasitoid populations
University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability
Dr. Justin Gaudon, Mitacs Elevate – Westfall Postdoctoral Fellow. Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Murphy 

Summary: Climate change, land development, invasive species, and other disturbances can destroy the composition, structure, and functions of vegetation across landscapes. These disturbances will impact insect parasitoids, which are a key, and often overlooked, component of the overall biodiversity in forest ecosystems and integral in maintaining diversity among other species through their role in fostering resilient forests. Understanding and monitoring vegetation structure and composition and how it relates to parasitoid populations will help to quickly detect, measure, and forecast negative changes to forest ecosystems. This research will explore the link between plant and parasitoid populations across forests of different successional stages and disturbance regimes to provide (1) a strong basis on which to create and improve ecological restoration and rehabilitation programs and (2) data on the relationship between vegetation and parasitoids to identify and detect the effects of future disturbances and cascade effects on animal species as part of regular, long-term management of forests. This is especially relevant in Ontario as invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire (Coleoptera: Buprestidae), continue to spread rapidly throughout the province having detrimental impacts on the landscape. 

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.

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.

Indigenous land management practices: Gardening for future generations
Conestoga College, Indigenous Studies
Andrew Judge

Summary: Indigenous land practices involve the following seven steps for the development of a sustainable landscape: Step 1: Observation, planning, and community engagement; Step 2: Clearing the land, seed saving and initiating a design; Step 3: Planting, irrigating and fertilizing; Step 4: Maintenance; Step 5: Harvesting; Step 6: Preparing, preserving, and storing harvest and seed; and, Step 7: Sharing and trading. This project proposes to build an Indigenous Garden at rare that implements the above seven steps using traditional Indigenous foods and medicines for the purpose of determining the viability in these steps to collect and maintain seed for future generations. This space will foster a welcoming and inclusive environment where local community members can learn practical Indigenous land wisdom. The vision of this proposed garden is to promote Indigenous presence, Indigenous Knowledge exchange, community engagement, and cross-cultural relationship building at rare. By engaging community members in education surrounding Indigenous land-based practices new understanding of Indigenous people can be fostered.

Effect of the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin on monarch butterfly development and behaviour
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Alana Wilcox, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Drs. Ryan Norris and Amy Newman

Summary: During the spring and early summer, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) lay eggs on milkweed (Asclepias spp.), which, by the third generation of monarchs in late fall, results in individuals having a unique migratory physiology (i.e., long, thing wings]). These monarch butterflies then undergo a nearly 4000 km migration from Southern Canada to the Oyamel fir forests in Mexico where they will overwinter for 9 months before beginning a multigenerational migration northward. Unfortunately, this migratory phenomenon is at risk due to various threats including exposure to agricultural chemicals. Neonicotinoid pesticides are known to affect the mobility, reproductive output and survival of insects, with studies focusing on honeybees and bumblebees. Unfortunately, little is known about the effects on monarch butterflies. This project aims to assess the effect of the neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin on monarch reproductive output, development, and migration capacity. Monarchs will be reared on milkweed grown in soil treated with the pesticide, during which we will monitor development. Once adults, monarchs will be mated to assess reproductive output (e.g., the number of eggs produced). Monarchs reared in fall will be tested using a flight simulator to gauge whether they naturally orient SW, as expected during migration.

Spatio-temporal and population-level variation in avian immune-genes and parasite communities
Western University, Department of Biology
Leanne Grieves, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Beth MacDougall-Shackleton

Summary: Blood-borne parasites are found on nearly every continent and infect approximately 70% of bird species worldwide. Given their ability to infect multiple species and the anticipated range expansions of parasites associated with climate change, understanding host-parasite interactions is increasingly important. The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a diverse gene family that plays a crucial role in the immune response to pathogens. MHC genotypes may affect the ability of populations to persevere under changing parasite pressures. I will study three song sparrow populations in Ontario, including sparrows at the rare Charitable Research Reserve. Using next-generation sequencing, microscopy, and song analysis software, I will explore whether 1) MHC genotypes are correlated with parasites, 2) different breeding populations show differences in parasite load (intensity of infection) and diversity (number of lineages), 3) parasite communities differ throughout the breeding season, and 4) increased parasite load decreases song performance. Understanding population differences in how birds cope with parasitic infections and the correlations between infection and fitness may inform future management decisions in songbirds.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Effects of dynamic hydrologic conditions on carbon and nutrient mobility in agricultural soils
University of Waterloo, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Linden Fairbairn, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Drs. Philippe Van Cappellen and Fereidoun Rezanezhad

Summary: Pollution of ground- and surface waters with nutrients from agricultural sources leads to eutrophication of water bodies and is a major stressor on Canada’s water resources. Eutrophication can harm aquatic ecosystem communities by causing excessive algae growth and hypoxic zones, which has implications for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Consequently, controlling the movement of nutrients from soil to water has become a major goal of conservation practices. To plan for effective nutrient management in the future, we need to develop a better understanding of the processes that control nutrient losses from soil, especially under future climate change as rainfall events become more intense. In this project, I will investigate nutrient mobility in agricultural soils at rare. Specifically, I will be looking at how dynamic hydrologic conditions in soil affect nutrient mobility and the microbial communities that influence nutrient processing, and how intensifying rainfall will impact these. The outcomes of this project will lead to more effective nutrient management strategies to protect aquatic ecosystems from the ramifications of nutrient pollution.

Trait selection on O. nigricornis using a novel predator species
University of Toronto, Mississauga, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Erik Etzler, M.Sc Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Darryl Gwynne

Summary: Sexual ornaments often result in increased risk of being caught by predators. Increased mortality can lead to evolution of those traits to optimize survival and sexual reproduction. Previous work has tended to focus on the effects of a single predator, so my project aims to look at how multiple predators interact to affect the evolution of sexual ornaments in a prey species. The prey species is O. nigricornis, a species of tree cricket, and the predators are I. mexicana, a predatory wasp, and S. neglecta, and parasitoid fly. These species were chosen as both predators leave their prey relatively intact, allowing for direct comparisons between crickets that are being targeted and survivors.

Citizen science, design and new media: An anthropological investigation
University of Waterloo, Department of Anthropology
Mallory Moscovitch, MA Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Götz Hoeppe

Summary: The rapid growth of new media in recent years has greatly influenced how data is collected by citizen scientists. It is clear that new media are expanding into a wide range of data collection practices, yet the ways in which the underlying designs of new media impact citizen scientists and the data they collect are not clear. I seek to orient new media users along with the media they exploit as central to my analysis. By studying a group of citizen scientist birders as they interact with new media in the data collection process, I seek to gain deeper insights into the communicative nature of new media and the designs that underpin them. In turn, I hope to shed light on future digital designs and new media used at rare and the wider citizen science community.

Does biodiversity facilitate terrestrial nutrient retention and ecosystem multifunctionality?
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Ellen Esch, PhD Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: Biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships are widely observed in nature. These relationships are largely attributed to niche complementarity effects or selection effects of diverse plant species. If plant species have differential preferences in time or space for nutrient uptake, the complementarity hypothesis holds that resources will be used more efficiently and completely, thereby allowing for greater ecosystem-level functionality. In contrast, the selection effect purports that capturing the direct contributions from inherently high functioning species become increasingly probable as the richness of a species assemblage increases. Despite the widespread acceptance that biodiversity promotes ecosystem function, the most abundant ecosystem on the planet – agricultural landscapes – largely overlook biodiversity as a potential mechanism through which ecosystem function could be enhanced. Here, we propose a test of diversity-function relationships to ask if increasing species richness provides an opportunity to maintain target productivity levels while best conserving, and in exceptional instances restoring, total ecosystem functionality within an agricultural context.

Urban adaptation: The interplay between stress physiology and personality in eastern grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Winnie (Hui Ling) Yang, M.Sc Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Amy Newman

Community assessment of invasive earthworms in restored Southern Ontario tallgrass prairie
University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability
Heather Cray, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Murphy

Summary: Since only 1-3% of tallgrass prairie habitat remains in North America, dedicated citizens, scientists, and government officials are working to restore prairie in southern Ontario. Most of these restorations are done by either hand-broadcasting or drilling-in seeds on ex-agricultural land. While there is increasing evidence that invasive earthworms are important ecosystem engineers, surprisingly little is known about their effect on invaded habitat. Despite knowing that exotic earthworms are spreading across Ontario and that they both eat and bury seeds, key information about the presence, community structure, and population density of these seed predators is lacking. This project will address this knowledge gap at rare by assessing the earthworm population in the restored tallgrass prairie at the rare Charitable Research Reserve. The results of this work will inform future prairie restoration by adding another piece to the complex food web of establishing habitats and will deepen our understanding of factors related to earthworm invasion.


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. (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.

Why do avian colour patterns 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).

Community gardens and ecosystem services in the rare Charitable Research Reserve
University of Waterloo, School of Planning
Jeremy Pittman

Summary: This project will engage gardeners using rare’s community gardening plots to document and quantify the garden’s impact to local food security, environmental awareness, and ecosystem services. Community gardens can play an important role in (1) providing access to locally produced foods, (2) ensuring a cost-effective source of healthy produce, and (3) contributing to the health and wellbeing of urban residents. The specific role of rare’s community gardens in providing these benefits will be determined by surveying community gardeners. The survey will provide quantitative and in-depth information on the impact of the gardens, which will help communicate their benefits to the public.

The significance of synanthropic stress physiology for sylvatic disease dynamics in Sciurus carolinensis
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Mason Stothart, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Amy Newman

Summary: One of the primary mechanisms hypothesized to facilitate the invasion of nascent niches created by urbanization is synanthropic modification of a species’ stress response. In vertebrates, stress physiology plays an important role in regulating everything from homeostasis and immunity, to ‘fight or flight’ behavioural responses. The closer human-association implicit in synurban adaptive modification of an organism’s stress response, would not only increase incidences of human-wildlife conflict, but also zoonotic disease risk. Further exacerbating this risk is the connection between stress and immune physiology, since changes in the former could compromise the latter, thereby increasing pathogen prevalence on the urban environment. While the importance of understanding these processes is emphasized in the literature, little is known about synurban stress physiology, and even less about its interaction with disease transmission. Using a combination of field, lab, and citizen science techniques, I propose to characterize longitudinal synanthropic patterns in stress/immune physiology, and disease ecology in urban and exurban populations of eastern grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis).

Management of giant hogweed using chemical and manual control options with a focus on seed viability after regeneration
University of Guelph, Department of Plant Agriculture
Meghan Grgruic, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. François Tardif

Summary: As a human facilitated introduced species, giant hogweed poses a threat to habitat diversity and ecosystem health. As an invasive species, giant hogweed is thought to reduce diversity among native plant communities where its colonies have established. This is especially true when monocultures become established within populations due to the high quantity of seeds produced per plant. Its large leaf area has the potential to shade smaller plants, as well as increase riverbank erosion when the senescence of vegetation creates bare ground in the fall and winter. This erosion can have a number of consequences, including the threat to fish and other organisms, from both changes to their habitat and possible addition of chemical substrates. With these negative influences giant hogweed has on communities it’s invaded, safe and effective management is important. Giant hogweed’s proximity to water makes control without chemicals necessary but challenging due to its persistence and regenerative abilities. This research will investigate different manual control treatments and how they affect the ability hogweed has to produce viable seed through regeneration.

Distribution and function of soil Thaumarchaeota
University of Waterloo, Department of Biology,
Xinda Lu, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Josh Neufeld

Summary: Nitrogen is a key element controlling terrestrial productivity. Nitrification, mediated by microorganisms, converts reduced (ammonia) to oxidized (nitrite and nitrate) forms of nitrogen. Nitrification has profound influences on the environment, for example, by contributing greenhouse gasses (nitrous oxide) and leaching fertilizer nitrogen (nitrate). Although nitrification has been studied for over a century, it is only recently that ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) were discovered in addition to their counterparts, ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), which were formerly regarded as the sole contributors to nitrification. Since their discovery, questions regarding the ecology, physiology, and metabolism of AOA are still not well answered. This project will combine molecular methods, microcosm incubations, and bioinformatics to study the biogeography and activity of soil AOA in an effort to better understand AOA distributions and function. As main part of this project, soil samples will be collected at rare Charitable Research Reserve, and microcosm incubation will be set up under different conditions (temperature and substrate form). Short-term and long-term soil incubation aim at elucidating the influence of temperature and different forms of nitrogen (organic/inorganic) on AOA activity, adding more evidence to the niche seperation of soil AOA.


From field to forest: monitoring the distribution of the invasive fruit fly pest, D. suzukii, in a non-agricultural setting
Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Biology
Yvonne Young, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Tristan Long

Summary:  Drosophila suzukii, commonly referred to as the spotted-wing drosophila, is an invasive vinegar fly of Asian origin that attacks ripening or ripe, sound fruit.  Clearly a significant pest to the soft-fruit industry, it is possible this species may also significantly utilize naturalized plants of wild North America.  In fact,  in Ontario, berries of Rhamnus cathartica (buckthorn) have been confirmed to be infested by this species.  The impact this species has upon natural ecosystems, however, remains far from known.  Here, I propose a research project that will provide a baseline understanding of how D. suzukii is distributed among old forest interiors, forest edges and flood plains using traps and collections of fruit.  Additionally, previously non-identified host plant species attacked by this insect will be catalogued.  Understanding how D. suzukii distributes itself among different landscapes and which plant species are attacked will be an important first step in designing better management strategies (e.g. knowing where to focus efforts for best impact) and will provide direction for future studies looking at ecosystem changes brought about by this invasive species (e.g. knowing which habitat types D. suzukii is attacking).

Establishing risk maps of emerging infectious diseases for at-risk amphibians in Ontario
Trent University, Department of Biology
Amanda Bennett, Post-doctorate Fellow. Supervisor: Dr. Dennis Murray

Summary: Ranavirus and chytrid have been identified as emerging infectious diseases, and have caused severe declines in amphibian populations worldwide. We are sampling adult and larval amphibians across Ontario to look for the presence and severity of disease in areas of overlap with species-at-risk habitat. Specifically, we’re looking at Ranavirus and chytrid fungus and their distribution in Ontario.

Effects of agricultural intensification on juvenile survival and dispersal in the Savannah Sparrow
York University, Department of Biology
Heidi van Vliet, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Bridget Stutchbury

Summary: Grassland birds have been in decline in North America for several decades. Habitat loss and degradation through agricultural intensification is one of the primary causes of these declines. This research will compare the breeding success and survival of juvenile Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), a declining grassland species, between agricultural and non-agricultural land. I will be testing the hypothesis that agricultural intensification negatively effects breeding success and nestling body condition, and, subsequently juvenile survival. Little is known about the direct effects that agriculture has on the breeding success of grassland songbirds, and there is a large gap in the literature focusing on juvenile survival, dispersal, and migration. In my study, I will be utilizing a new technology for tracking songbirds, the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, to monitor juvenile birds once they leave the nest and their parent’s territory. This radio telemetry array extensively covers southern Ontario, where my proposed research will take place and will allow me to track the juvenile birds to understand their survival, dispersal, and the onset of the fall migration. Understanding all aspects of a bird’s life, and what stages of their life are more sensitive, is critical to the conservation of declining migratory songbirds.

The origins and evolutionary history of feral apples in southern Ontario
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Dane Cronin, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Brian Husband

Summary: Domesticated species can escape cultivation and establish feral populations in natural or semi-natural habitats. Non-native Malus domestica (domestic apple) is known to form feral populations in southern Ontario. At rare, there is a feral M. domestica population growing side by side with its native relative Malus coronaria, a crabapple species uncommonly found in the Carolinian Forest region. Hybridization is possible between the two species and has been shown to contribute to feral establishment in other domesticated species. Leaf samples from both species will be taken from rare and be used to amplify sections of the genome known as microsatellites (SSRs). These SSRs will be used to assess the extent of hybridization occurring between the species. The aim of this research is to genetically quantify the extent of hybridization occurring between M. domestica and M. coronaria and determine if it is key to feral population establishment.

DNA Barcoding Aquatic and Soil Mites of the rare Charitable Research Reserve
Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology,
Monica Young, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Paul Hebert

Summary: Mites are one of the most abundant and diverse groups of arthropods, and inhabit a vast array of ecological niches including aquatic and terrestrial habitats. However, mites are rarely targeted for detailed biodiversity surveys because of taxonomic barriers.  The status of many species is uncertain due to synonymies, morphotypes which are distinct species, and sexual dimorphisms.  These factors inhibit detailed assessments of the fauna, such as estimating species diversity and distribution patterns in space or time. However, the use of DNA barcoding can alleviate such barriers by providing a transparent, consistent method for delineating species, and serve as a window into the patterns of molecular evolution that underlie species diversity.  Evaluating mite diversity with the use of DNA barcoding at the rare Charitable Research Reserve will provide a comprehensive assessment of the mite diversity in aquatic and terrestrial (soil) habitats in the reserve. Moreover, the survey may provide insights into several taxonomic issues common in acarology, such as cryptic species and synonymies related to life stage or sexual dimorphism.

Rural and urban coyote dietary compositions: insights from DNA analysis
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Sarah Yoshida, undergraduate student. Supervisor: Dr. Robert Hanner

Summary: Over the past ten years, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), has become a common method for conducting dietary analyses of predator scat. This approach enables researchers to gain a more precise insight into diet breadth and predation patterns than traditional morphological identification of animal remains. It may also help researchers detect subtle predation patterns that may not have previously been detectable using morphological techniques. PCR has been used to analyze the scats of many large mammalian predators including many closely related Canid species. However, this technique has not been used to conduct diet analyses in coyotes (Canis latrans) or used to compare diets between populations. By using PCR to perform diet analyses on different coyote populations, researchers can more accurately demonstrate how resource use within species differs spatially and temporally. In this study, we will be assessing how small mammal diversity in coyote diets differs between rural and urban coyote populations in southern Ontario.

iNaturalist: How citizen scientists use a smart phone app
University of Waterloo, Department of Anthropology
Stuart Anderson, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Goetz Hoeppe

Summary: This project is designed to analyze how scientists, both expert and citizen, make their choices when it comes to the media they use to collect data in the field. At the centre of this study is the smartphone application, iNaturalist, which is used to collect and add information to a database of various species living within an area. Whether or not a scientist chooses to use iNaturalist may affect the end result, and this project aims to explore how and why an individual may choose to use, or not to use, iNaturalist to collect taxonomic data. All media have affordances that make them a better choice for a particular user and part of this project’s aim is to determine what benefits and disadvantages iNaturalist has compared to other forms of media. The BioBlitz at the rare Charitable Research Reserve is an excellent opportunity to observe and participate in an event that uses this medium as a new tool for gathering biodiversity information. While scientists and students are following the plants and animals, I will be following the people to determine what choices are being made and how they come to their decisions.

Soil carbon storage in managed agricultural lands of southern Ontario
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Annalisa Mazzorato, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: Recent environmental and societal impacts from rising atmospheric carbon levels have motivated the exploration of various interdisciplinary studies with the goal to mitigate problems related to climate change. These rising emissions have been attributed to an increase in direct and indirect human activities such as land use change, expansion and intensification and increased fossil fuel use. Prairie grasslands cover approximately 20% of the Earth and are currently a rare and critical landscape in Canada and are highly influenced by management practices. Interestingly, these prairie grasslands have high biodiversity advantages yet are also renowned for their ability to store carbon and are increasingly the targets of marginal land “carbon farming” initiatives. Previous research on these critical landscapes in Canada have shown that grasslands have a large carbon reservoir when compared to other landscapes. The potential for the use of restored prairie grasslands in agricultural marginal lands for the purpose of long-term carbon sequestration has yet to be extensively examined even though grasslands contain approximately 12% of the global organic matter.

Exploring toxicity responses and bioaccumulation in the Hyalella azteca species complex
University of Waterloo, Department of Biology,
Jessica Leung, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisors: Dr. Jonathan Witt and Dr. George Dixon

Summary: Hyalella azteca is not just a single species, but several distinct species erroneously grouped together due to morphological similarities. For my project, I hope to collect different species that belong to the H. azteca complex to monitor their different nutritional needs. In addition, I hope to expose them to metals to see whether differences in mortality and bioaccumulation exists within the H. azteca complex.

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Vibrational signals: sexual selection and species boundaries in Phymata
Royal Ontario Museum, Department of Natural History
Dr. David Puzalan

Summary: Despite a long and successful tradition of studying animal signaling and communication, only recently have biologists been able to uncover a form of communication that is ubiquitous and remarkably diverse among invertebrates: vibrational signaling. In the ambush bug Phymata americana, an insect native to old fields in Southern Ontario, vibrational communication has been observed but not officially described, let alone understood in terms of its adaptive function. David’s goal is to identify how these signals might be employed during courtship and its potential role for maintaining reproductive isolation between P. americana and a related species, P. pennsylvanica. The initial phase of the work simply requires the collection and identification of the species present at rare. Analysis of vibrational signals in these insects is possible due to the advent of technological tools allowing the capture of substrate-borne vibrations (i.e. laser vibrometry) and some preliminary work suggests stereotyped signals are generated by both sexes during courtship. Formal analyses incorporating aspects of vibrational communication are required to determine whether these signals are targets of directional selection as predicted by several models of sexual selection invoking mate choice.

DNA-based approach for identification and detection of aquatic Ontario species at risk: Hill’s and Ogden’s Pondweeds (Potamogeton hillii and Potamogeton ogdenii)
University of Guelph, Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, Canadian Center for DNA Barcoding
Maria Kuzmina, Research Associate

Summary: The experiment will include selection of the DNA marker(s) which will have the best discriminatory power for all species of pondweeds reported from Ontario. The markers should have length of approximately 100-350 base pairs to be suitable for NGS experiment (eDNA detection of the desired species). It will require work on designing specific primers and testing them using Sanger sequencing. The specific primers for ITS2 will be designed using existing reference library for this marker available on BOLD. The next phase of the experiment will include one multiplex NGS run of 3 samples of water and available library on the tested markers, from the monitored plot at the rare Charitable Research Reserve, where Potamogeton crispus and Stuckenia pectinata were recorded. The purpose of this pilot experiment is to prove that eDNA detection works with the tested markers in the presence of known species of pondweeds, and at the same time to test specificity of the markers.

SenseLabs Program Evaluation
Wilfrid Laurier University, Psychology Department
Ellis Furman, M.Sc Candidate, Supervisor: Dr. Ciann Wilson

Summary: The SenseLabs are successful, innovative programs that have been employed in Lethbridge, Alberta, and Sudbury, Ontario through Musagetes’ international arts programming. Through a collaborative partnership between Musagetes, rare Charitable Research Reserve, and Wilfrid Laurier University, the SenseLabs are being brought to the tri-cities for a third iteration of the program.This unique project is intended to bring diverse members of the community together to understand people’s relationships to the land and the environment through artistic expression. Twelve participants that transcend communities, cultural backgrounds, and generations, artistic experiences will congregate to participate in eleven arts-based sessions facilitated by two skilled community artists and facilitators, Angela Loft and Gabriella Caruso. A researcher from Wilfrid Laurier University will also partake in the project as well as conduct a participatory program evaluation of the SenseLabs.

Characterizing the effects of water quality and wetland plant species on the structure and function of microbial rhizosphere communities
Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Biology
Lindsey Clairmont, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Robin Slawson

Summary: To further our understanding of how plant-bacteria community dynamics influence effective contaminant removal from wastewater I will be examining the effects of varying water quality on the structure and function of the bacterial rhizosphere community on roots of Phalaris arundinacea. I will also be examining how the composition of microorganisms within the rhizosphere of several wetland plants differ and how these differences translate into the ability of these communities to remove contaminants from water using a combination of field and mesocosm based approaches.

DNA barcode-based biodiversity assessment of arthropods in the rare Charitable Research Reserve
University of Guelph, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG)
Dr. Paul Hebert

Summary: Arthropods make up the vast majority of terrestrial ecosystem inhabitants therefore it is critical to assess their responses to anthropogenic disturbance. The inclusion of arthropods in terrestrial assessments however, has faced three substantial barriers: ineffective sampling due to complex terrestrial environments, poor knowledge of species distributions and prevalence, and unreliable tools for species identification. Fortunately, the latter barrier has been circumvented with the use of DNA barcoding, a method that utilizes the sequence variation in a standardized gene fragment to rapidly sort and objectively differentiate species. The first barrier will be tackled through comprehensive sampling methods, including various collecting techniques over multiple timeframes. The combination of these methods will allow for the development of more complete species data and ultimately move towards the establishment of a time- and cost-efficient approach for repeatable terrestrial environmental assessments. Furthermore, these efforts will be combined with the rare Bioblitz event (an intense biological survey by expert taxonomists to record all living species within an area) to establish a comprehensive species inventory and corresponding DNA barcodes for the reserve.

Queensnake presence in relation to prey and habitat dynamics in the Grand River
Natural Resources Solutions Inc., rare, Ontario Nature, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Huron Stewardship Council, University of Toronto, Scarborough

Summary: This collaborative project will address the current lack of knowledge regarding the distribution, habitat and prey selection of the Grand River Queensnake (Regina septemvittata) population through targeted surveys. This work is being funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) Species at Risk Stewardship Fund and OLTAP. The information gathered as a result of this study will be invaluable for the protection and recovery of Queensnakes both within the Grand River as well as throughout Ontario.

The evolution of leaf endopolyploidy and its functional consequences in flowering plants
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
James Seery, Research Assistant. Supervisor: Dr. Brian Husband

Summary: Endopolyploidy is a form of somatic genome duplication that increased cell size, and can create a ploidy mosaic in plant tissues. However, the functional significance of endopolyploid tissues and the relative occurrence of leaf endopolyploidy in angiosperm species are unknown. To determine whether leaf endopolyploidy is common in plants, I will survey the local flora to quantify its occurrence and magnitude, and use a molecular phylogeny to both reconstruct its evolution and infer transition rates. To examine the functional consequence of endopolyploidy magnitude, I will test whether it co-varies with specific leaf area, a correlate of growth rate, and leaf water content, a correlate of water storage capability.

Collaborative activities in support of Mottled Duskywing recovery
Natural Resource Solutions Inc.
Jessica Linton

Summary: The project, funded through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund (SARSF), involved a collaborative approach between Conservation Halton, NRSI, Dr. Gard Otis (University of Guelph) and MNRF to address key knowledge gaps identified in the Draft Recovery Strategy for Mottled Duskywings (and Endangered species in Ontario).

Monitoring of Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) ecology and agricultural practices
Wilfred Laurier University, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies
Dr. Robert J. Milne

Summary: Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) and other related grassland bird species have been declining in southern Ontario, especially during the past decade when it has been estimated the Bobolink populations have declined by 33% (McCracken et al., 2013). Consequently, Bobolink, along with the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) was designated as a threatened species in Ontario in 2010.  This decline can be linked to a number of factors including habitat loss and shifts in agricultural systems and practices such as cropping, harvesting, and field configuration. This proposal is presented in response to a request by rare to develop a joint research project with Wilfrid Laurier University at the Southfield research plot that currently is breeding habitat for Bobolink. The intent of this project is to improve knowledge of agricultural practices and grassland species ecology and management during the breeding and staging seasons with the goal to enhance the sustainability of these types of agroecosystems.

Assessment and prediction of the restoration of a former agricultural field
McMaster University, Department of Biology
James Marcaccio, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Patricia Chow-Fraser

Summary: Satellite imagery and orthophoto-imagery are both common forms of digital data used to produce maps for ecological research. The advantage of the former is that the data can be updated frequently (2-4 weeks), while the advantage of the latter is that they are high resolution; however, neither are fully suitable for mapping landscape features for ecological studies. Using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), we will be able to provide both high-resolution and seasonally-relevant imagery (taken multiple times during a season) for the reclaimed agricultural land north of Blair road that is owned by rare. With the infrared camera, we will also be able to characterize the chlorophyll response (i.e. plant health) as well as the pattern of soil moisture in the field. We will combine this information with a 3-dimensional topographical model (generated by remote sensing) to forecast how the ecosystem will be returned to its former state. The high-quality data we derive from the senseFly eBee UAV will allow present and future researchers at rare to gain a better understanding of the spatial relationship among different habitat classes in the changing landscape.

Quantifying relationships between water quality and mycorrhizal associations in wetland vegetation
Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Biology,
Daniel Marshall, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Kevin Stevens

Summary: This project is part of a larger collaborative effort between Dr. Kevin Stevens’ wetland ecology laboratory and Dr. Slawson’s microbial ecology laboratory. Their research program is focused on the interactions between the plant, fungal and microbial communities in the rhizosphere and how they are affected by contrasting water quality, particularly comparing areas receiving municipal, agricultural or industrial effluent to areas less severely impacted by anthropogenic activities. Specifically, this project will focus on the characterization and quantification of the plant communities and their interactions with associated root endophytes. This will aid in determining the effects of water quality on mycorrhizal fungi colonization of wetland plant root systems, important plant symbionts in wetland and terrestrial habitats.

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A genetic link between foraging tactic and dispersal
University of Toronto, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Allan Edelsparre, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Marla Sokolowski

Summary: The overall goal we are working towards understanding is whether dispersal patterns observed in natural animal populations can arise from genes that are known to influence differences in foraging behaviour. A common phenomenon in dispersal biology, particularly in studies involving invasive species, is that the successful spread of a given species is dependent on the individuals at the forefront of invasion (Llewelyn et al. 2010, Philips et al. 2010). Advances in behavioural ecology demonstrate that dispersal tendencies can be associated with behavioural strategies that individuals employ during foraging, predator escape responses or mate searching (Fraser et al. 2001, Réal et al. 2007, Edelsparre et al. 2013). Consequently, a candidate approach to understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying dispersal is to investigate the relationship between dispersal and behaviours where the genetic and physiological mechanisms are already well understood. We are testing whether a gene influencing foraging strategies in fruit flies is a potential mechanism underlying variation in

Unreduced gamete production in Brassicaceae species
University of Guelph, Integrative Biology Department
Paul Kron and Julia Kreiner

Summary: The transition to polyploidy is important in plant species’ evolution, but some aspects of polyploidization remain poorly understood. Polyploids are believed to arise primarily through unreduced gamete production, but little data about the rates of occurrence and triggers (genetic and environmental) for unreduced gamete production in natural populations are available. Using relatively new methodology (flow cytometric DNA content measurement of pollen nuclei) we propose to measure unreduced male gamete production rates in natural populations of species in the Brassicaceae, as well as variation in these values within and between populations. We will then relate these measures to aspects of the environment and to the phenotypes of the species.

Agaricomycetes of Ontario Tall Grass Prairie
Western University, Department of Biology
Christopher Hay, M.Sc candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Greg Thorn

Summary: This project will examine Agaricomycete fungi (a taxonomic group which includes most typical mushrooms) found in a variety of Tall Grass Prairies throughout southern Ontario. Mushrooms will be collected from each site throughout the field season and previously-collected soil cores will undergo DNA molecular analysis (next generation sequencing). Objectives are to characterize Agaricomycetes of Ontario Tall Grass Prairies, examine factors that may influence composition (geography, soil, plants, and tillage history), and compare results of different survey methods: aboveground mushroom collecting and belowground soil molecular analysis.

Spatial epidemiology of co-infecting amphibian emerging infectious diseases
Laurentian University, Department of Biology, Genetics and Ecology of Amphibians Research Group
Kirsten McMillan, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. David Lesbarrères

Summary: We are facing a global population decline of amphibian taxa. It is critical that we confront this issue as amphibian declines may be an early indicator of the impending loss of freshwater aquatic ecosystem services. As these declines occur in both human-disturbed and seemingly pristine habitats, this matter has been acknowledged as a global conservation priority. Disease is among the top suspected causes of amphibian population decline. Ranavirus and the Chytrid fungus are the primary pathogens associated with mortalities. Both pathogens spread rapidly within aquatic environments. One of the challenges regarding the study of disease dynamics is to understand the pattern of spread. Most model-based projections fail to account for environmental variation. Yet, as the environment determines the distribution of hosts and parasite vectors, it is probable that this variation will be instrumental in determining disease risk. By comparing environmental differences between populations exhibiting different infection characteristics, we can start to disentangle the mechanisms allowing for disease spread. I hope to investigate this important epidemiological issue while bridging a gap between landscape ecology and conservation management.

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Metacommunity dynamics and community assembly of restored tallgrass prairie
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Eric Harvey, Ph.D. candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: Tallgrass prairie remnants are usually isolated and small in size and therefore prone to invasive species. The successful restoration of tallgrass prairies will ultimately depend on constructing remnant areas that are self-sustaining and capable of resisting invasion and support reproductively viable populations of native grasses, forbs and trees with minimal management.  Dr. Andrew MacDougall and his research team are interested in examining the factors that determine whether assembled prairie communities persist or instead revert to a community of agronomic species. They will be reconstructing a patchwork of tallgrass ‘islands’ of various sizes and shapes to try to determine the factors that lead to tallgrass prairie stability.  Over 10 years, they will monitor attributes including plant establishment success, invasion resistance, reproductive performance, small mammal residency, insect diversity, biomass production and the accumulation of soil organic matter.

Disturbance effects on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in tallgrass prairies and native forests
University of Western Ontario, Department of Biology
Sarah Allan & Nimalka Weerasuriya, M.Sc candidates. Supervisor: Dr. R Greg Thorn

Summary: Changes in the diversity and abundance of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in soils have functional impacts on the above-ground plant communities. AMF are symbiotic fungi that are associated with many herbaceous plants in tallgrass prairies and native forests. These fungi provide host plants with limiting nutrients in exchange for phtosynthates, establishing an underground network to connect and support different herbaceous species. Sarah is looking at the impacts of agricultural disturbance on AMF in natural and restored tallgrass prairie remnants in Southern Ontario. Nimalka is looking at changes in AMF abundance and diversity in response to buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) invasion in native forest communities. Both studies hope to determine whether disturbances (physical or chemical) affect the species composition of AM fungi in two different habitats, and how these changes may impact successional dynamics and invasion susceptibility of these vulnerable ecosystems.

Relative importance of invader traits and propagule pressure to predicting invader establishment under various scenarios of tallgrass prairie susceptability to invasion
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Michael Rogers, M.Sc candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: Assessing the resistance of restored tallgrass prairie to plant invasion is a critical long-term management question, which targets several interacting possibilities: (i) that the dense standing cover of restored prairie should be able to resist the penetraiton of invaders, (ii) that applied management known to be critical for maintianing prairie diversity (e.g., mowing, burning) could inadvertantly open ‘windows’ for invasion that would otherwise be closed, and (iii) that certain invader life history strategies (e.g., woody plants) may be capable of invading undisturbed restored prairie, and thus could be explicitly targeted for removals. At both high and low native plant diversity levels within the Blair Flats, different treatments (mowing, fertilizer, combination, and control) will be employed to analyse invasion by ten plant species. Smaller subplots will be used to test small-mammal influence on invasion.

Tallgrass prairie community responses to drought severity and phenology, enhanced soil N, and insect herbivores
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Morgan Randall, M.Sc candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: Anthropogenically driven increases in drought and nitrogen (N) deposition are two of the major threats to biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems, given that both processes radically reconfigure the availability of limiting resources and disrupt species interactions. These factors are likely to interact (e.g., water availability influences N uptake by plants, N affects water uptake in plants through its influence on photosynthesis) but the vast majority of ecological studies have not examined these linkages. This uncertainty is especially applicable for plant-insect interactions, since alterations to water and N availability are likely to cause a suite of physiological changes to plant tissue quality, thus influencing palatability for herbivores. This experiment will manipulate the severity and timing of drought under two different soil N regimes within a tallgrass prairie ecosystem, to test the combined effects of drought and N deposition on plant tissue quality, and how these changes affect plant-herbivore interactions. This research will shed light on how plant communities are affected by two major aspects of global environmental change. Further, my research will provide generalizable predictions for impacts of insect herbivores in tallgrass prairies, which are our province’s most endangered terrestrial ecosystem and a diversity hotspot for both plants and insects.

Sexual selection in an explosive breeding anuran
University of Toronto, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Olivera Joksimovic, M.Sc. candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Locke Rowe

Summary: Much of theory suggests that explosive breeders experience little sexual selection. These predictions of low opportunity for sexual selection in explosive breeders stem from assumptions that operational sex ratios (OSR) are not heavily male-biased, and consequently that there is low variation in male mating success. Theory predicts that both variance in mating success and the OSR can act as measures of opportunity of sexual selection and intensity. Some of these assumptions, however, contrast with empirical evidence, which have shown both highly male biased sex ratios and sexual shape dimorphism in explosive breeding anurans. These deviations from assumptions in theory intuitively suggest that the opportunity for sexual selection may not be weak in explosive breeders, and that the intensity of sexual selection may rather be stronger than previously assumed. I propose to test this theory by measuring sexual selection on a number of morphological traits in the explosive breeding anuran, R. sylvatica.

Developing a benthic biomonitoring program for the Grand River Watershed
Western University
Dr. Adam G. Yates

Summary: This project is aimed at identifying least-disturbed conditions in the Grand River Watershed to act as a baseline against which future stream conditions can be assessed. Stream sites across the Grand River Watershed are being sampled for benthic invertebrates and the communities at this site will be analyzed. Based on these findings an aquatic assessment tool will be generated based on the reference conditions approach. This tool will improve the ability of agencies to manage the health of aquatic systems in the Grand River using evidence-based policies.

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Towards resistance: Investigating invasion impedance
University of Waterloo, Department of Environment and Resource Studies
Gwyneth Govers, M.Sc. candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Murphy

Summary: Garlic mustard is an incredibly invasive weed capable of taking over forest understories by suppressing the growth of native plants. It does this by giving off chemicals which kill the mutualistic soil fungi that these plants require to uptake adequate nutrients. It has been hypothesized that the spring ephemeral Bloodroot possesses a mechanism to discourage the spread of Garlic Mustard, though it is not currently understood how it operates. One goal of this study is to determine if Bloodroot’s defense chemicals suppress the germination of Garlic Mustard’s seeds, and if so at what concentrations? If Bloodroot is able to suppress seed growth, its growth in forest understories may protect other species from being lost to invasion. Additionally, since Bloodroot is spread through ant-seed dispersal, it is important to determine if this relationship has been hindered by the effects of garlic mustard’s invasion. Ultimately, the aim of this project is to identify and quantify factors which may be integral to the formation of a management plan for Garlic Mustard using Bloodroot plants to buffer the soil’s resistance to invasion. As Bloodroot is native to most of the invaded range, this would considerably reduce the risks associated with other biological control methods, such as the introduction of herbivorous insects, and reduce herbicide use.

The role of stewardship groups in the Grand River Watershed
University of Waterloo, Department of Geography/Environmental Management
Janette Kingsbury, M.Sc. candidate. Supervisors: Dr. Bruce Mitchell and Dr. Derek Armitage

Summary: This research takes a case study approach, using rare as an example of a stewardship group in the Grand River watershed. The role that rare plays in providing environmental stewardship, and the variety of partnerships and collaborations that are involved in the various activities, are being examined using observations, interviews, and surveys of volunteers, staff, and community members. Additionally, this works examines the organizational structure at rare and looks at how the stewardship activities may be contributing to changes in policy, governance and decision-making.

Characterizing the recovery of fish populations and communities after their collapse in an urbanized region downstream a wastewater treatment plant in the Grand River, Ontario
University of Waterloo, Department of Biology
Keegan Hicks, Ph.D. candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Mark Servos

Summary: The effects of wastewater treatment plant effluent on fish in the Grand River Watershed has been observed at multiple levels of biological organization, from effects at the level of the individuals, effects on fish populations, and effects at the community level. Fish communities monitored qualitatively in November 2012 on the Grand River from Blair Landing downstream to past the confluence of the Speed River revealed the complete absence of fish in this section of the river (approximately 3km). Evidence suggests that this is the influence for the water quality in this reach of the Grand River since fish were only found at this confluence along the river bank where the Speed River enters, and not the opposite end, which is only influenced by the Grand River. The main objective of this study is to assess the recovery of fish populations and communities downstream the Kitchener WWTP in the disturbed reach from Blair down past the confluence of the Speed River, adjacent to rare property.

Microbial biogeography of the rare Charitable Research Reserve
University of Waterloo, Department of Biology
Brent Seuradge, M.Sc. candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Josh Neufeld

Summary: Microorganisms represent a ubiquitous component of the biosphere, directly influencing Earth’s natural systems. With the advent of cultivation-independent next-generation sequencing technology, revealing novel microorganisms within soils remains an attainable goal for microbial ecologists. Discovery of novel organisms and characterizing their functional contributions will provide insight into the nature of biogeochemical cycles in soil systems. This notion represents a key motivation for further understanding these complex environments and how microorganisms shape large-scale processes. This research aims to investigate and synthesize trends in microbial biogeography with an emphasis on the “rare biosphere” by investigating samples taken from across different land-use types and physicochemical conditions at the rare Charitable Research Reserve. Specifically, we aim to generate a “microbial map” of the rare site, exploring land-use influences, depth-dependent changes, and novel microbial taxa. This research will contribute to microbial ecological theory by exploring microbial community succession after agricultural influences as well as by identifying potential microbial markers of anthropogenic activity.

Determining the timespan and ecological conditions necessary for afforested environments to support older-growth understorey communities
Ontario Aggregate Resources Corporation and the University of Waterloo Centre for Ecosystem Resilience and Adaptation
Dr. Paul Richardson

Summary: Landscapes are often restored through the implement of tree planting programs.  There is often little monitoring of the success of these plantation sites over time.  Paul is interested in predicting the timeline over which tree plantations come to resemble older-growth forests and understand how different management decisions help set this timeline. Possible influences that Paul will examine include managed stand-thinning, soil amendments, removal of competing plants, the identities and traits of the species planted and the historical usage of the sites for aggregate extraction or farming. Paul will be looking at many sites in Southern Ontario but at rare he will be studying plantations on the Thompson Tract.  Within this site Paul will be measuring canopy size & structure, tree cover, basal area and snag frequency. Soil composition will also be determined. Sampling quadrats will be established in the forest understorey and plant species cover, presence and absence will be recorded.

Characterizing flow, sediment and pollutant movement in ephemeral streams
University of Guelph, Department of Geography
Rashaad Bhamjee, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. John Lindsay

Summary: The research being undertaken will look to characterize the movement of water, sediment and other agricultural pollutants in ephemeral streams in a context of water quality protection. Rashaad will measure the stream network expansion and contraction in relation to precipitation inputs and other watershed characteristics, describe the timing of flow events and how they relate to sediment and pollutant transport, and derive a set of best management practices to reduce the impact of ephemeral headwater streams on source water quality.

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Spatial and temporal foraging behaviour of small mammals and their impacts on the plants community of a restored tallgrass prairie: an annual cycle
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Stefan Schneider, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Andrew MacDougall

Summary: The North American tallgrass prairie has suffered drastic declines due to widespread conversion to agricultural land in the 1800s. Remnant and restored tallgrass prairies persist in isolated areas, often within an agricultural matrix of cropland. Broad-scale disturbances that maintained prairie diversity, especially fire and grazing by native herbivores, no longer occur. Finer-scale disturbances persist through impacts of small mammals. Stefan’s research will occur over an annual cycle on the Blair Flats prairie at rare. His work will describe the composition and species diversity of small mammals at this site and investigate the cumulative diet of these species both spatially and temporally, especially whether they preferentially target native prairie species and whether the presence of non-native oldfield species influence their dietary choices.

Development of spatio-temporally explicit pollination connectance webs along a successional gradient
University of Guelph, Canadian Pollinator Initiative
Dr. Tom Woodcock

Summary: Tom is interested in quantifying the services that pollinators (i.e. bees, flies, butterflies) provide to our ecosystems. Pollinators are essential to the functioning of all terrestrial ecosystems. He will do this by establishing ‘connectance webs’ for his three field sites at rare; all former farm fields that are now regenerating naturally.  Connectance webs are similar to food webs in that they depict a series of plant and animal interactions of varying strengths.  To build the connectance webs, a grid of plots has been set up at the three sites and data will be collected over the summer to assemble a large data set on pollinator-plant interactions.  This data will be collected in numerous ways to determine variables such as flowering plant diversity, blossom counts, flower maturation rates, pollinator diversity, types of pollinator-plant interactions and the pollen loads of the pollinators. The coincidence of flowering plants and pollinators in space and time will be critical for the construction of the pollination connectance webs.

Ecological restoration of meadows in an urban environment
University of Waterloo, Department of Environment and Resource Studies
Martin Kastner, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Murphy

Summary: Meadows are often transitional habitats but are important habitats for many species of wildflowers, birds and pollinating insects which is a compelling argument towards their maintenance, protection and restoration. Martin is looking at how best to restore meadows by examining the impacts of restoring the underlying soils. He will accomplish this through the use of several restoration techniques at our Springbank Farm site. Forty-eight two x two metre plots will be established in an old field (eight plots in each four restoration techniques and two control sites). These four soil restoration techniques are: nitrogen correction, soil aeration, a combination of aeration and nitrogen correction and planting the meadow seed mix in association with nitrogen-fixing legumes.  A selection of five native meadow species will be planted in each plot. The control plots will involve planting with no soil treatment as well as a series of plots with no planting and no soil treatment. Changes in plant diversity and richness and soil properties will be monitored over time in all plots.

Female-based predation and its impact on sexually dimorphic behaviour and morphology
University of Toronto at Mississauga, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Kyla Ercit, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Darryl Gwynne

Summary: Tree cricket males sing to attract females by rubbing together specialized structures on their wings. The predatory wasp Isodontia mexicana hunts crickets, paralyzes them with a sting, and carries them back to their nest as live food for their offspring.  While one might suspect the singing male crickets would attract predators such as the predatory wasp, in actual fact, females are preferentially predated by them.  Kyla is interested in how this female-biased predation affects the evolution of cricket behaviour and morphology, and how sexual selection among crickets differs in populations exposed to both low and high predation. To this end, Kyla has installed artificial wasp boxes in two locations at rare. She will examine and measure cricket prey brought to the nests as well as sample crickets in the surviving population by capturing them using hand-nets. Wasps will be marked using commercial bee-tags and recaptured at the trap nests. She will also collect data on copulating pairs of tree crickets.

Neurobiological investigations of olfaction in salamanders
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Dr. Frederic Laberge

Summary: Salamanders are particularly interesting from the viewpoint of neurobiology because their brains are relatively simple compared to other vertebrates, while at the same time displaying a basic pattern of organization comparable to the situation in mammals. This research seeks to find ways to produce chemosensory cues that are relevant to salamander behaviour in order to manipulate them in future physiological investigations in the laboratory. These investigations will target the mechanisms of sensory processing and the neural substrate of decision making. Other aspects that influence behavioural responses, such as learning, motivation, risk assessment, or features of the environment will also be studied as they must all impinge on the centres that are responsible for the final decision of which behaviour to perform at what time. Another aspect of this research aims to elucidate the role of the vomeronasal organ in vertebrates. This accessory olfactory organ still eludes proper explanation.

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Explaining male mate choice in Odonata
Carleton University, Department of Biology
Jennette Fox, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Thomas Sherratt

Summary: Jennette is interested in the mating preferences of wild damselflies (Odonata), more specifically do males have specific mate choices, are there subsets of males that have different mating behaviour, are there reasons for some male unresponsiveness and are there differences in the condition of females chosen? Observations will be made in the field near ponds as well as in the laboratory. The response of males to the offer of ten different potential mate morphologies will be recorded as successful or unsuccessful tandems or non-sexual behaviour such as aggression, touching, flight response or non-responsive behaviour. Male properties such as sperm load, protein, fat and glycogen content will also be measured. Body size and egg load will be measured in females to determine if males are able to choose females with better reproductive capacity.

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Genetic diversity of Ontario ferns
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Jillian Bainard, Thomas Henry and Dr. Steven Newmaster

Summary: These researchers are heading an research initiative known as the “Ontario Fern Diversity” project which began in 2010.  The goal of this project is to understand the genetic diversity of ferns since less than 1% of the ferns on earth have DNA barcodes or estimates of genome size and nothing is known about fern endopolyploidy (an increase in the number of chromosome sets in a cell caused by replication without cell division).  The researchers will collect several fronds from particular fern species on rare property including Maidenhair Spleenwort, Rock Polypody, Fragile Fern and Smooth Cliff Brake. They will conduct DNA barcoding, measure genome size and make estimates of endopolyploidy. The data will help provide a clearer picture of fern species taxonomy in Ontario.

Floral interactions and the role of pollination-niche traits in the assembly of spring ephemeral communities
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Stefan Weber, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Christina Caruso

Summary: Stefan is interested in the nature of spring wildflower communities and more specifically he has hypothesized that the assembly of these communities is controlled by pollinators (i.e. bees. flies, butterflies etc.). His main objective is to interpret the ecological and evolutionary origins of observed niche-trait patterns within the plant communities. He established 13 transects in the cliffs and alvars areas. Within each transect he measured a number of parameters including co-occurrence (how plant communities vary in space) and floral traits such as colour, size and the orientation of flowers.  He also used an instrument that allowed him to look at flowers through an insect’s eyes.  He is also looking at the genetic similarity between the flowers in his sampled communities. He hopes to be able to determine if spring wildflower communities are organized by their competition for pollinators which is may be influenced by traits of the flowers themselves.  The information he gathers could be important for planning future restoration efforts of these wildflower communities.

Characterizing the role of rove beetles (Staphylinidae) in complementing coccinellid predation of soybean aphids
University of Guelph, Department of Environmental Biology
Adam Brunke, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisors: Dr. Rebecca Hallett and Dr. Steve Marshall

Summary: Soybean aphids are a significant pest in the agricultural sector but spend a significant amount of nocturnal time on buckthorn; an invasive shrub found in most woodlots and agricultural hedgerows in southern Ontario. The predators of soybean aphids on buckthorn are unknown. Adam is studying a group of insects known as rove beetles who are only active at night and have been the focus of several aphid management studies in Europe where they have been found to be natural predators of cereal aphids. His goal is to identify the rove beetle species present in habitats at rare, compare their daily activity to the daily activity cycle of soybean aphids and determine the habitats with the highest densities of both groups of organisms. He will also compare the lengths of their activity periods and the timing of their first arrival on the sites as well as compare the relatively protected rare sites with other sites off the property.  This research could eventually lead to an alternate method of pest control that will allow farmers to reduce the volume of insecticides on their crops while maintaining crop yields.

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Evaluation of bud, flower, and seed infection of Butternut (Juglans cinerea) by the butternut canker pathogen Sirococcus clavigignentijuglandacearum and the role of infected seed in disease dispersal
University of Guelph, Department of Environmental Biology
Dr. Kirk D. Broders and Dr. Greg J. Boland

Summary: Butternut has been listed as an endangered species in both Canada and the United States, largely as a result of mortality from infection by the butternut canker pathogen Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum (SCJ). The Butternut recovery plan has focused on finding potentially resistant or tolerant trees, collecting seed, and then distributing this seed for planting them around the province to re-establish butternut. However, it is unknown as to whether these seed harbor SCJ, and if dispersal of the seed is a means of disseminating the pathogen. The objective of Kirk and Greg’s research is to determine the point at which seed may become infected starting with the leaf buds and following the progression through flowering and finally the development of the seed. This research will address the following important aspects for improvement of butternut recovery; i) at what point in seed development does SCJ initially infect the host, ii) the frequency of infection at the different developmental stages, and different canopy heights iii) and the potential of seed dispersal of the pathogen.

Monitoring stream network extent in agricultural headwater streams
University of Guelph, Department of Geography
Rashaad Bhamjee, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. John Lindsay

Summary: Running water is one of the most important contributing factors to shaping the terrestrial environment. Running water can be broken down into two main categories: 1) overland flow; the general flow of surface water down the slope of a land surface, and 2) streamflow; the channelized movement of flow. Streamflow pattern is fairly stationary on a large-scale over short periods of time but on a small scale, streamflow networks can be very dynamic. Rashaad is interested in determining how stream networks expand and contract on a fine-scale which has been difficult to measure in the field until now. To this end, he has developed a network of small sensors that can be placed in small channels that will record the date and timing of the onset of flow. This will be the first fine-scale spatial and temporal study of ephemeral streamflow in Southern Ontario. His research will determine how stream networks behave under various conditions and this behaviour will allow for an assessment of the potential for the movement and fate of pollutants from agricultural fields.

Monitoring butterfly abundance and diversity along an urban gradient in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario: using butterflies as biodiversity indicators in a changing landscape
University of Waterloo, Department of Environment and Resource Studies
Jessica Grealey, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Steve Murphy

Summary: It is expected that dramatic changes in land-use have a noticeable impact on butterfly abundance and diversity. The goal of Jessica’s research is to provide detailed base-line data on current butterfly abundance and diversity in the Region of Waterloo with a comparative analysis of changes in species composition along an urban gradient. The information collected will provide valuable information on the health of the ecosystems within the Region and allow for the prediction of how different land-use activities are potentially affecting butterfly diversity. It has the potential to identify centers of diversity, rare species, and/or unique communities or habitats within the Region which can help to guide conservation and land-use planning. Additionally, information collected during this study may provide important insights into Regional Policy Planning and assess the effectiveness of designating environmentally sensitive areas to protect species diversity.

Monitoring pollinators: examining the efficacy of Citizen Science observations
University of Waterloo, Department of Environment and Resource Studies
Researcher: Heather Andrachuk. M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Steve Murphy

Summary: Canadian ‘citizen science’ programs like FrogWatch, PlantWatch and PollinatorWatch allow non-scientists to record data on natural phenomena using a simplified sampling protocol that is easy to understand but is hoped will provide meaningful data on these phenomena from across the country. Unfortunately, the accuracy of the data collected from citizen science programs is unknown. Heather’s research focuses on PollinatorWatch and has two main objectives: 1) to determine the diversity and abundance of bees found in various habitats at rare, and 2) to determine the efficacy of ‘citizen science’ observations of bees through PollinatorWatch. Bee diversity at rare will be determined using a plot design along which blue, yellow and white pan traps will be placed out on the property in various locations and along which flowers will be sampled using sweep nets. ‘Citizen science’ participants will be trained to collect data using the PollinatorWatch protocol. The various data sets will be compared and the results will contribute to the long-term monitoring of bees throughout Canada.

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Planning for sustainable forest ecosystems in Waterloo, Ontario: a future radial radial-growth forecast of four significant tree species
University of Waterloo School of Planning, Faculty of Environmental Studies
Nigel Selig, M.Sc. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Roger Suffling

Summary: Trees produce annual rings in their wood. Valuable information can be extracted from these tree-rings: 1. the number of tree-rings is equal to a tree’s age, and 2. the width of any one tree-ring is determined by the local climate in the year that it was growing. Therefore, the tree-ring records within trees can be used to reconstruct past climate. Nigel Selig wants to find out if the reverse is also true. For example, can tree-rings records be reconstructed from climate and therefore can we predict how some tree species will respond to forecasted climate change? Nigel will use the long tree-ring records available on rare property (from sugar maple, white pine and eastern hemlock) and the local historical climate data (collected at meteorological stations) to determine the relationship between tree-ring width and climate (i.e. are the tree-rings wider during hot years; or are they wider during wet years etc.?). He will then use this relationship and current climate forecasts to reconstruct how tree growth in the Waterloo Region will respond to climate change over the next 100 years. These results will be valuable for those planning the effects of climate change in the region.

Selection on plant physiological traits in natural plant populations
University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology
Mark Sherrard, Ph.D. Candidate. Supervisor: Dr. Hafiz Maherali

Summary: Plant growth rates often vary across the landscape as do the availability of resources that are critical to plant survival. Does natural selection act on physical traits in plant populations and if so, what physical traits have the strongest influence on reproductive success? Is it possible to detect natural selection occurring in plants in areas where there is resource variability (i.e. variation over space)? Mark is attempting to answer some of these questions with his study of Smooth Brome Grass at rare and at two other locations in Southwestern Ontario. Mark will accomplish this by looking at the relationship between individual plant traits; such as photosynthesis and seed production, site characteristics; such as soil moisture and mineral content and the productivity of the surrounding plant community. He will also look at how all these factors vary over time by conducting fieldwork over three growing seasons. This will be one the first studies to look at natural selection across nutrient gradients in natural plant populations.

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