We are pleased to announce the 2017 Liber Ero Fellows!
Summary: Canada has vast seagrass ecosystems, yet they are virtually unprotected and experiencing threats associated with accelerating coastal development and climate change—eutrophication, sedimentation, and increased temperature. In British Columbia, there is a long history of community effort to protect seagrass, but little formal legislative action. While federal measures are progressing under the convention on biological diversity (CBD), federal efforts will often miss seagrass, which occurs only at the coastal margins. Local action is necessary to protect seagrass, as individual communities and municipalities act to limit or reduce seagrass-harming actions. My research project will use a bottom-up ecological approach rather than top-down, with the goal of linking the possible negative impact of excessive nutrient input in seagrass beds to trophic use by fish and birds. Using a combination of historical data, nutrient loading models, and experimental approaches, I will work with partners from the City of Surrey to identify threshold levels of nutrient loading tolerated in Boundary Bay seagrass communities for use in water quality management planning. Together with my academic, conservation, and government collaborators, we will use this model in other communities across British Columbia to protect an important resource before habitat degradation becomes irreversible.
Summary: In some areas of the Arctic, polar bears are now being forced ashore each spring due to earlier sea ice melt, and they are increasingly feeding on the eggs of common eider seaducks in lieu of their primary prey, seals. This changing predator-prey relationship has conservation and social consequences – eiders are harvested by many northern people for food and clothing, and increasing polar bear predation could drive declines in eider populations. Additionally, eiders are ecologically important species that link the marine and terrestrial environments. Working with academic and government scientists and Inuit community groups, I aim to create predictive models of changes in common eider population size and spatial ecology in response to changing environmental conditions in the Arctic. These models will require an understanding of the foraging ecology and bioenergetic consequences of nest predation for polar bears, eider population biology and spatial ecology, and patterns of traditional resource use by northern people.
Predicting the effect of environmental change on biodiversity is challenging because each species has complex interactions with other members of their ecological communities. Yet, such predictions are crucial for proactive management of wildlife populations, which is especially important when the species involved are subject to subsistence harvest.
Summary: Biodiversity changes resulting from warming temperatures represent real and imminent conservation challenges that cross geographic boundaries, institutional levels, ecosystems, species, and cultures. My Liber Ero project will use innovative science that combines spatial pattern analyses with genetic seascape analyses to predict aquatic colonizations in the Arctic. I will also develop applied conservation tools, including environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring, that can be used in a novel citizen science framework to assess those predictions. Salmon, which are potentially colonizing the Arctic fringes of their distributions, are a group of biologically, culturally and economically relevant indicator species that may highlight colonization pathways facilitating northward expansions for other species. My research will build on my experiences leading an established community-based monitoring program, called Arctic Salmon, which monitors generally increasing abundance and widening distribution trends for salmon across the Canadian Arctic. I will integrate cutting edge science with novel community-based monitoring approaches to effectively connect subsistence and science. This approach will transform how distributional shifts of aquatic species are predicted and assessed and will have global applications to conserving and managing fisheries in a rapidly changing Arctic. Follow the research: www.facebook.com/arcticsalmon
Summary: I am an interdisciplinary marine conservation biologist and science communicator with a specialty in shark biology and conservation (follow me on Twitter @WhySharksMatter!). Today, 24% of all known species of sharks and their relatives are threatened with extinction, and overfishing is a leading cause of population declines. There is an ongoing debate in scientific and advocacy circles about whether we should aim for sustainable shark fisheries or ban all shark fisheries. Canada is one of the largest shark fishing nations on Earth by landings and exports. My Liber Ero Fellowship research will focus on the British Columbia spiny dogfish fishery, which was the first shark fishery on Earth to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, a widely used guide to seafood sustainability. I’ll be looking at what factors influence the sustainability (or lack thereof) of shark fisheries in Canada and around the world using methods from disciplines including fisheries science, ethnography, and media studies. I’ll be determining what makes some shark fisheries sustainable and others unsustainable, with the goal of producing tangible action items for managers and best practices guides for industry. I’ll also be interviewing fishermen and environmental advocates, focusing on gaining a greater understanding of their perspectives on shark conservation and management issues. Finally, I’ll be analyzing media coverage of shark conservation issues to see how the sustainable fisheries vs. banning fishing debate is framed.
2016 Liber Ero Fellows
Summary: As a northern country, Canada has high rates of climate change. Distributions for many of Canada’s species are not shifting poleward as rapidly as required due to low levels of landscape connectivity and high rates of climate change. Loss of climatic habitat increases a species’ future extinction risk and species that are already at risk may be particularly vulnerable. In order to manage climate change impacts to biodiversity, Canada will need to prioritize and enhance ecological and climatic connectivity between existing protected areas. Broad-scale planning tools and evidence-based assessments are urgently required by organizations involved in multi-jurisdictional land management across both private and public lands. I aim to develop these tools and assessments so that Canada can integrate conservation policy with issues of climate change. Using a nation-wide macroecological approach, I will (i) evaluate spatial and temporal stability of contemporary climate changes; (ii) investigate how regions with attenuated and exacerbated climate changes alter distribution shifts for species of conservation concern; and (iii) identify strategic configurations of dispersal networks based on connectivity analysis that incorporates climate refugia. Through my research, I seek to inform national, regional and local priorities that address climate change challenges for Canada’s biodiversity.
Summary: Balancing food production and biodiversity conservation is one of the most challenging, yet necessary, tasks facing humanity. We need to feed a growing global population, while minimizing our impacts to other species. Nowhere is this challenge more apparent than on the Canadian Prairies. Historically modified and persistently occupied by people, Canada’s prairies have been transformed from a vast expanse of continuous grass to a fragmented patchwork of native habitat. This transformation has placed many species at risk and made grasslands conservation a top priority; while at the same time the region has become globally important due to its agriculture sector and the hotbed of a rich rural identity. Any efforts to conserve Canada’s grasslands must acknowledge the hardworking people who earn their living from these landscapes. My postdoctoral research will contribute to such efforts. By employing an innovative and integrated set of tools from the natural and social sciences, I will examine – in a case study from southern Saskatchewan – how patterns of social relationships between people, ecological relationships across landscapes, and social-ecological relationships between people and their landscapes influence conservation outcomes. I will endeavour to identify not only the problems associated with the observed patterns of relationships, but also strategies to leverage these patterns that will enhance conservation and improve the wellbeing of rural people. I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of the Liber Ero program, and I look forward to contributing to grassland conservation in Canada.
Summary: Including indigenous people in environmental decision-making is crucial to the implementation of effective conservation actions, but there remains a critical gap in the exchange of information among researchers, managers, policy makers, and indigenous communities. This interface deserves attention because social, cultural, and language barriers are especially pronounced in northern Canada. The lack of effective communication strategies has hindered the success of caribou management plans. In order to find sustainable solutions to the complex management challenges that characterize this culturally and ecologically important species, there is a need to develop a common understanding through transparent and effective communication. My research project will develop, assess, and evaluate innovative cross-cultural methods required to communicate indigenous and scientific knowledge about caribou, among indigenous communities and to other stakeholders, in a clear and compelling manner. By focusing on communication and education, the project will produce a framework for improving public engagement related to ongoing landscape-scale planning processes. The project will innovate adaptive interdisciplinary tools that can be used by researchers and communities to facilitate cooperative long-term problem solving, improve the performance of ongoing research, and raise awareness for management priorities. The project will support real, practical conservation outcomes that reflect diverse ways of knowing and affirm the value of community caribou stewardship.
Primary mentor institutions: Carleton University (Dr. Joseph Bennett), Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Dr. Amanda Rodewald), Environment Canada (Dr. Scott Wilson), Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (Dr. Peter Marra), Boreal Songbird Initiative (Dr. Jeff Wells)
Summary: Alarming declines are currently underway in numerous migratory vertebrate populations, creating an urgent need to understand when and how these populations are limited. My goal for this fellowship is to help improve conservation efforts along the migratory cycle for a suite of bird species breeding in Canada. Specifically, my project will address three questions:
- How abundant are migratory bird species in landscapes that have differing levels of anthropogenic disturbance in breeding and overwintering habitats?
- What is the influence of alternative scenarios of habitat loss and protection over large geographic areas on the population trends of migratory species?
- Which regions are the best candidates for habitat protection, with the goals of maximizing biodiversity protection and minimizing risk of conservation failure?
This project will dramatically advance the development and application of metapopulation models for migratory species over space and time. I will deliver strategic plans that optimize conservation strategies across entire ranges for migratory species and identify portfolios of sites critical to the global persistence of these species. The framework I will develop has great potential to facilitate better-informed and more cost-effective conservation programs, which in turn have a higher likelihood of implementation and success.
2015 Liber Ero Fellows
Summary: The Great Bear Sea on the Pacific coast of Canada contains a marine area of 88,000 km2. The ecological, as well as economic and social, importance of the marine environment in the area has motivated significant attention to marine conservation, management and planning in the region. Numerous organizations and actors – including governments, First Nations, NGOs, and foundations – are involved with promoting and facilitating marine conservation and management initiatives on the west coast. My project seeks to survey and document the extent and effectiveness of the network of individuals and organizations involved in marine conservation in the Great Bear Sea to understand where different organizations are working, what actions are occurring across the region, and what progress is being made toward achieving conservation outcomes. Through this conservation social science research project, I aim to enable more effective marine conservation policy and advocacy networks in Canada.
Summary: Canada’s economy was built on our rich natural resources, but our long-term prosperity rests on developing resources responsibly. To do so, we need to match the pace of economic growth with advances in environmental protection.By partnering with the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, I seek to create sensitive new tools for performing medical check-ups on Canada’s frogs. Frogs are sensitive creatures—like the canary in a coal mine, frogs provide an early warning system for problems with the health of the environment, and even our own health.
Some chemicals, such as those produced through mining of oil sands, are suspected of disrupting the hormone system of animals. Because the transformation of tadpoles into frogs is tightly controlled by hormones, exposure to hormone-disrupting contaminants may impair normal frog development.
My research will take a magnifying glass to the genetic information hidden within the cells of frogs in the hope of finding the keys to these developmental defects. This may lead to the discovery of innovative techniques for assessing the well-being of frogs and other amphibians in polluted ecosystems.
2014 Liber Ero Fellows
Summary: Bee declines have recently emerged as a serious threat in Canada and globally. While the introduced European Honeybee has garnered much public attention, increasing evidence suggests some of Canada’s native bee species are also experiencing declines in abundance and distribution. In fact, the Rusty-patched Bumblebee was a previously common species in southern Ontario as recently as the early 1990s and my PhD work showed it has since declined to the point of extreme rarity. Despite targeted searches over the past 10 years, only a handful of individuals have been found, resulting in its assessment to be ‘Endangered’ federally and provincially. Causes of native bee declines are largely speculative and untested but likely involve introduced pathogens, pesticide use, habitat loss, climate change and/or competition with invading species. My project builds on current collaborative efforts to accomplish the following:
- Initiate captive breeding, reintroduction and/or translocation programs for declining bumblebee species.
- Work with landowners to create long-term habitat designed to support species at-risk. Assess suitability and success of habitat restoration/creation.
- Investigate the effects of global change and gather natural history information using high quality, long term data on bumblebee abundance and distribution.
- Test the hypothesis that declining bumblebee species are more susceptible to pathogens and explore possible synergistic effects with other threats.
Summary: Corridors have long been suggested as a means to prevent habitat loss and fragmentation from having a negative effect on wildlife populations. Despite their widespread and growing use in conservation efforts around the world, it is not clear what factors contribute towards the design of an effective wildlife corridor – especially for large mammals. My project will help fill this knowledge gap by linking recent advances in movement ecology with a mechanistic approach to quantifying corridor functionality for an assemblage of large mammals in the Canadian Rockies. Specifically, my project will address three questions:
- What design features of corridors increase the likelihood of use by wildlife?
- To what extent does animal behaviour affect optimal corridor design?
- Can selected focal species serve as surrogates or indicators of connectivity for other species?
This project integrates with the efforts of federal, provincial and conservation agencies working in the Rocky Mountains to minimize human-wildlife conflicts in an increasingly fragmented landscape.
Summary: In the past 20 years, there have been large declines in the abundance of many Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks. Such declines coupled with the unexpectedly low sockeye salmon returns in 2009 prompted a $26M federal judicial inquiry. My project will address one of the key recommendations of the inquiry: to develop a generalized framework to assess the cumulative effects of stressors on Fraser River sockeye salmon. Using data sets being collected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada over the past 50 years, I will: (1) conduct a detailed analysis of the cumulative effects of stressors on survival and fecundity of Fraser River sockeye salmon; (2) use stage-structured population models to assess the dynamics and viability of populations experiencing multiple stressors; (3) use the model framework to quantify the impact of specific stressors; and (4) assess the efficacy of potential management actions in reducing the impacts. My research will generate invaluable results and tools to assess how the impacts of cumulative stressors and management actions will influence the future sustainability of Fraser River sockeye salmon.
Summary: Over 90% of southern Ontario was originally forested, but by 1920 less than 10% of these vast forests remained. The loss and fragmentation of forests contributed to the extinction or decline of many species, including hundreds of forest-dwelling plants. In many cases, we lack the basic data on current population sizes and locations of rare plant species needed to determine whether or not they can survive in such a highly fragmented system. In addition, most of southern Ontario’s forest remnants are privately owned, but many landowners aren’t aware of rare forest plants. My goal is to help streamline rare plant surveys by targeting areas with the most suitable habitat, and to increase public awareness of these remarkable plants. To do this, I will build species distribution models for a subset of rare forest plants by combining known locations of each species with fine-grained topographic, climatic and geological data. I will use these models to prioritize woodlands for rare plant surveys. I will also create an informative fact sheet for each species to use during visits with landowners, and make these information sheets available via the websites of conservation organizations and woodlot landowner associations.
2013 Liber Ero Fellows
Summary: In 2006 a novel fungal pathogen (Geomyces destructans) emerged in a bat hibernaculum near Albany, New York. The white, cottony patches on the muzzle, ears and wings of infected, hibernating bats led biologists to name the disease “white-nose syndrome” (WNS). Over 5.7 million bats are thought to have died from WNS since 2006, which represents the fastest decline of wild mammals ever documented and threatens previously common species such as the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus) with extinction. This conservation crisis is being tackled through extensive collaborations among academia, governments and NGOs. My project targets the following specific priority research gaps identified in the Canadian National Management plan for bats and WNS, and by the Canadian Interagency WNS Committee:
- Determine gene flow and population structure of bats in Canada to better understand the movement of WNS between populations and across the landscape
- Investigate species and population differences in pathogenesis and susceptibility
- Investigate proteomic and functional genomic responses of bats to WNSMy objective is to address some of these knowledge gaps in ways that complement other, ongoing projects, to provide a unique perspective on mitigation of WNS and conservation of bats in the Canadian context.