Juliana Balluffi-Fry (PhD candidate, University of Alberta) is studying the diet and nutritional ecology of the snowshoe hare, a keystone boreal herbivore, in the southern Yukon. Populations of generalist herbivores like the snowshoe hare are limited by the availability of multiple types of nutrients and minerals, but the complexities of their dietary requirements are not yet fully understood. With climate change warming the boreal forest, nutrient availability and plant communities are expected to change. By understanding the exact nutritional requirements of the diet-sensitive snowshoe hare, we can better anticipate the effects climate change will have on this keystone species.
Alexandra Golt (MSc candidate, University of Northern British Columbia) is studying the impacts of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) on the reproduction morphology of forest under-story plants. GBH are used in forestry operations across Canada to reduce populations of competitive plant species to crop trees. These herbicides are used on a wide provincial scale and are applied to cutblocks annually. In my previous research, we found that GBH cause multiple changes to prickly rose, such as a reduction in pollen viability, non-dehiscent anthers, and significant colour changes to the anthers, carpels, and petals. I am looking at how these changes impact detection and visitation by insect pollinators, as well as whether or not insect pollinators and hummingbirds are exposed to GBH through consumption of contaminated pollen or nectar from GBH-treated plants. It is critical that we understand how residues of glyphosate, even years after application, are changing food webs and the complex dynamics of plant and animal communities that exist in forest ecosystems.
Francis Quinby (PhD candidate, Trent University) is studying the effects of climate change on the microbiome of boreal forest soils. Microorganism functions are essential to life on Earth and this undoubtedly holds true for boreal ecosystems in which plants rely heavily upon soil microbes for nutrient fixation and symbiotic relationships. He will test how the soil microbial community responds to predicted changes in temperature and precipitation through a series of field experiments within the Kluane region in the Yukon Territory. Next-generation DNA sequencing will then allow for the detection of shifts in microbial community structure, which can then be correlated with soil function and health. If this microbial community shows resistance to the effects of climate change it could act as a mitigating factor, reducing the negative effects of climate change on the boreal ecosystem. Alternatively, if this community is susceptible to climate change, in congruency with many other systems on Earth, then it may compound these negative effects. Therefore, results from my research will contribute to predictive modelling of boreal ecosystem response to climate change which is vital to informing conservation efforts in the region.
Oliver Holt (MSc Candidate, University of Northern British Columbia) is investigating the relationship between predator diet and caribou distribution across a gradient of habitat disturbance in the mountainous northern boreal region of British Columbia. Oliver has developed foundational partnerships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments to support a community-based approach to monitoring the dietary niche of the focal predators of caribou using stable isotope analysis. Additionally, he will use caribou GPS collar data that has been collected in a collaborative framework, to investigate the distributional response of caribou to habitat disturbance and predator diet composition. His research is the first investigation into how predator-prey dynamics can influence caribou population dynamics in northwestern British Columbia.
Gabriel Rivest (MSc candidate, University of Alberta) is analyzing the response of small mammals to a large forest fire in central Yukon, in relationship to the severity of the fire. Wildfire is a major driver of the boreal forests’s natural cycle, but with the effects of climate change, fires are predicted to occur more often, on a larger scale, and intensify. Small mammals are a key component of the energy flow in boreal forests in Canada and they occupy an important position in the food web of the Northern Boreal Mountains region. Changes in the composition and abundance of the small mammal community may therefore have direct effects on boreal forest ecosystems, and understanding their response to wildfire will help us determine how such fires, if they become more common, may affect the associated food web and ecosystems.
Owen Lucas (MSc candidate, Trent University) is studying shrub expansion across Arctic regions, a concept commonly referred to as “shrubification”. This has been well-documented in tundra regions, but less has been done to assess the extent of shrub expansion directly within the boreal biome at a large spatial and temporal scale despite dramatic evidence that it is occurring in some regions. His research aims to establish a method of assessing shrubification of the boreal forest across space and time by combining field, lidar and satellite data. This method will be tested and applied in the Kluane region of Yukon to assess the extent to which shrubification has occurred and to better understand the impacts these changes are having on biodiversity in the region.
Adam Kirkwood (PhD candidate, Laurentian University) is on mapping changes in permafrost conditions in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and studying how these changes impact the storage of mercury. This project will create a map of mercury storage in soils of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and will look at the transformation of inorganic mercury to it's biologically available form of methylmercury, a process known as mercury methylation. This research will work to understand how microbial communities in the environment perform this process of methylation, and how permafrost thaw can change these microbial communities. By mapping both mercury storage and areas where permafrost thaw is abundant, the goal is for this project to be able to identify areas where mercury methylating microbial communities might be more abundant, and therefore determine which types of permafrost environments or areas may have high potentials for mercury methylation. This work is important since methylmercury is a contaminant of concern, and may impact subsistence fishing practices of Northern communities.
Haley Moskal (MSc candidate, Laurentian University) is studying aquatic biodiversity recovery in Killarney Provincial Park. These lakes have faced multiple stressors including historic acidification from Sudbury smelter emissions as well as the current effects of climate warming, browning and invasive species. A detailed biodiversity study from 1995-1997 will be repeated using the original sites and sampling methods to assess the recovery of various sensitive indicator species, including crayfish, benthic and pelagic fish, amphipods, and mayflies, within the Killarney Wilderness Park watersheds. The overall goal of her research is to assess the trends in recovery of aquatic biodiversity. Another important focus of the project will be the assessment of the effectiveness of the protected area that is Killarney Wilderness Park for the recovery of biodiversity.
Brooke Carroll (MSc candidate, Laurentian University) is studying the potential impacts of highway and transmission line developments on turtles and plants in the relatively pristine Indigenous traditional lands of the Magnetawan First Nation. Using radio telemetry, Brooke will investigate the presence of turtles in disturbed and undisturbed sites while also looking at plant diversity within these sites (including medicinal plants). Her project will provide site-specific data to Magnetawan First Nation that can be used to inform decision-making, habitat protection and recovery actions for these turtle and plant populations. This research will be done collaboratively with the First Nation community and will employ a two-eyed seeing approach to maximize the combined strength of Indigenous and Western science ways of knowing.
Matthew Fuirst (PhD candidate, University of Guelph) is investigating the mechanisms behind juvenile dispersal in Canada jays using radio telemetry and long-term monitoring data. Canada jay populations along the southern edge of their range in Ontario have been declining dramatically since the 1980’s, potentially due to climate change spoiling their frozen, stored food. This tracking study on Canada jays will help determine if natal dispersal patterns are driving range contraction through preferential movements towards more viable habitats for caching and breeding.