Monday, December 20, 2010

A school for Attawapiskat

This blog started as a collection of stories from my first field season in Churchill, continued onto a 2nd field season and now is a bit of a forum for sharing news related to my MSc and the activities of the other Planktoneers. I've come across an article that I wish to share and I feel it is appropriate to use as many channels as possible, hence this posting.

This article is about the Cree community of Attawapiskat and their fight for a new elementary school.

Additional information can also be found here.

We talk a lot about education in my lab and usually we focus on education at the post-secondary level, debating the merits of new methods in undergraduate education and perhaps sometimes lamenting resistance we may face in our departments and from students when confronted with new ideas in teaching. However, we take for granted the base education that has gotten all of us to this post-secondary level; our time spent at the elementary and high school levels. However we feel about the education we have received in the past, or the direction we feel the education system is going...we can't deny that many of us have been very fortunate. During the holiday season we often think more about inequality in the world (and rightly so), but let's not forget about similar issues facing people in our own backyard.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Applied science

Maybe the idea of "applied" science is a bit of a buzz "sustainable" or "green". But I think that it is pretty clear when some research or an idea comes along that has important implications for a community, area, demographic etc. That is why I would like to introduce this article (from Science) on fog harvesting. I believe that anyone can access this article though I am doing so through an university internet connection, so if you cannot, let me know and I would be happy to send it along (we'll save the discussion over public access literature for a later blog!). I'm becoming increasingly interested in water resources and think this is an interesting example of ingenuity...of course it also highlights how desperate the water situation has become in many parts of our world (and in Canada...).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What do we do with all that science?

One of the great things about being a grad student in a lab or research group is the dialogue you have with other grad students. Ingrid (one of the original planktoneers), has been away at Lakehead University this semester planning her PhD project and taking an environmental ethics course. She has provided some initial insights here. I enjoyed reading this post and thought I'd write a response or perhaps more of a continuation.

I think that another aspect that we have to consider in science is really how we do it and what we do with it once it has been done. I agree with Ingrid that we need to think carefully about what we are studying and why, because ultimately our science is going to have to stand for itself in the world and it is true that breaking down natural systems into measurable units may indeed detract from their instrinsic value.

However, I too feel that scientists have a role to play in environmental decision making and I think part of that lies not only with the ecology and the thinking behind it but also in the methods and application. The world is complicated. There are a lot of problems. We can discuss that forever and not get closer to solutions (we could probably also debate the meaning of the word "solution" for an infinite amount of time as well...), but there comes a point in time where we make a decision to study a problem and maybe even make recommendations. Regardless about where you stand on the second point, I think many of us can agree that all science has an impact. By impact I don't necessarily mean the impact that we want our research to have (ex. curing cancer, protecting an endangered species etc etc). I mean, obviously that is an end goal, but along the way our research will have other impacts: social, economic, environmental...impacts that we haven't even thought of.

I have been fortunate enough to work in the north for my MSc. I think the system I work on (aquatic rock pools) is important and that the problem I am interested in is equally applicable. But I also know that for every small bit of research I do, for every spreadsheet I have compiled and for every p-value I have gained through R there has been a train or plane that I took to Churchill and some soft tundra that I have repetitively compressed with my truck. This is why I think it is important for scientists to think more broadly about their research and ask important questions, not just research questions, but questions about how they are going to do research with the least amount of negative impact possible, and how they will ensure that their research reaches the audience it needs to after the fact (or during).

Alas, not sure if I have a picture that goes with this posting...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Let's Talk Science

There are many opinions on the role of scientists in education and outreach programs. This is a discussion that happens routinely in my lab, and the Cottenie lab website has postings that cover several topics of science and education. I think that these discussions are important to have and I have certainly changed the way I view science education over the last few years because of them. But sometimes, we have to abandon the discussion (or put it on hold for a while) and just get out there and do something.

Marina and I recently started volunteering with the program Let's Talk Science. This organization runs may different education and outreach activities and is unique in that it is powered almost solely by graduate students! Filled with ideas of things we would like to do with LTS, we realized that we needed a small project to start with. Enter Karl's oldest son's first grade science class! Next week, we will be facilitating a workshop for four grade 1/2 french immersion classes (don't worry we are permitted to talk in english- we double checked!) at a local Guelph public school.

Our theme is "The Wonderful Word of Microbes" or all things small, and one of our main focuses is on bacteria and viruses, both good, bad and just plain germy. In preparation we have been testing some interactive activities, mostly involving UV lamps and we are looking forward to the real deal next week.

So whether you believe promoting science education is important, or think interactive learning is the way to go, stay tuned for an update how our session with the students goes!

Planktoneer's write too? Well. We'll see about that.

My first experience in the Cottenie lab started 2nd semester of 3rd year when I worked on a semester long research project using data collected in Churchill that previous summer (2007). While I finished that research project course what seems like ages ago...I should have known that just as nothing in ecology is cut and dry, neither is the process of academia.

Academia, now there is a word that I don't slip into casual conversation everyday (well actually I probably use it far too often...something I'm sure my housemates could attest too). Now according to Wikapedia, "Academia" refers to "the community of students and scholars engaged in higher education and research." Well I've always known that there was a lot of that going on on the 2nd floor of the science complex, and beyond...but Monday I officially entered the world of academia...well at least I sent in my membership application, i.e. I submitted my first manuscript.

So now I am waiting to find out if I will get to undergo the initiation ritual of the peer review process, or if my membership card will get "lost" in the mail...

Stay tuned for updates and perhaps a summary of the manuscript, so that students I have been working with for the last few years no longer have to ask, "so what do you do again?".

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

As the dust settles...

If there is one thing I am learning throughout my MSc it is that science doesn't always go the way you expect it to. Personally, I think that is half the fun but when I think about some of things I have done over the last few years and some of the results I have generated (sometimes in error) as I learn this process called science I can't help but think that maybe this is why scientists are sometimes viewed as "crazy" by the general public.
Well in the interest of pointing out that science is a process; a long, tedious but fascinating process and to show that those who work in science make mistakes, I have 2 images to share today.
These are the first two exhibitions in a series I'd like to call "hmmm, something seems off here...?".
Making mistakes, doing things the hard way etc is part of the process. It is what makes grad students into future scientists (ahem hopefully filled with integrity and critical thinking skills) and threatens our insanity all at the same time.
Exhibit 1: One of my favourite R outputs
I like stats, I'll say that right now. I dislike learning R and I'm ok with admitting that. But even in this cloud of bitterness I can see its utility and have warmed to it. My "favourite" warning message ever went something along the lines of: "Warning message- results may be meaningless in Bray". Well thank you R for completely dashing my aspirations of statistical signifiance. At least when you fall in R you fall hard and this makes you determined to not make the same mistake again. This means I will never forget to check for colinearity again, and because of this I'm sure that one day R will say "Your data is just perfect, great job!". Ok maybe not...perhaps this will inspire me to one day have the skills to write my own package that will say just that.
But even this warning message was beat this summer when I began to experiment with the commerical version of R. One of the first things I was working on in R was making a simple boxplot for my cosm experiment. On the x-axis I wanted experimental treatments and the Y I wanted emergence success. Here is what I got the first time around:

Intriguing though right? Like I would hang this on my wall as an abstract piece. Would you believe that all I had to do to create this (absolutely useless) masterpiece was to switch the x and y axes? Once I switched them back this transformed into a readable boxplot.

Exhibit 2: And then there were worms...

As part of my colleague Anne's (the shore bird researcher from Trent) work this summer she was measuring invertebrate biomass in the mudflats where SEPLs were foraging, to see if peaks in biomass conincided with chick hatching. This may sound simple, but when you are identifying insect larva to family level and then using specific equations based on individual measurements of individual specimens to calculate said biomass you end up with something that looks like this:

Now this is for 5 individuals of a single sample. Tedious? Yes. Accurate? Yes, and probably more so than drying and weighing the samples. I'll look forward to featuring this publication once this work at Trent University is done.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My time is coming to a close...but not yet!

Well I wasn't sure that I would get a final blog in before leaving but as we are looking at a 12 hour train delay here the time seemed right for a summary and some thank-yous.

I've had a very productive and enjoyable field season this year, and really got a chance to be a part of the larger community up here. Thanks to Brittany and Leah, field team extraordinaire! Thanks to the ladies of S3 and the "warm" lab for keeping things fun, you really made this field season unique! Thanks to the staff at the CNSC for all the incredible work they do...without the support of the CNSC there are many research projects (including mine) which would not be possible. I appreciate all the hot meals, help with vehicles, cleaning, advice, general mentoring, field assistance and all of the other hats you wear! And finally, thank you to all the other researchers with whom I shared laughs, stress, mosquitos, fog and space with this summer. I can't wait to hear the results of the various projects in progress this year.

And now for some numbers:

- Days spent on a train heading west and north: 4

- Days spent on a train heading east and south: 4 (fingers crossed!)

- Days in the field: 82

- Egg and cheese breakfast sandwhiches: 70

- Bag lunches: 30

- Total water samples: 647

- Total km biked: 536.4

- Times swimming in Stygge Cr.: 10

- Times in S3 shower (notice the discrepancy): 8

This summer has been another season of learnings, and has given me a lot to think about, about my own science but about this place and life in general. I appreciate this immensely.

I was very fortunate this week to attend two events different than the rest of my experiences this summer.

CNSC Annual General Meeting

Wednesday was the CNSC's AGM, held in town and open to researchers, students, visitors and community members along as members of the Board of Directors. It was interesting to attend and learn more about the "behind the scenes" operation of the CNSC. In addition to the staff that work tirelessly at the centre there is also a dedicated board of directors made up of professors, community members and other interest groups. These individuals are also committed to the success and long term sustainability of the CNSC, something you don't necessarily think about as a seasonal researcher. With changes in government, funding and the environment this is an important time to be doing research in the north and I feel very privileged to have worked in Churchill these past couple years. Because of these experiences I have a greater appreciation for the difficulties associated with field ecology and especially fieldwork in a remote or northern area and feel inspired to make sure that everything I do in such places counts. This means thinking about the environmental/social impact of my work as well as improving the way I communicate my plans/results to others.

Summer lecture series presentation on "Place attachment in Churchill, MB"

Thursday night included a lecture by Dr.Patricia Fitzpatrick from the Dept of Geography at the University of Winnipeg. She did a a very thought provoking presentation on the concept of why people choose to live where they live using Churchill as an example. Not only was it interesting to hear some of the results of her research, it was also neat to think about how you quantify and analyze data that includes opinions and feelings.


Christmas Lake Esker

All in a days' work...

Had the opportunity to explore some more inland today after spending the majority of the summer on the coast. Hiked to Christmas Lake esker today and as much as I love the ruggedness of the bluff, heading inland also has it's appeal. Today we saw 3 caribou, an intricate fox den, at least 10 different types of mushrooms and a multitude of raspberries, blueberries and black currants. I feel very appreciative that after a few summers in Churchill I still see new things.

My fellow hikers took some great pictures and I will hopefully post a few group ones soon, but for now here are a few of the general scenery.

A bowl-like mushroom.

Lundy's cabin...what a front yard! Not used (as far as I know) anymore and because it is now located in the Wildlife Management Area it cannot be sold out of th family (though I imagine there would be offers).

The esker, there is a road along the top that you can take all the way out to Gordon Point.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Feels like fall is upon us...

Well the last few days have brought temperatures just scraping into the double digits as well as wind gusts up to 70km/h. Myself, Emily and Liz spent most of the day yesterday on the bluffs collecting some Daphnia for one of my committee members at the University of Oklahoma. While these Daphnia have no idea, they are about to embark on a plane ride to Winnipeg and then Guelph before being rushed across the border by FedEx. They also have no idea that it can take an entire morning just organizing a shipment of water samples with the FDA! While out on the bluffs yesterday we noted that seaspray from the waves was reaching a good 200m inland. Two grain ships are anchored in the bay waiting to enter the port and I definitely would not have wanted to be at sea with yesterday's wind! According to the Manitoba Goverment, grain shipments comprise 90% of activity at the port!

With 2 weeks left in the field season I am busy getting sampling and experiments wrapped up and logistics sorted out for the trip back to Ontario. August is flying by but I've had several opportunities to take a break from my work and do some other things around the CNSC.
Showing my mom around the bluffs (my parents visited for a week and were put to work).

Showing some zooplankton to kids from the summer rec program in town (photo cred: the talented Leah Olivier).

Helping Krista and Leah haul palettes in the fen. Krista is building a boardwalk out to her flux station to reduce the environmental impact of accessing the station everyday. Thanks to Krista for this photo.

The transition going on out on the tundra is really noticeable right now, the colours are different and the air has a different feel to it. Well back to some data analysis and R...another part of wrapping up a field season, getting ready to actually use the data you have spent months collecting!

Friday, August 13, 2010

My time in Churchill

One month in Churchill. What can I say? It was a wonderful experience and I’m very thankful that I had this opportunity. I was able to do almost everything I wanted, which is surprising since we seemed to work all the time. I can’t believe I was actually there for a whole month. The time passed very quickly. I don’t know if that’s because we were so busy or that time seems to keep going faster as I get older. Getting up at 7am was difficult for me, and Amanda had to wake me up a few times. After we packed up all the equipment we’d go out sampling for the morning, come back for lunch and then go sampling again in the afternoon. Sometimes we packed lunch which wasn’t so bad once people started bringing some good stuff to share. Our work area quickly became very cluttered as my experiments got under way and Amanda continued hers.

I came down with a cold halfway through my stay which wasn’t much fun. It was during that time that I really missed being at home. Another thing I found different was being cut off from my friends. You can’t just pick up the phone and call someone. The only person I was able to talk to was my mother and even then you can’t say everything you want to because there are always people standing around you. I also really missed having my dog around, and it was really nice when Silver would come around or we got to play with Leah’s dogs. She’s a pretty cool girl, and I’m glad I got a chance to get to know her. She sent me off with half a homemade loaf of bread and butter, and two sandwiches for my train ride back to Winnipeg. It’s basically the best bread ever so I was very happy to get it.

My last day in Churchill was definitely one of my best. The wind had picked up the day before and the Bay was looking pretty angry. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sample due to the wind, but we had a fun morning exploring Miss Piggy and watching the waves crash on the beach. After Leah and I dropped Amanda off in town we went out to the front of bluff D to check out the waves there. It was pretty crazy. We were getting splashed way up on the rocks and covered in a salty mist. There were even bubbles flying off the rocks. Then we went for toasted bread and butter at Leah’s house, followed by some excellent tea. It’s always neat to run into people who love something as much as you do...mmm tea. Leah showed me a cool website where I can order loose leaf tea. In the afternoon we took down my last LC50 experiment, using the car to block the wind, and then I finished packing up my stuff and got ready to leave. Unfortunately I forgot my water bottle at the centre so I’m going to have to use some crummy one for the next couple of weeks. Amanda’s parents took us for a very nice dinner in town before my train departed. I had Arctic Char for the first time, which was very good. It was nice to have a full meal before my train left.

My train is pretty busy, I’m currently on it, although I did manage to get two seats to myself. Some woman decided she’d start having a conversation at 6am this morning. Thankfully she got off about an hour later and I was able to get back to sleep. I really miss being in Churchill already. It’s so beautiful there. I’m glad I was able to just chill on the shores of Hudson Bay before I left. Every time I’m on my way back from camping, I just like to sit on the dock, look out over the water, and breathe in the fresh air. The air was so nice in Churchill. One thing I missed was the smell of the forest. I went into the fen with Krista a couple times on her ATV. You drive through a bit of forest on the way there, and it smelled so nice. Other than that Churchill has everything, amazing wildlife, the Bay, and the Northern Lights, which I was thankfully able to see during my last week. It was a beautiful display, like colourful curtains of fog swirling overhead of me. One other cool thing I got to do while I was here was go canoeing with the Beluga’s at sunset. They were swimming all around our boat calling to one another. Even though I froze for a couple hours it was a wonderful experience.

I’d much rather be out sampling right now than stuck on this train, which is currently stopped again. I think the following picture truly sums up our field team and this summer...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wind much?

It is always cool to see something you haven't seen before. But it is especially cool when this thing happens to correspond with your science. In a paper by Weider et al. (2009), "Long-term changes in metapopulation structure: a quarter-century retrospective study on low-Arctic rock pool Daphnia", increasing salinity on the Churchill rock bluffs is discussed. In relation to that I had heard, many times, about a storm in 2006 that inundated the bluff pools with saline seawater at high tide.

Well we didn't have a storm quite like that but with wind from the north gusting up to 80 km/h, we came a little bit closer.

Below is a picture of the sea spray on bluff D from one of the windiest and most turbulent days on the bay from last year:

Pretty impressive right? You can probably just picture the zooplankton dispersing and the saltiness of the pools increasing!

Ok, but now check out the surf from Aug.5, 2010 (thanks to Leah for these pictures!):

Just another WOW moment in science!

In other news, we finally took that rusty barrell out of one of the ponds on bluff D!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two events

Our field season has become increasingly busy over the last few weeks but I wanted to take some time to talk a little about two events we have had here in the last 10 days.

EVENT 1: Research in Action Tour

Each year the CNSC staff organize a community bus tour of the research based out of the CNSC. The bus picks community members and visitors to the Churchill area up from town and brings them to several research sites before ending the tour at the centre itself. This lets people from outside the CNSC see what researchers are up too and ask questions about how the Churchill landscape is affected by research. It also gives researchers a chance to improve their communication skills and see what eachother are up to as well (because believe it or not with everyone running around trying to get their stuff done, it is possible to go almost an entire field season and not know what every project entails). This year we heard about zooplankton, semipalmated plovers, aquatic insects, mites and the effect of snow cover on shrub encroachment. We had great weather and an awesome turn out! My site was the first on the tour and it was great to be waiting there and all of a sudden have 2 buses and a convoy of vehicles show up!

EVENT 2: 2nd Annual CNSC Science Olymp-a-thon

The Olymp-a-thon is a way to get everyone together for some science type fun and a bit of healthy competition. Using a random number generator, the researchers were split into teams of 4 and competed in a mascot competition using stuff from our "free for all" shelf, a find the hidden chick contest using pictures from the field (thanks JR and Francois) and a chest wader relay, followed by some casual horseshoes and a bonfire.

As you can see the competition gets pretty intense...

During our bonfire that night, we were treated to the magnificent aurora borealis, reminding us all why scientists first came to Churchill in the first place (well one of the reasons)!

Thanks to Leeanne Dunne and Andy Jonhson for the pictures this time around.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The way things go...

With the Research in Action tour happening in a few days I have been thinking about what I would like to tell community members and visitors about my study sites and project. While I will most likely explain my question, talk about the uniqueness of the bluffs and show them some fun swimming zooplankton, there is actually much more that I would love to say.

For instance, I would love to share one of the reasons that I love science and field ecology in particular...and that is that there is always something new to think about or improvise. Even when you think you have found an answer, a new question or challenge will pop up (and I say this in the most optimistic way possible).

This year we are collecting data for an undergraduate project focusing on phytoplankton communities and co-occurrence with zooplankton on the rock bluffs. I think that this is an important part of the ecosystem that we have yet to touch on during our studies in Churchill, and after reading several papers on functional traits of phytoplankton and how these can impact multiple trophic levels I was determined to collect data for this project.

Enter problem 1 and 2: how do you collect something that you often can't see with the naked eye (but that should be everywhere) and secondly, how do you go about identifying said organisms.

Well, the identification is a work in progress but we now have the study up and running on 5 different bluffs using 2 collection methods. One involves a simple bucket and plankton net method, capturing and concentrating the phytoplankton in much the same manner as we collect zooplankton.

The 2nd method involved a bit more improv and some outside advice. After studying an apparatus used by another research group to study algae colonization, we contructed and deployed several film traps, basically floating traps with secured plastic film designed to have phytoplankton accumulate on it.

We have had a few friends come out with us to the bluffs recently (most likely because of our propensity for seeing polar bears...7 today alone), and several have taken some great pictures of the phytoplankton project so I will post those soon.

Until then, here is myself and Kuz sorting some zooplankton.

Brittany has been here for a week now and will add a blog on her first impressions shortly! Tomorrow is Parks Day and we will venturing across the Churchill R to see the Prince of Wales Fort. Expect a post on that, the Research in Action Tour and the upcoming CNSC Olymp-a-thon shortly!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Serious science (sort of)

I've become convinced that a field season is about more than just your own research project. One of the many things that I love about the CNSC is the chance to experience other types of science. Not only is this an amazing learning experience but it really opens your eyes up to happenings in the scientific world...something undoubtedly important for any young grad student. Last week I had the opportunity to learn more about the world of ornithology, when I ventured into the field with my friend Anne, a fellow researcher from Trent University. Anne studies semipalmated plovers and killdeers. She is interested in how climate change may affect plovers as killdeer move north and overlap the plovers' range.

Watch out birders, I have now banded 3 birds! It has been really interesting to learn more about this study...with my research I am very focused on community level ecology and on abiotic processes as well to a certain extent. To learn more about how science is done at the population and behaviour level has been really neat.

Being in Churchill also provides you with some unique recreational opportunities. On Canada Day, several researchers braved the cold waters of Hudson Bay to participate in the annual Bay Dip, a relay race into Hudson Bay.

We are preparing for the CNSC's annual "Research in Action" tour so expect an update on that in the next few weeks!

In other news, Brittany has now arrived and will post a blog soon on her first impressions of Churchill and polar bears (yep they have arrived)!

Friday, June 25, 2010

A note to add about the microcosms

I thought I should add to my post about the hatching experiment...I'd like to thank Leah, the CNSC's summer high school student for extracting and transplanting almost 500 resting ephippia in one morning! This was not an easy task since ephippia, once dried and rehydrated become hydrophobic, making it difficult to get them back into an aquatic habitat!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Solstice and kids

Sorry everyone, there aren't any pictures (yet) associated with this post but I thought I'd share a pretty awesome day with you. The summer solstice is again upon us. This means that the sun is as far north as it will be all year and we are having our longest days (i.e. most hours of daylight). This is cause for celebration up here and is usually accompanied by a bonfire outside of the CNSC. Unfortunately, this year's solstice instead brought us some wet weather forcing a postponement of the bonfire. However, the sky was still a lovely shade of pink this evening and it is sure nice to have 8pm feel like 4pm.

But back to the great day. Today myself, Emily, Liz and Jinjing (fellow Guelph researchers) had the opportunity to visit a grade 3 class at the Duke of Marlborough school in town. We spent the morning gathering some plants, willow catkins, caterpillars, aquatic insects and of course zooplankton to show the students. The grade 3's just finished units about soils and plant growth and were eager to see all of the critters we brought in.

Liz explained how many aquatic insects make protective cases out of materials they find in the water and was able to show cases made of grasses, other plants, twigs and rocks. Emily showed how larvae use plants and specifically willow catkins to make their homes and explained how she is currently rearing several different species of caterpillars. I showed my groups several different types of zooplankton, explained how they overwinter, what they eat and taught the students how to focus on the small organisms under a microscope. The kids were all very eager to participate, from the student who told me all about krill to a student who insisted on showing all the other kids how she learned to focus the microscope.

The end of the session was spent playing a game simulating competition between animals for different habitats and resources. Overall a very fun afternoon and a great opportunity for us to share some of our science! Thanks to LeeAnn for setting up this chance for us, to Liz for the organization as well as to the students and their teacher for welcoming us into their classroom!

The experiments have begun.

I've always liked the idea of experiments. I'll admit I'm not always the most patient person out there but the idea of designing experiments to study phenomena has always appealed to me as a way of doing science. Also interesting is how salt has followed me around my scientific "career". Take my sixth grade science grade project. I entitled my project "The Great Saltwater Countdown" and while I tried to dig out an old picture of my poster board, I was unsuccessful, so my written description will have to do. Basically I chose 5 aquatic plants from the local pet store (3 of each for replication), put them in a large aquarium, added salt and recorded which ones perished and at which salt concentration. My thought was that global warming would cause large bodies of water to shrink, increasing their salt content and stressing the plants. I can't remember what my results were though...

...but 11 years later I am still adding salt to things. So in the spirit of scientific discussion, let me share one of the experiments I am setting up here in Churchill. From last year's field season I have an understanding of the resilience that zooplankton communities in a metacommunity system show towards manipulated salinity, most likely because of dispersal from nearby, non-manipulated areas. What I don't know much about is how the role of sediments, or more specifically resting structures within the sediments (the things zooplankton produce to overwinter or when conditions aren't favourable) influence this resilience. To test how easy it is for Daphnia ephippia to emerge under various salt conditons, I have set-up my own "mini bluff" just outside of the centre.

Like Da Bluff, this site is also frequented by Da Bunny (although I doubt it is the same one we spotted frequently last year).

Basically, I have extracted ephippia (see my previous post) from various habitats, cold shocked them and then rapidly dried and rehydrated them to induce emergence (simulating the passage of a winter season). Now I have put them into small microcosms under various salinity conditions and will monitor emergence. In addition to control microcosms there are three other aspects that I am testing.

1. I'm interested in knowing whether ephippia gathered from different environmental conditions (i.e. freshwater, brackish and salty habitats) will emerge at more or less the same time/ with the same success when placed under the same conditions (in this case freshwater). This is of interest because I have qualitatively observed differential timing of ephippia production between different environments.

2. Other studies (many based on Australian wetlands) have shown that periods of high salinity followed by low salinity (followed by high again) do not hinder ephippia emergence and in fact, disturbance sometimes causes increased emergence (the mechanism is still unknown). If I also find this pattern with my microcosms, this may explain why communities were able to still thrive under up and down regimes of salt addition last year.

3. While lab studies have tested the tolerance of adult stages of zooplankton to salinity levels, few have done any work on juvenile or resting stages. Therefore it is important to establish what the tolerance of these resting stages are.

Working with resting stages is pretty tricky. Even in lab conditions it can be difficult to induce hatching of ephippia and that doesn't factor in attempting to do this under almost natural conditions.

Anyways, this is the first of a series of experiments so we will see what happens (and whether my methods work!). I welcome comments and questions. On a final note, I'd again like to mention the wonderful Common Butterwort. Because they digest crawling insects, they don't need much of a root structure and therefore can grow in unusual places. These ones are growing almost upside down at the side of a pool.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Getting here...1 planktoneer arrived...2 to go

Well this edition of the blog is a spotlight on travel. There are many choices a researcher makes when planning a field season, some related to a project itself and others to logistics. One of the logistical choices I thought a lot about when planning this summer revolved around travel. Lately, I have been mulling over the implications of my research and have come to the conclusion that I want to be aware of both the academic impacts of my research (i.e. results and how I disseminate this information) but also the effect of how I do research. Doing research in Churchill when you are based at a southern Ontario university (actually when you are based at almost any university) means travelling substantially more than a short jaunt to get to your field sites. Churchill can be reached by air, train and sea travel (and technically by canoe as well...). Now as cool as I think arriving to Churchill via paddle or ship would be, neither seemed feasible this year so that left me with flying or the train. I opted for the train, and not just from Winnipeg to Churchill but from Toronto to Winnipeg as well.

(Map from VIA's website).

I felt this would be a good way to transition into fieldwork and get a chance to really appreciate the vastness that makes up the landscape between Guelph and Hudson Bay.

Here I attempt to share one an early morning scene on the tracks, just outside of Capreol, Ontario.
Guelph is about 1957 km from Churchill...but of course that distance is if you could travel in a straight line. The actual distance travelled by train takes in a few more turns.While some of these km may seem desolate, the history of the train line is far from sparse. At rest stops along the way I was able to learn a little more about the railway. For instance, I learned that starting in the early 1900s, most railway stations had elaborate railway gardens, set up as showpieces that would be the first thing passengers would see as they entered a new community. The point of this was to encourage passengers in rural parts of Canada. I enjoyed the train and really do feel that it is a method of transportation worth supporting.

Since arriving in Churchill, I have delved into another research season as a planktoneer...

(Photo: taken by Krista Hanis)

and have been slowly been regaining my bluff legs. As a recap, my project focuses on freshwater zooplankton communities along the coast of Hudson Bay and how they respond to changes in environment, most notably, the saltiness or salinity of the water. This year I am really interested in how the resting stages of zooplankton ( for example, this Daphnia ephippia below- I also like describe them as dumplings) may impact zooplankton's ability to recover from disturbance and stress.

The pouch like things pictured above are essentially dormant eggs released by mature Daphnia. And this is how our spotlight on travel fits in...Last year I spent a lot of time thinking about how zooplankton might "commute" around the rock bluffs without thinking much about the idea that sometimes it is easier to stay put and just wait out unfavourable environmental conditions- more on this later.

Well my arrival back at the CNSC has been filled with science, catching up with friends from last year and enjoying some very hot spring weather. I'm looking forward to the rest of the summer and many more planktoneer adventures in this place where there is always more to learn.

Below are some pictures of some coastal exploration with some of the other researchers from Guelph: Liz, Emily and Jinjing.

This is a specially crafted has pieces of ice for extra protection...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Public service announcement

The blog is coming! The blog is coming! Everyone get ready to read!

The Three Planktoneers (some old, some new) will be returning to Churchill this summer...stay tuned!