REGISTRATION OPEN - CABIN TRAINING

CABIN is now offering a 2-day-field course for the new wetland protocol. Participants will meet in Saskatoon, SK on July 10 and 11 to be trained in the collection of wetland benthic samples. Environment and Climate Change Canada scientists will lead this course and certify all participants in the nationally standardized protocol. Spots are limited, so reserve yours now! There are two online modules that will need to be completed before the field session to certify as a field technician.

The registration is through the Canadian Rivers Institute Website at: CABIN

Le RCBA offre maintenant une formation terrain de deux jours sur le nouveau protocole pour les milieux humides. Les participants se réuniront à Saskatoon, en Saskatchewan, les 10 et 11 juillet pour être formés à la collecte d'échantillons de benthos en milieux humides. Les scientifiques d'Environnement et Changement climatique Canada dirigeront ce cours et les participants recevront une certification quant à ce protocole normalisé à l'échelle nationale. Les places sont limitées, alors réservez la vôtre maintenant! Avant de prendre part à la formation terrain, il y a deux modules en ligne qui doivent être complétés.

L’inscription se fait via le Canadian River Institute à l’adresse suivante : CABIN

Developing an ion-exchange technique for the determination of metal bioavailability in fresh, brackish and marine waters

The Crémazy lab (www.cremazylab.com) in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John (UNBSJ) is looking for a strong and motivated student with interests in environmental chemistry and biogeochemistry, to carry out a research project on the characterization of metal bioavailability in natural waters of varying salinity.

Project description: Metal pollution in estuarine and coastal waters is a growing world-wide problem, one with particular relevance in Canada. Total metal concentration ([M]) offers limited insights into metal ecological risk in natural waters. Indeed, metal bioavailability to aquatic organisms is better predicted by the concentration of free metal ions ([Mz+]), which varies with local water physico-chemistry (e.g. pH, dissolved organic matter concentration, salinity). The ionexchange technique (IET) is one of the rare techniques that can selectively measure Mz+ species in natural waters. In this technique, the water is equilibrated with a cation-exchange resin and the amount of metal that binds to the resin (measured by atomic spectroscopy) is proportional to [Mz+] in solution. To date, the IET has only been tested in freshwater and its applicability in estuarine and marine waters remains to be established. The goal of the proposed project is to develop an IET for the measurement of [Mz+] in the full salinity range encountered in natural waters.

We will focus on four metals that are historically important to the Canadian and the New Brunswick mineral sector: copper (Cu), lead (Pb), nickel (Ni) and zinc (Zn). The key milestones will be: i) to build an IET system in the lab; ii) to calibrate the technique for each metal at varying salinity; iii) to test its selectivity and optimize the protocols (e.g. equilibrium time); and iv) to test the IET with natural water samples collected from the field.

Requirements: Applicants should have a BSc degree by time of appointment, be passionate about environmental research, have a good work ethic and strong communication skills. Prior experience in analytical chemistry, environmental chemistry, and/or geochemistry is an advantage.
Start date: Preferably September 2019, but starting date is flexible.
Funding: A full competitive stipend will be offered.
Application: To apply for this position, please email the following to anne.cremazy@unb.ca: i) a CV; ii) a description of your background and interests; iii) your academic transcripts; iv) the contact information for at least two references. Preference will be given to applications received by May 15, 2019, but application review will continue until the position is filled.

Post-Doctoral Research Position – Fish Passage

[ Posting May 6, 2019 ]

Beginning immediately, a post-doctoral researcher is required to work on the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study’s fish passage portfolio with the Canadian Rivers Institute at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada (see our profile at http://canadarivers-gis.maps.arcgis.com). The ideal candidate will be ready to quickly join our team working on assessing efficiencies for upstream and downstream passage at the Mactaquac Hydroelectric Generating Station. Experiences we are seeking will involve use of acoustic counting (ARIS sonar technology) and PIT technologies in the upstream fish trap, and HTI-Vemco technologies in the tailrace which includes models developing from ELAM-based fish behaviour and FLOW-3D models. Downstream efficiencies to be examined will be turbine passage for young-of-the-year river herring species and assessing a new by-pass for Atlantic salmon smolts (acoustic and radio tracking technologies). Experience with Delft3D modelling will be an asset. The position will begin immediately, starting as a 1-year appointment at $50,000/year. The position is has a strong potential to evolve into a longer term, research associate appointment at UNB.

Please send a cover letter, CV, and names of three references to:

Allen Curry, MAES (racurry@unb.ca)
Canadian Rivers Institute Biology, Forestry, and Environmental Management
University of New Brunswick
Fredericton, NB, E3B 5A3
Tel: 506-452-6208

Graduate Opportunity: Modifying the Community Aquatic Monitoring Program (CAMP) to support Marine Environmental Quality (MEQ) monitoring in PEI estuaries

This PhD or Masters opportunity is a collaboration with DFO-Gulf Region.  Since 2004 DFO has been working with the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Coalition on Sustainability and watershed environmental groups to sample the nekton (nearshore fish, shrimp and crabs) in up to 36 estuaries of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Every summer community groups collect environmental data and sample nekton by beach seine from six standard stations around their estuary. These data are available for analysis and can be used to answer a variety of research questions. Recent research has shown that the head of the estuary, where rivers meet the salt water, are critically important areas for monitoring environmental quality.  Therefore, the first goal of this project is to investigate the feasibility of monitoring nekton at the head of the estuary and to compare this nekton community to the community found at the standard CAMP stations further downstream.  But we also know that in some PEI estuaries sampling with a beach seine at the head of the estuary is very difficult because of blooms of sea lettuce (Ulva sp.).  Therefore, a second goal is to investigate the potential of environmental DNA (eDNA) as an alternate method of assessing the nekton community. This project is fully funded, includes an enormous amount of existing data and is suitable as either a PhD or Masters thesis. This position is available immediately. Please contact:

 Simon Courtenay, PhD
Canadian Rivers Institute at the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability
University of Waterloo
(519) 888-4567 x35796
simon.courtenay@uwaterloo.ca   

COMING SOON: TRAINING. Applications of stable isotopes to aquatic ecology

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Applications of stable isotopes to aquatic ecology

Hosted by the Canadian Rivers Institute and the Stable Isotopes in Nature Laboratory at the University of New Brunswick.

Overview:
Stable isotopes are a ubiquitous and essential tool to modern ecology. When applied correctly they can provide a keen insight into animal migration, consumer trophic ecology and food web structure. However, the application of stable isotopes requires a specific framework of experimental design, sample process and data anlaysis. This course will provide novice and intermediate users of stable isotopes with the theoretical and hands on skills required to make a success of their project. The course is will be suitable for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and scientists working in private industry, though all interested researchers are encouraged to attend.

The course will combine lectures in stable isotope theory and practise with hands on practical demonstrations each day. We will cover all aspects of isotope ecology from sample collection and preparation to cutting edge analysis techniques. All data analysis will be conducted using R.

Provisional Date:
5 days June/July 2019

Instructors:
Dr. Brian Hayden - Scientific Director, Stable Isotopes in Nature Laboratory
Prof. Tim Jardine - University of Saskatchewan
And others.

 

CRI water expert honoured for ground-breaking research on aquatic ecosystem health

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Karen Kidd, the Jarislowsky Chair in Environment and Health, has received the 2017 International Environmental Award from Stockholm-based organization, Recipharm, for her ground-breaking research looking at the impact of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants on the health of aquatic ecosystems.

“It’s an absolute honour and a surprise to receive this award – I thank Recipharm for this recognition of our work,” says Kidd whose research, conducted in Northern Ontario’s IISD Experimental Lakes Area, revealed the devastating effects of estrogens – like those found in birth control pills, and which are also present in municipal wastewater – on fish populations and on the aquatic food web as a whole.

Kidd, a professor in McMaster’s Department of Biology, and School of Geography & Earth Sciences, led the decade-long, whole-lake experiment which found that when the synthetic estrogen used in the pill was added to the lake water, male fathead minnows became feminized – in some cases, even developing eggs. This led to an inability to reproduce, resulting in the near collapse of the minnow population, and creating a fall-out affect that ultimately impacted the entire food web.

This research has been instrumental in generating public awareness of the environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals in wastewaters, and has raised important questions about how wastewater treatment could be improved to reduce the presence of these compounds in the effluent that flows from treatment plants into rivers and streams.

This study is part of Kidd’s broader research program which focuses on understanding the effects of human activities on aquatic systems, and looks at how contaminants, such as mercury, pesticides, industrial chemicals and other pollutants, impact the health of fish in freshwater ecosystems in Canada and abroad.

Kidd’s research program is interdisciplinary in nature – drawing on a number of areas including toxicology, chemistry, bio-chemistry and ecology – and involves multiple partners including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, several universities and the Canadian Water Network.

“The combination of amazing research facilities like the IISD Experimental Lakes Area, considerable support from the federal government and private sector, and an outstanding group of collaborators have enabled us to advance the knowledge on how widely-used chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, are impacting the health and sustainability of aquatic systems,” says Kidd.

“My experiences have absolutely reinforced the idea that collectively we can accomplish so much more towards solving pressing environmental issues and minimizing our impacts on water quality and aquatic ecosystems,” she adds.

Kidd is currently involved in range of research projects which include looking at how municipal wastewaters in Hamilton and Dundas are affecting fish communities; the impacts of forest harvesting on stream health; the aquatic health implications of east coast salmon farming; and the movement of mercury and other contaminants through stream, lake and coastal food webs in Canada and abroad.

The Recipharm International Environmental Award, which is given out annually, recognizes the best in environmental practice or innovation within the pharmaceutical and health care industries, or in academia.  The prize ceremony took place this month in Stockholm. Congratulations Karen!

Blog credit: ERICA BALCH

Photo Credit: Dr. Allen Curry

 

CRI Welcomes New Administrative Coordinator

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CRI is pleased to announce that Sherry Keddy has joined the CRI Corporate team as our new Administrative Coordinator. Reporting to the Director, Sherry will be supporting the Executive Committee to execute the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Sherry is a University of New Brunswick alumni with a degree in Geology. Her professional experience includes geological site assessments, land management, hydrogeology, and drinking water protection. She has a passion for the protection of natural resources and is knowledgeable about policies related to environmental management. She brings to CRI a strong stakeholder engagement portfolio and an ability to network with various organizations.

CRI celebrates Word Wetlands Day

In celebration of World Wetlands Day 2018, we are profiling CRI research on river floodplains to draw attention to the perilous state of the world's river floodplains, currently the most threatened of river habitats.

In addition to their importance as reservoirs of biodiversity, floodplains are also key sources of ecosystem services, including food security for Indigenous peoples living across Canada. CRI's research on riverine wetlands is increasing our knowledge of how wetlands work, helping us to safeguard this unique, at-risk habitat for future generations.

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The Peace-Athabasca Delta, located in Canada's largest mainland National Park, Wood Buffalo, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and home to North America's last intact wolf-bison predator-prey system. Despite its remoteness, this biodiversity hotspot is currently threatened by hydro-electric development to the west, encroaching oil sands mining from the south, and an ever-warming climate.

For the past decade, Dr. Donald Baird, Environment and Climate Change scientist and CRI Science Director, and his research team have been studying how global change processes are changing the character of these wetlands. Dr. Baird and his students have been collaborating with CRI Associate Dr. Daniel Peters (ECCC) and Parks Canada scientists. By using cutting-edge airborne and satellite observations, including NASA’s Surface Water Observation Technology (SWOT) program, they’re mapping delta ecology. These technologies are providing an unprecedented opportunity to fully explore pathways of connectivity across this unique floodplain wetland complex.

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At the opposite end of the spatial scale, Dr. Baird and CRI Associates Dr. Mehrdad Hajibabaei (University of Guelph) and Dr. Wendy Monk (ECCC) are employing state-of-the-art environmental DNA analysis, successfully completing the world's first ecosystem-scale application of an environmental DNA metabarcoding monitoring project.

These techniques permit exploration of biodiversity in unprecedented detail, offering a groundbreaking new avenue to study ecosystem dynamics and how ecological communities are influenced by changes in wetland water level and connectivity.  Wetlands monitoring methods developed in this research project are now being incorporated into Environment and Climate Change Canada's CABIN monitoring program, to supports rapid assessment of wetlands for a range of end-users including community-based monitoring groups.

 

Canada’s Chief Science Advisor meets with CRI

CRI Management Board truly appreciated Dr. Mona Nemer, the federal government's newly-appointed Chief Science Advisor, dropping by the CRI Management Board meeting last Friday, Dec. 15 in Ottawa.

The visit was an opportunity to profile CRI's 15-year report, which includes a message from the Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, where she speaks about how co-locating ECCC scientists and technical staff at the Canadian Rivers Institute at UNB Fredericton has significantly benefited Canadians, something our host and MB member, Dr. Cash, re-iterated to Dr. Nemer during the visit.

Pictured here, from left to right, are: Frederick J. Wrona, PhD (Chief Scientist and Assistant Deputy Minister, Alberta Environment and Parks, Government of Alberta), Kevin Cash, PhD (Director General, Water Science and Technology, Environment and Climate Change Canada), Fred Whoriskey, PhD (Management Board Chair and Executive Director, Ocean Tracking Network, Dalhousie University), Dr. Mona Nemer (Govt. Of Canada Chief Science Advisor), Michael van den Heuvel, PhD (Institute Director and Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity, UPEI), Stella Swanson, PhD (Swanson Environmental Strategies Ltd.), Simon Courtenay, PhD (Chair of the CRI Science Directors, Professor in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo), Alex Bielak, PhD (Founder, Alex Bielak Communications), Anne Lévesque (Executive Director, Canadian Rivers Institute), and Jack G. Imhof (Director of Conservation Ecology, Trout Unlimited Canada).

Thank you Dr. Nemer for taking the time to meet with the CRI!

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Advancing Canada’s Scientific Understanding of Cumulative Impact Assessment

There is growing agreement in Canada that protecting the environment and sustaining its structure and functions requires thinking about, planning, and managing all of our activities together within a particular geography in a more coordinated fashion.

Decision makers need to consider potential impacts of everything we do within watersheds, individually and in aggregate, on the waters that flow through them and the biota they support. In almost all cases, political boundaries do not coincide with geographical boundaries, and for monitoring of the water, and the plants and animals dependent on the water, coordination would be better managed within the area of land drained by a river, the catchment or watershed.

This is the idea behind Cumulative Effects Assessment (CEA), which is increasingly being recognized and specified in Canadian legislation from shore to shore to shore, from the Northwest Territories’ Cumulative Impact Monitoring program to British Columbia’s Water Sustainability Act to Prince Edward Island’s proposed Water Act.

Predicting impacts of our activities on lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal environments, and also groundwater, is a difficult thing to do. The scientists of the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI), however, have significantly advanced the science and understanding of this process through its leadership role within the Canadian Water Network’s Canadian Watershed Research Consortium.

This December, the CWN is celebrating the success of the Watershed Research Consortium by highlighting the projects that made up this pan-Canadian effort to advance the science around watershed management.

CRI was critical in the success of this national initiative, which included six research nodes in total: two in the Canadian Maritimes, two in Ontario and one in each of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.

CRI scientists lead three of the six research nodes, while two nodes had heavy involvement from CRI research associates.

Research for each node was completed by 2016. Detailed technical reports, journal publications and brief, plain-language synthesis of results were released and are now available on the CWN website.

With the research phase of the CWRC now complete, node partnerships have turned their attention to implementation of the monitoring recommendations provided by their research teams.

Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, CRI Director and leader of the research team for the Northumberland Strait – Environmental Monitoring Partnership (NorSt-EMP), one of the research nodes in the Maritimes, said the work involved in the CWRC was a perfect fit for CRI.

“We’re a very applied research institute and we like to work with solutions for end-users. Our aim is to support water resource managers in understanding how aquatic ecosystem such as rivers and estuaries function and knowing the best monitoring frameworks to apply,” Dr. van den Heuvel said.

Dr. van den Heuvel noted the national initiative also aligned well with one of CRI’s overarching goals of training the next generation of skilled aquatic scientists, providing invaluable experience to dozens of students across the country.

“Students in these nodes had the opportunity to interact with a multitude of end-users — from different organizations such as the federal government, provincial government, NGOs and industry,” he said. “It’s quite a unique opportunity for students to interact with so many end-users in terms of how their research is regarded and being used.”

Adds Dr. Simon Courtenay, CRI Science Director who also worked on the NorSt-EMP node, “I think these projects involved cutting-edge research, but also, what’s exciting for the students is the chance to be part of something bigger. They were involved in a program that had nodes all across Canada, trying to address the same questions but in different geographies and with different particulars.”


 
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CRI Scientists involved in the Canadian Water Network’s Canadian Watershed Research Consortium:

Northumberland Strait – Environmental Monitoring Partnership

Research led by Michael van den Heuvel, CRI Director and Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity (University of Prince Edward Island); Kerry MacQuarrie, CRI Science Director and Canada Research Chair in Groundwater-Surface Water Interactions (University of New Brunswick); André St-Hilaire, INRS-ETE (Université du Québec), Simon Courtenay, Science Director at CRI and Scientific Director of the Canadian Water Network (University of Waterloo); and CRI Christina Pater (UPEI)

Tobacco Creek Watershed

Joseph Culp, CRI Science Director (UNB), Adam Yates, CRI Science Director (Western University), and Patricia Chambers, CRI Research Associate (UNB)

St. John Harbour Watershed

CRI Science Directors Simon Courtenay, Allen Curry, Karen Kidd and Kelly Munkittrick (former SD), and CRI Research Associates Marie-Josee Abgrall (Parks Canada), Heather Hunt(UNB), and David Methven (UNB) led and conducted research through CWN’s NorSt-EMP.

Grand River Watershed

Led by CRI Science Directors Mark Servos (University of Waterloo) and Adam Yates (Western University).

Slave Lake Watershed

Research led by CRI Science Director Tim Jardine (University of Saskatchewan)

 
 

Winner of the 2017 HBN Hynes Annual Scholarship for Masters students

The Selection Committee was unanimous in awarding the Canadian Rivers Institute’s 2017 HBN Hynes Annual Scholarship for Masters students to Ms. Kelli Charbonneau. Kelli is completing her research in Karen Kidd's lab based at McMaster University, and is co-supervised by Michelle Gray at UNB Fredericton. 

Upon annoucing the recipient, Committee Chair Dr. Alex Bielak, said: “Ms. Charbonneau's strong, confident cover letter, and thoughtful description of how her study linked to the legacy of Noel Hynes, and the policy implications and application of her work, made her the clear choice for this prestigious scholarship, named for Canada’s pre-eminent river scientist.”

Committee member Dr. Stella Swanson added: “Kelli’s collaborative, inter-disciplinary research, based at the University of New Brunswick, addresses the important issue of cumulative effects of forest harvesting practices in northern hardwood catchments of Ontario that will not only contribute to our scientific understanding of rivers, but also to forest management policy in Canada.”

The Committee also congratulated runner-up, Brittany Dixon for the clarity of her written application, detailing her work on the spatio-temporal distribution of juvenile American eel during their migratory approach to the Mactaquac Generating Station.

New Committee member, Jack Imhof, was impressed by many of the applications. “What I loved about Noel Hynes was his wide scope of interest in aquatic ecology, and interest in the linkages between the landscape both above and under the ground and the relationships between those more terrestrial processes and the river.  I well remember him saying the real science was to be found between the disciplinary silos, and it is wonderful to see young folk moving in this direction to engage scientists in many disciplines, and linking their science to policy outcomes.”

CRI Director Dr. Michael van den Huevel would like to thank the selection committee, composed of three CRI Management Board members, for making this very difficult decision.

 
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Continuing CRI’s strong tradition of internationally-recognized Atlantic salmon research

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For more than 16 years, CRI scientists have conducted ground-breaking international research into wild Atlantic salmon and have mentored a generation of new aquatic scientists eager to make every river a healthy river.

We continue this strong tradition with the establishment of a research chair at the University of New Brunswick focused on Atlantic salmon, part of $1.3 million in funding from the Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow (CAST) to conduct innovative research projects aimed at curbing the alarming decline of salmon stocks. CRI Research Associate Tommi Linnansaari was introduced as the holder of the UNB CAST Atlantic Salmon Research Chair during an announcement at UNB on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.

I would like to congratulate Dr. Linnansaari on his Chair. Dr. Linnansaari, an integral part of the CRI, has garnered a well-deserved international reputation as a world-class Atlantic salmon scientist and a respected peer of all who have the great opportunity to work with him.

His introduction as the UNB CAST Atlantic Salmon Research Chair also highlights the success of CRI’s overarching mission to make every river a healthy river and to train the next generation of skilled aquatic scientists. CRI started with just four researchers who shared this vision and were determined to make it a reality.

Among those four founders was Dr. Rick Cunjak. Dr. Cunjak mentored Dr. Linnansaari, then a young PhD student, who became one of many leaders in CRI’s second generation of Science Directors and Associates. These CRI scientists are now grooming the third generation of young scientists trained by CRI at UNB, including PhD candidate Brittany Dixon, MSc candidate Bernhard Wegsheider, and PhD candidate Kyle Wellbrand, also a Post-Doctoral Researcher of Dr. Linnansaari.

The investment by CAST – a partnership of scientists, environmental groups and industry participants focused on saving wild Atlantic salmon – earmarks $500,000 for the creation of the research chair while the remainder is focused on four research projects, coordinated by Dr. Linnansaari.

The challenges facing Atlantic salmon are big, and require coordinated, cooperative efforts to address them. CAST, and most importantly the talented people involved in it, including many from our CRI community, are the key components of winning the fight for salmon in NB.

The research projects, undertaken by scientists at UNB and CRI, will allow for a greater understanding of how Atlantic salmon behave, what is threatening the stocks and what might be done to revive them. The work will focus on one of the great Atlantic salmon rivers of the world, New Brunswick’s Miramichi River, though the techniques developed and knowledge generated will be applicable across the species’ range.

The forces mustering behind CAST are unique, drawing on First Nations, academia, industry, and local stakeholders. I said earlier that we are fighting for the future of Atlantic salmon. These are the people and partners, under the leadership of our Dr. Linnansaari, whom I am pleased and excited to have on Atlantic salmon’s side.

 
 

CRI: Leading Canada’s Northern Aquatic Research

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Some of the most important aquatic research of this past decade is taking place in Canada’s northern waters.

On this World Rivers Day (Sept. 24), the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) is highlighting its scientists who, for the past 10 years, have been at the forefront of scientific research and monitoring to understand changes in the Arctic, sub-Arctic and boreal regions and what they could mean for Canadians and communities around the world.

Today, northern regions are experiencing rapid, human-induced changes to aquatic ecosystems that threaten the natural environment and the livelihoods and traditions of northern communities worldwide.

CRI scientists play a pivotal leadership role in helping scientific, government, and community partners understand the changes that are occurring.

Since 2010, CRI has coordinated the international efforts of the Arctic Council’s Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), Freshwater, an international network of scientists, governments, Indigenous organizations and conservation groups working to harmonize and integrate efforts to monitor the Arctic’s freshwater resources. The CBMP has been endorsed by the Arctic Council, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Arctic Biodiversity Observation Network.

Through our partnership with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), CRI Associate Dr. Jennifer Lento — located at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton — acts as the secretariat for the CBMP, responsible for coordinating the implementation of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Monitoring Plan. This plan provides Arctic countries with a structure and set of guidelines for launching and developing monitoring activities that are critical for understanding the changes occurring in the north.

As the secretariat of the CBMP-freshwater, CRI continues to improve communication and coordination of Arctic freshwater scientists and further its collaboration with First Nations, Métis, Inuit, government, academia, and industry to support management decisions that protect freshwater biodiversity in Canada’s Arctic.

CRI scientists are also conducting a range of research and monitoring projects in the Arctic both related and unrelated to the CBMP. These include studying changes in fish habitat and the impacts of industrial activity in northern regions, among others.

Click here to see our infographic, “CRI’s Northern Rivers Research,” which highlights more than a decade of CRI’s work in Canada’s Arctic, sub-Arctic and boreal regions waters.

As scientists, governments and communities across the globe increasingly look for solutions to changes occurring in the Arctic, CRI scientists continue their mission of making every river — including those in the north — a healthy river.

—Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Director

 

Congratulations to the participants and contributors of the CREATE WATER program

In 2011, CRI was awarded more than $1.5M for its Watershed and Aquatics Training in Environmental Research (WATER) professional development program from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE).

CRI scientists from six different universities collaborated as student supervisors in this multi-year initiative aimed at building the skills of the next generation of highly-qualified and experienced aquatic scientists.

Over the six-year program, more than $1M was provided to 74 undergraduate, graduate students and post-doctoral scholars located at universities across the country. These students were selected for their research projects that focused on developing solutions to real world problems using environmental technologies in aquatic ecology, hydrology, ecotoxicology, and environmental chemistry. 

In addition to the academic research support from more than a dozen CRI Science Directors and Associates, students were provided with directed training in professional science skills through technical training courses and exchanges within academia, industry, and government research groups. More than 40 instructors provided more than 50 unique online and field courses focused on technical, analytical, management, and communication skills to compliment each participants’ academic courses and research projects.

A special acknowledgment goes to Dr. Michelle Gray, a CRI Science Director based at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), who joined CRI’s founding members and CREATE WATER program principal investigators, Dr. Allen Curry (UNB) and Kelly Munkittrick (formerly UNB), in the development, delivery and administration of the program.

The CRI CREATE WATER program provided opportunities to a broad community of water professionals across Canada and internationally. More than 3,000 participants from government agencies, academia, First Nations communities and organizations, and private and non-profit sectors benefited from the many courses developed and offered through the program.

The CRI WATER program is one of the many examples of CRI’s contribution to advancing aquatic sciences, forging industrial and business partnerships, and government collaborations to support the development of new science and practices in river management and particularly the training of a new generation of water resource specialists.

Join me in congratulating all the participants and the contributors of this successful CRI WATER CREATE program . Click here to review the list of the CRI participants and contributors.

We look forward to profiling more of these initiatives in the future.

Sincerely,

Michael van den Heuvel
Institute Director

 

CRI Scientists Are Using Environmental DNA to Study Wetlands in Grand Lake Meadows

Wetlands are a precious resource for Canadians, threatened by encroachment from development and society’s ever-increasing demands for water.  Scientists at the Canadian Rivers Institute are working to improve our knowledge around wetlands protection by carrying out an ambitious study on one of New Brunswick’s most threatened wetlands -  the Grand Lake Meadows area of the lower Saint John River.  Dr Donald Baird and Dr Wendy Monk of Environment and Climate Change Canada, located in the Biology Department at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and their team are using cutting-edge ecological survey methods, linking aerial observations of wetland extent to ground-level experiments to measure how critical wetland ecosystem functions including organic matter processing vary across a gradient of human activity. Their aim is to understand the role played by biodiversity - the variety of animals, plants and micro-organisms which live in an area - in sustaining key wetland functions which support the many rare and endangered species which inhabit the Grand Lake Meadows and the adjacent Portobello Creek National Wildlife Area.

The Saint John river floodplain is one of the few largely intact large river floodplains on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, and is an area rich in biodiversity. (Photo: Natalie Rideout).

The Saint John river floodplain is one of the few largely intact large river floodplains on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, and is an area rich in biodiversity. (Photo: Natalie Rideout).

Using internationally-groundbreaking techniques developed in collaboration with Dr Mehrdad Hajibabaei’s lab at the University of Guelph, samples collected from wetland habitats are being used to provide a map of biodiversity and ecosystem function at an unprecedented level of detail. “Many people will be familiar with the use of BioBlitz methods for rapid survey of conservation areas,” says Dr Baird “but although these allow rapid collection of specimens, it may take years or even decades to complete necessary identifications. These new environmental DNA techniques allow us to extract DNA from routine environmental samples of water or sediment. This extract potentially contains the DNA sequences of all organisms living in an area - and once analysed, provides researchers with immediate access to a list of the organisms present at a site.  This new 'made-in-Canada' technique is revolutionising environmental monitoring, and will allow us to rapidly assess river and wetland ecosystems to better understand the consequences of development.

Silver maple, seen here at the Portobello Creek National Wildlife Area, contribute leaf litter which provides a critical energy source sustaining aquatic foodwebs in the Saint John River floodplain (photo: Natalie Rideout).

Silver maple, seen here at the Portobello Creek National Wildlife Area, contribute leaf litter which provides a critical energy source sustaining aquatic foodwebs in the Saint John River floodplain (photo: Natalie Rideout).

Dr Baird’s student, Natalie Rideout is using these techniques to study how long-term change in Grand Lake wetlands is associated with historical development in the area, including the construction and operation of dams in the upper Saint John watershed, and the building of an elevated highway which traverses the wetland.  She is examining the role played by a key floodplain species - the silver maple - in providing a food source for the base of the food web which sustains fish and wildlife habitat. She is also studying the importance of functional diversity - the variety of ecological roles present in the invertebrate community, and how this is linked to biodiversity.

CRI MSc student Natalie Rideout with an array of leaf decomposition packs ready to deploy at a Grand Lake Meadows wetland site. (Photo: Kristie Heard)

CRI MSc student Natalie Rideout with an array of leaf decomposition packs ready to deploy at a Grand Lake Meadows wetland site. (Photo: Kristie Heard)

Also part of the team studying Grand Lake Meadows this summer are two European science exchange students: Renske Anema from the Netherlands, and Sonia Stefani from Germany.

Zoe O'Malley, Dr Monk's student, is comparing these new genomic techniques with traditional sample methods to try and identify critical habitat characteristics for a local insect species-at-risk and the broader insect predator community. Through these studies, the CRI is highlighting the important role played by wetland conservation areas in the Lower Saint John River, which are of national and international significance in terms of species conservation. By studying the entire ecosystem, we gain new perspectives on the connectedness of plants, invertebrates and wildlife, helping us to sustain key species valued by society, and preserving the natural beauty of wetlands for future generations.

The work described in this article has received support from the the University of New Brunswick (Grand Lake Meadows Fund), the Province of New Brunswick (Wildlife Trust Fund, Environmental Trust Fund) and from Environment and Climate Change Canada.  This work is also associated with the Mactaquac Aquatic Ecosystem Study (MAES), funded through a Collaborative Research and Development Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

For more information, contact: Dr Donald Baird, Environment and Climate Change Canada / Canadian Rivers Institute (djbaird@unb.ca).

CRI summer intern Renske Anema making friends with a local at a Grand Lake Meadows study site. (Photo: Natalie Rideout)

CRI summer intern Renske Anema making friends with a local at a Grand Lake Meadows study site. (Photo: Natalie Rideout)

Rivers to Oceans: next gen of estuarine scientists

Meet the next generation of estuarine scientists!  All studying under CRI Science Directors, Dr. Simon Courtenay (Waterloo), Dr. Michael van den Heuvel (UPEI), Dr. André St-Hilaire (INRS), and Dr. Mark Servos (Waterloo), they are outstanding students attracted to CRI’s reputation for applied research and partnerships with coastal zone managers.

Their research is already making an impact with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of Prince Edward Island who are using CRI students’ data, tools and models to support management of marine protected areas and integrated marine management initiatives. They are also being used to assist in the design and implementation of monitoring programs to support estuary management decisions in the Northumberland Strait and Bay of Fundy.

June is full of watery celebrations - June 8 is #WorldOceansDay, June 11 is #CanadianRiversWeek and June 8-14th #RiverstoOceansWeek celebrates their connection and reminds us that taking care of our water is a shared responsibility.

 
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Mike Coffin
PhD
University of Prince Edward Island
Supervisors: Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Eutrophication in estuaries of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.  My research helped develop a predictive model relating hourly dissolved oxygen measurements, specifically frequency of hypoxia and oxygen supersaturation, to nutrient loading and water residence time. This study takes advantage of recent technological advances that enable high frequency measurement of dissolved oxygen which, based on this study, has proven to be an effective proxy for both productivity and oxygen demand.  This research provides an easily adapted, and inexpensive, monitoring framework for temperate estuaries and will help inform management decisions which will ultimately result in improved water quality for invertebrates and fish. Using this monitoring framework, managers can determine the degree of impact that is acceptable and set watershed specific nutrient loading targets. Given that anthropogenic pressure on coastal systems is increasing, I would like to continue working on eutrophication impacts on the biological community. I believe restoration and/or remediation efforts are required to maintain ecosystem functioning in coastal systems

 

Sondra Eger
PhD
University of Waterloo
Supervisor: Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Integrated regional approach to sustainable management of coastal and marine areas in Atlantic Canada. My research takes marine spatial planning, a globally recognized approach, and seeks to determine how to develop and implement the approach within the Bay of Fundy in Canada. This research will provide insight and recommendations for a regional decision making framework in the Bay of Fundy that considers cumulative effects and integrated management of coastal and marine systems in order to support the transition to a more sustainable future.  I am interested in further understanding how to implement integrated management plans in coastal and marine areas to support the sustainable use and development of natural resources.

 
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Jesse Hitchcock
MSc
University of Prince Edward Island
Supervisor: Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Spatial distribution and health of eelgrass (Zostera marina) in estuaries in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and assessment of the cumulative effects of multiple stressors to develop a monitoring framework for the region. My research shows that there is more variation within estuaries in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence region than there is between estuaries. For example, eelgrass in the upper estuary (closer to the head of tide) often faces the cumulative effects of multiple stressors such as increased eutrophication, lower salinity, and less tidal flushing. This work demonstrates the importance of considering eelgrass along the full extent of its range within an estuary in order to see the whole picture. Understanding the natural gradients existing in estuaries will help the scientific community develop better questions for future work in these ecosystems and whole-estuary data can be incorporated into regional management and monitoring frameworks for the region.  After the completion of my thesis I'd like to use my knowledge and skills to ensure that smart policy and management decisions are made and followed through on with regards to environmental sustainability.

 
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Jessica Kidd
MSc
University of Prince Edward Island
Supervisors Dr. Simon Courtenay, Dr. Mark Servos

Research Focus and Impact: How the health of estuaries is monitored in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.  I have been assessing the study design of the Community Aquatic Monitoring Program (CAMP), a long-term estuary monitoring program, to determine if it is limited in its scientific application. My research will assist the program administrators and managers in the Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Coalition on Sustainability in determining the future direction and application of the program. My research will also help fill a current knowledge gap regarding the utility of community-based monitoring programs, which is especially important as the popularity of these programs is increasing internationally. Additionally, testing the effect of sampling effort and design will contribute to improving fish-based indices of estuarine condition.

 
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Zacharie Sirabahenda
PhD
Institut national de le recherche scientifique
Supervisors Dr. André St-Hilaire, Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, Dr. Simon Courtenay

Research Focus and Impact: Suspended Sediment Concentration (SSC) monitoring and sediment dynamic characterization in order to adapt or develop tools for sediment loads and SSC estimation using statistical and deterministic approaches. My research will be used to develop a watershed vulnerability index model for sediment erosion and a multi-watershed model for estimation of suspended sediments within rivers.  This work will be used to document the state of suspended sediments loads in PEI rivers and help to make recommendations about the best choice for sediment monitoring techniques.  Development of accurate sediment modelling tools is important to managers making decisions for conservation planning of watersheds.

 
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Nicole Stamnes
MSES
University of Waterloo
Supervisor: Dr. Simon Courtenay, Roland Cormier

Research Focus and Impact: Conducting a policy risk analysis to assess the adequacy of Canadian legislation, policies, and scientific advice for protecting estuaries of Prince Edward Island from harmful eutrophic events. My research aims to demonstrate how a legislative framework that connects monitoring programs, environmental indicators and associated targets to policy objectives would benefit Canadian jurisdictions for more informed decision making on protecting the environment from anthropogenic activities. Both decision makers and scientists will benefit from my research as it describes a gap within our current management system and the need for a framework, which would improve environmental assessments. This research could be a stepping-stone for developing a national framework to assess environmental status in all marine regions.  I would like to contribute a new way of thinking on how we assess the existing management system to identify gaps and make improvements.

 

CRI’s SINLAB leading the way in identifying global patterns in biodiversity interactions

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 as the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. It was celebrated first in 1993 to commemorate the coming into force of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).  The CBD represents a dramatic step forward in the conservation of biological diversity worldwide. With the Secretariat in based in Montreal and with over 196 Parties so far, the Convention has near universal participation among UN member states.

Researchers at Canadian Rivers Insitute's (CRI) Stable Isotopes in Nature Laboratory (SINLAB) are using stable isotope analysis to contribute to the global understanding of biological diversity by measuring functional diversity of ecological communities across the globe. Stable isotope ecology applies the idiom “you are what you eat” to biological systems; the carbon, nitrogen or hydrogen stable isotope ratio of a consumer will equate to that of its prey. They identify the isotopic signature of individuals to draw conclusions regarding the energy linkages and interactions at different tropic levels in an ecosystem. Through this method they are able to answer such questions as who is eating whom, and where are they eating, connecting the interdependent links of biological diversity.

Stable Isotope analysis can be used to identify resource use by aquatic consumers and aquatic food web structures; continental-scale aquatic and terrestrial migration patterns; and hydro-geochemical processes such as groundwater influences in rivers and nutrient cycling.  The ability to identify the interactions between different components of an ecosystem makes this technology a valuable tool for understanding, promoting and improving integrated management as an effective vehicle for biodiversity conservation planning.

Brent Nawrocki, the SINLAB’s Isotope Technician, processes tissue samples for isotope analysis

Brent Nawrocki, the SINLAB’s Isotope Technician, processes tissue samples for isotope analysis

The SINLAB is a million-dollar facility located at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in Fredericton. While stable isotope analysis has a long history is the geochemical sciences, the SINLAB was one of the first to apply the technology to ecological research and is currently the largest ecology-focused stable isotopes facility east of Montreal.

“Stable isotope analysis is relatively new to the interdisciplinary nature of ecology,” says Dr. Rick Cunjak, SINLAB Director (1999), one of the CRI’s four founding members, a professor of Biology and Forestry and Environmental Management at UNB, and a former Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in River Ecosystem Science. “We have adapted the technology to answer ecological questions and it is now an essential methodology for ecologists and resource managers.” 

One of the critical uses of the technology today is in understanding the implications of the decline of wild Atlantic salmon populations in our rivers.  Dr. Cunjak and CRI at UNB PhD candidate Kurt Samways, are investigating how marine derived nutrients, transported into rivers by salmon and other fishes, enhance freshwater food web productivity.

Previous researchers in the SINLAB have created isotopic maps, or isoscapes, of the ocean based on temperature and productivity over the last three decades, which they then compare to the isotopic carbon signature of salmon scales. By looking at the growth years of the scales- similar to tree rings- and correlating to the ocean isoscape, they can identify where the fish are likely feeding.  

As ocean temperatures rise due to climate change, the food availability in the ocean shifts, requiring salmon to migrate further north to feed.  With increasing distance to travel so does the exposure to threats to predators, fishing, disease, and fatigue.  This research provides valuable information as to the drivers of salmon decline and returns to freshwater spawning grounds.

The SINLAB team is developing these new and useful technological tools and making them available to the global research community.  “Researchers and decision makers have to have an understanding of the different roles played in the environment– the chemical, physical and biological,” says Dr. Cunjak. “Fish ecologists can now better understand larger questions of interest in larger freshwater systems than the one species or populations that they are experts in,” he says.

While the original focus of the laboratory was to compliment the aquatic research interests of the scientists within the CRI, the lab has grown in research scope and its stable isotope analysis has become a valuable and popular tool worldwide, with a network of collaborators and clients around the word. 

 
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Dr. Brian Hayden, CRI at UNB postdoctoral fellow and SINLAB Science Manager, reviews recent isotope analysis data

Dr. Brian Hayden, CRI at UNB postdoctoral fellow and SINLAB Science Manager, reviews recent isotope analysis data

SINLAB collaborators and clients span 21 countries worldwide, and represent all research sectors, including government agencies, private sector industries and consultancies, and academic scientists from 30 universities.

Dr. Cunjak and his team are collaborating with Dr. Chris Harrod at Universidad de Antofagasta in Chile to examine how marine upwelling offshore is contributing to coastal food webs; with Dr. Bill Beamish, research professor at Burapha University in Thailand, looking at the trophic relationships of fishes in tropical streams; and locally with Dr. Tony Diamond of UNB, understanding how human activities such as fish or mink farming represent a diet subsidy for sea birds. These are a few examples of the globally collaborations the CRI SINLAB team at UNB have been fostering.

Because of its global focus, the SINLAB has developed as a repository for big datasets of valuable long-term data that when put together can provide a picture of the food web interactions across global ecosystems.  Dr. Brian Hayden, a CRI Associate, post-doctoral fellow in the biology department at UNB, and the SINLAB’s Science Manager, is taking this data to the next level by pioneering the application of “big data” to stable isotope ecology. He is facilitating an international collaboration of researchers from Canada, Chile, USA and the UK to develop a data federation resource for stable isotope scientists.  The “IsoBank” is a unique initiative- an archive for geo-referenced stable isotope data, open to researchers across the globe.

 
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With these groundbreaking research initiatives, the demand from clients and interest from new collaborators is growing. The lab is also growing physically- in people, equipment and space.  In late 2016, Brent Nawrocki (Isotope Technician) and Dr. Andrea Prentice (Technical Manager) joined the team and the lab underwent a major renovation with the addition of 2 new elemental analysers and one isotopic ratio mass spectrometer, and renovation of the lab space.  The expansion in people and equipment has increased the lab’s research and analysis capacity.

The SINLAB also has a strong focus on the training and professional development of students and young scientists. The lab and its research has attracted and trained more than 75 students and post-doctoral fellows from around the world including Finland, Ireland, Spain and USA. These highly qualified professionals have subsequently advanced their careers nationally and internationally in positions in Saskatchewan, New Zealand and Belgium.

“Students and young scientists get a chance to learn experimental design, how to work in a highly technical laboratory such as with aseptic techniques to ensure quality control, and get experience with how data are generated and results are analyzed,” says Dr. Cunjak.  “Students also get valuable connections with international researchers and collaborators.“

“In my opinion, our biggest indicator of success is that clients are continually coming back and they are happy with data and their research projects are successful.  Clients and collaborators who visit our facilities at UNB Fredericton are always surprised at what we accomplish. We are punching above our weight, but we’ve cultivated a solid reputation that has built our international scientific creditability,” he says.

The SINLAB Team

The SINLAB is a self-sufficient facility and has employed more than 10 staff. The current team consists of 5 full-time research and technical staff. It’s a close-knit team collaborating closely to ensure high quality data and client relationships

 
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Dr. Rick Cunjak (centre) is a CRI founding member and current Science Director, SINLAB founder and director, former Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in River Ecosystem Science, and professor of Biology and Forestry and Environmental Management at UNB.

Dr. Brian Hayden (far left) is a CRI post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biology, UNB and SINLAB Science Manager. Dr. Hayden has a PhD (2009) from University College Dublin’s School of Biology and Environmental Science, Ireland. He came to the SINLAB in 2014.

Anne McGeachy (second right) has been SINLAB Lab Manger since 1999. She has an MSc from the University of New Brunswick.

Brent Nawrocki (far right) is the SINLAB’s Isotope Technician. He has an MSc in Environmental Science from the University of Windsor. Brent joined the SINLAB team in late 2016.

Dr. Andrea Prentice (second left) is the SINLAB’s Technical Manager. She has a PhD from Western University. She joined the SINLAB team in late 2016.

 

Ecogenomics: answering complex questions of ecosystem composition for fisheries’ conservation

Dr. Scott Pavey in the CRI Genomics laboratory. The laboratory, based at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, is equipped with $1-M of the most modern wet-lab analytical infrastructure and supercomputers.

Dr. Scott Pavey in the CRI Genomics laboratory. The laboratory, based at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, is equipped with $1-M of the most modern wet-lab analytical infrastructure and supercomputers.

This week we acknolwedge International DNA and Genome Day (April 25th), first celebrated in 2003 by the National Human Genome Research Institute in the United States, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first journal publications on the double helix structure of DNA. It is a world-wide celebration to provide an opportunity to learn about the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances might impact society.

Today, the study of ecogenomics has evolved tremendously, providing an advanced scientific method that builds on fields ecology and evolution. Dr. Scott Pavey, one of the Canadian Rivers Institute’s (CRI) newest Science Directors, based at the University of New Brunswick Saint John (UNBSJ) is an emerging leader in the innovative field. He uses ‘big data’ supercomputers to scan entire genomes from individual animals and fish as well as environmental samples (water and soil). This allows him to investigate at high resolution both the species present in aquatic ecosystems as well as how populations are connected and locally adapted to their environments.

 
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Canada has one-fifth of the worlds’ freshwater, and there still remain many complex questions about freshwater ecosystems. “The scientific methods we previously used to understand the ecological world are often very time intensive and do not easily scale-up to the enormous need,” says Dr. Pavey.

“As researchers, we can sample 10 lakes for fish species in a summer with a field crew, and we can sample 400 lakes for a water sample, analyze its environmental DNA and know their entire species composition,” he explains.

While ecogenomic methods can help answer more complex questions in a shorter period of time, it also allows scientists to draw conclusions about specific genes in species of interest and their relation to their environments. By analyzing DNA, Dr. Pavey is able to determine the exact gene that is responsible for a specific phenotypic adaptation that may be critical to a population’s survival.

Through his research on American Eel, in collaboration with Dr. Louis Bernatchez at Laval University, he was able to identify what genes were responsible for their survival in freshwater versus saltwater environments. Through the genetic analysis of the all-female eels in the Upper St. Lawrence River, he concluded that they have adaptive genetic traits that are unique to that rearing group as compared to groups in brackish or saltwater.

Dr. Pavey (top; photo credit: Greg Puncher) and his team of students and research associates (bottom; photo credit: Scott Pavey) conducting genetic analysis using state-of-the-art technologies in the CRI Genomics laboratory.

Dr. Pavey (top; photo credit: Greg Puncher) and his team of students and research associates (bottom; photo credit: Scott Pavey) conducting genetic analysis using state-of-the-art technologies in the CRI Genomics laboratory.

Knowing that a sub-population has unique genetic traits that enable them to adapt to their local environmental conditions gives decision makers important information that can inform changes or new regulations and policies to protect their habitats or migration routes.

“Now we know that the Upper St. Lawrence population is unique, it is even more critical for this population’s survival that we pass those maturing adult eels around dams so that they can go to the Sargasso Sea to spawn,” says Dr. Pavey.

These innovative research methods being forged by Dr. Pavey are helping to advise the management economically important commercial fisheries of Atlantic Cod, Striped Bass, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and American Eel – all listed as varying levels of concern in the Canadian Species at Risk Act. Dr. Pavey and his team are working closely with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to ensure that species’ critical genetic considerations are incorporated into the development of species recovery plans.

Since joining the CRI in 2015, Dr. Pavey has built strong research partnerships. In collaboration with CRI Science Director, Dr. Karen Kidd (UNBSJ), he is exploring new areas of discovery, such as describing the microbiome of aquatic insects that has never been done before. He also has an Atlantic Cod genomics project which is a collaboration with Dr. Sherrylynn Rowe at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, and CRI Associate and Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Gregory Puncher (UNBSJ).

 
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He does this technologically innovative work in the CRI Genomics Laboratory based at UNBSJ– the most advanced ecological genomics facility in New Brunswick. The laboratory has $1-M of the most modern infrastructure, both in wet-lab analytical equipment and supercomputers.

Because much of the research field combines biological methods and supercomputer programming, Dr. Pavey’s research is also leading the way in developing a next generation of scientists with unique and specialized skills. His 7 graduate and honours students, 2 research associates, and 1 technician are encouraged to learn computer-programming languages in order to work with the large raw data files.  He is increasingly supervising students in joint biology and computer science academic programs.

This interdisciplinary research, along with the chance to work and train in an advanced ecology-based genomics laboratory, entices students to his research.

“Genomics is a rapidly growing field and with even more potential but there’s currently a shortage of people with those skills. My students learn a lot of modern skills that are in high demand and I think they’re really attracted to that,” says Dr. Pavey. 

The ability to solve problems and answer questions of big proportion that only genetic analysis can answer is also enticing to academic, industry and government collaborators. Dr. Pavey and his team at CRI Genomics are the only regional researchers and facilities offering these customized services.  They are currently working with the NB Museum, the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, Memorial University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, University of Massachusetts and NovaEel, an aquaculture startup company in NS.

 

Tracing contaminants of public health concern through aquatic food webs

World Health Day was created in 1948 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is celebrated every April 7th to mark its founding. The annual day of action provides an opportunity to draw attention to health concerns for people all over the world.

Researchers at the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) are dedicated to understanding and advancing the science of aquatic ecosystem health. One CRI Science Director, Dr. Karen Kidd and her team of graduate and honours students and technical staff at the University of New Brunswick Saint John (UNBSJ), is making the link to human health by tracing the existence of persistent contaminants of public health concern in aquatic systems around the world.

“There are many examples where human diseases are related to environmental conditions and increasing evidence that some human diseases are on the rise because of our exposure to chemicals,” says Dr. Karen Kidd, a professor of biology and a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in the Chemical Contamination of Food Webs.

Dr. Kidd’s research focuses on how energy flows through food webs; how this influences aquatic contaminants; and why some water bodies and their food webs are more contaminated than others. She has a special interest in mercury, examining if and how it accumulates to levels that can cause health effects in fish at the top of the food chain, in fish-eating wildlife, and ultimately, in fish-consuming humans. Fish consumption is the main route of human mercury exposure.

 

Dr. Kidd’s research is advancing the understanding of how global processes and gradients such as latitude, temperature, species diversity, and nutrient inputs affect where contaminants end up in aquatic ecosystems. She has conducted whole-ecosystem studies in a variety of climates, ranging from the Long-Term Ecological Wetlands Area near Gagetown, New Brunswick; the Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora, Ontario; lakes in the Arctic; temperate regions in the Canadian Boreal Forest; central and southeastern Africa; to most recently, systems in Norway and Sweden.

Much of this research is showing how the fate of contaminants can be affected by a climate gradient- a proxy for climate change.

“Our project in Norway and Sweden is focused on how climate change is influencing the fate of mercury in aquatic systems. We are sampling a number of lakes across a latitudinal gradient to understand the influence of temperature on the fate of mercury in food webs. We’re hoping the southern lakes will give us a sense of what could happen in the northern lakes as the climate continues to warm,” says Dr. Kidd. “When we understand which lakes and fish species are greater accumulators of mercury, we have a better understanding of where wildlife and humans are at greater risk from exposure to this metal.”

This investigation is critical as mercury is a contaminant with a long lasting legacy. Most of the mercury in the atmosphere is from releases from past and current human activities such as gold mining, fossil fuel burning and industrial and domestic uses, and remote locations are being contaminated from its global release and distribution in air currents.  Once deposited in aquatic systems, mercury is converted by bacteria to an organic form – methylmercury – that concentrates through aquatic food webs to elevated levels in fish and that can affect the nervous system and reproduction in fish, wildlife and humans. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada[1], over 90% of fish advisories in Canada are due to mercury, which can have health effects on human neurological, immune and reproductive systems.

“There is a lot of global interest in reducing mercury exposures,” says Dr. Kidd. “Especially for Indigenous communities that rely heavily on fish as part of their traditional diets, and people in communities near industrial releases.”

There is good news for this global health issue though. The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty that was adopted in 2013 and it includes bans, phase-outs, control measures and regulations to decrease the number of products and processes, emissions and releases of mercury worldwide. One hundred and twenty eight countries have signed on to the treaty and it is currently being ratified. Other global treaties like the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants have been very effective at reducing contaminants in fish, wildlife and humans.

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Dr. Karen Kidd and her team analyze tissues, sediments and water for mercury, metals, pesticides, algal toxins, and emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals at the Environmental Chemistry Laboratory at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Photo Credit: Rob Blanchard, UNB Media Services

Dr. Karen Kidd and her team analyze tissues, sediments and water for mercury, metals, pesticides, algal toxins, and emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals at the Environmental Chemistry Laboratory at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Photo Credit: Rob Blanchard, UNB Media Services

“For my part, I want to know which lakes and rivers, and particularly which fish in those systems, are at greatest risk of accumulating mercury. The goal is to develop models that will predict which waterways contain fish with the highest mercury levels as this information is crucial for the protection of wildlife and human health,” says Dr. Kidd.
To undertake this world-leading research, Dr. Kidd has set up state-of-the-art facilities at UNBSJ that includes wet and dry labs and equipment to analyze tissues, sediments and water for mercury, metals, pesticides, algal toxins, and emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals. In addition to the analytical abilities, the laboratory has equipment that researchers and students need to identify invertebrates, sample fish and process tissues for stable isotope analyses.

Her Environmental Chemistry Laboratory is currently involved in research in a number of countries around the world and often hosts graduate students from other countries such as Chile, Mexico, Germany, France and Spain.

Dr. Kidd sees her research on contaminants in aquatic ecosystems as critical for providing warning signals for potential public health issues. “We know that fish, wildlife and humans respond in similar ways to contaminants.  If we see health issues in fish there is good motivation to also examine the health of people living in that area.”

And those further investigations, argues Dr. Kidd, should be more collaborative and interdisciplinary. “There is growing awareness that environmental scientists should be working more with researchers focused on human and animal health to share approaches and knowledge and, ultimately, identify more effective ways to improve global health. When the environment is healthy, everyone benefits.”

[1] Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2016. Canadian Mercury Science Assessment. Accessed at: https://www.ec.gc.ca/mercure-mercury/default.asp?lang=En&n=A2D7E54F-1

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Improving municipal wastewater effects monitoring, developing next gen of science communicators

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Today, World Water Day (March 22) with its theme of “wastewater” is an opportunity to profile a prominent research program by a Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI) Science Director, Dr. Mark Servos, who is investigating municipal wastewater effluent impacts on the Grand River watershed. His research is demonstrating how the science used in the development of an environmental effects monitoring framework for municipal wastewater can address the water quality of receiving waters across Canada.
 
Dr. Servos is a Canadian leader in water quality research with a focus on the treatment, exposure, fate and effects of organic contaminants in the environment. His research is critical to addressing a serious national water issue: municipal wastewater is still the largest contributor to point-source pollution into Canadian waters[1].
 
“We have municipal wastewater treatment plants that are still operating with very poor treatment and pollutants are ending up in the rivers and degrading ecosystems. We need to improve how we do the treatment and need to improve the quality of the effluent that’s being discharged,” says Dr. Mark Servos, Tier I Canada Research Chair in water quality protection and is a professor of biology at the University of Waterloo (UW).
 
Dr. Servos and his team have been studying the Grand River watershed in southern Ontario for more than a decade, supporting the development of the monitoring frameworks for municipal wastewater to assess the effectiveness of new national secondary treatment standards.

In 2012 new Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations were introduced under the Fisheries Act, establishing secondary treatment as a national standard for municipal wastewater treatment plants. It is important to note that other developed countries have legislated tertiary treatments for municipal wastewater, which applies a combination of biological nutrient, nitrogen and phosphorous removal.

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At the same time, and somewhat serendipitously, the research has provided the baseline data for what Dr. Servos calls a “unique opportunity to follow the changes in the river response to a very large wastewater treatment plant infrastructure upgrade.”  The Municipality of Waterloo is currently in the midst of an $800 million initiative to upgrade their wastewater treatment plants to meet the new secondary treatment standard, and Dr. Servos has been able to document how the upgrades are impacting the river.

 
The rainbow darter, a small-bodied fish that is common to the riffle areas of the Grand River, were feminizing due to their exposure to chemicals that were released in the effluent from the wastewater treatment plants. The darters had changes in their physiology and changes in their histology. “We were collecting male darters who were developing eggs in their testes; this amount of intersex was some of the most severe in the world,” says Dr. Servos.

After some of the upgrade work was completed at one of the wastewater treatment plants, Dr. Servos’ research team documented a significant drop in the number of feminized male fish, from 100% showing feminization characteristics down to 29%. This sharp decline was not observed at a neighbouring wastewater treatment plant that has not undergone upgrades.

 
Students, studying under Dr. Mark Servos at the University of Waterloo, sample the Grand River while investigating the impacts of municipal wastewater on the rainbow darter before and after upgrades at the Kitchener wastewater treatment plants (top left).   Photo Credits for this story: University of Waterloo, Region of Waterloo

Students, studying under Dr. Mark Servos at the University of Waterloo, sample the Grand River while investigating the impacts of municipal wastewater on the rainbow darter before and after upgrades at the Kitchener wastewater treatment plants (top left).
Photo Credits for this story: University of Waterloo, Region of Waterloo

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“The Grand River has experienced large algal blooms and people canoe and fish in the river, so it was important for the municipality that river health be addressed,” says Dr. Servos.  “The results from our research helps to strengthen the argument that these upgrades are important and worth the significant municipal financial investment.”
 
This study focused on one treatment plant, but the research can be scaled-up and contribute to refining the guidelines and implementation of monitoring programs for municipal wastewater management across the country. Approximately 900 (25%) municipal wastewater treatment plants across Canada must be upgraded to meet the new secondary treatment standard.
 
Endocrine disruptors, such as estrogen, may not have been a driving force behind the treatment plant upgrades but the research has been able to show the secondary benefits to the reproduction of fish. 
 
“Our research showed that wastewater treatment to meet the new secondary treatment standard, which targets organic materials and increased oxygen levels in the river, also led to the removal of a whole bunch of other chemicals, like estrogen that caused the intersex and feminization in the fish, and improved the local environment,” explains Dr. Servos. “We are developing the science that underpins the monitoring efforts needed at the provincial and municipal levels, says Servos.  “We’re not necessarily developing new tools for wastewater treatment, but we are using research-based science to try to validate the tools we do have.”
 
The decade-long study has been a multi-jurisdictional collaboration with diverse government partners at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, including the City of Guelph, Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Grand River Conservation Authority, Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Dr. Servos’ research is also an excellent example of the CRI network collaboration, having worked with a number of Science Directors, representing a diversity of disciplines on this project, including Drs. Karen Kidd (UNB; tracing contaminants in aquatic environments), Deborah MacLatchy (Laurier; ecotoxicology and comparative endocrinology), Chris Martyniuk (University of Florida; molecular responses to endocrine disrupting chemicals), Kelly Munkittrick (formerly UNB; molecular and mechanistic identification of markers of exposure and molecular pathways of effects), and Adam Yates (Western University; correlative and mechanistic linkages between human activities and ecosystem condition).

 

The large scope of the Grand River project has allowed Dr. Servos to train 16 graduate students and offer many opportunities for student work terms and technicians.
 
Another one of Dr. Servos’ philosophies when mentoring his students is to emphasize communication, both written and oral. “Effective writing in particular is very difficult but I feel strongly that it is an important aspect of their professional development,” says Dr. Servos.  “Students learn best from each other so I help to create structured environments where they can learn to write and be critical of each other in positive ways.” Dr. Servos provides multiple writing retreats for his students each year. In the past 5 years, his students have contributed to more than 20 peer-reviewed publications on wastewater.
 
Dr. Servos also strongly encourages his students to become involved in local outreach organizations and to give presentations to community groups and youth.  “Every time you can practice communication, it makes you a bit better.”
 
The applicability of Dr. Servos’ research, like much of the science done by CRI scientists, is something that he believes is important to his students. “Students are attracted to applying innovative approaches and the best science and instruments to a real issue that is significant for society.”

[1] Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2014. Wastewater Pollution. Accessed at: https://www.ec.gc.ca/eu-ww/default.asp?lang=En&n=6296BDB0-1