WCS Canada

2017 Fellows

Ontario Northern Boreal

Amelia MacDonald, Trent University (MSc Candidate), is studying Red Knots, an endangered shorebird with one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird. The James Bay region in Ontario is a key stopover point for birds moving through eastern North America. Amelia is studying habitat use and diets of Red Knots to better understand survival and changes in Red Knot populations.  

Boyan Liu, University of Guelph (MSc Candidate), is applying a new population modelling tool to determine what factors -- including predation, moose populations, and disturbance from forestry and fires -- impact the 14 woodland caribou population ranges in northern Ontario, including the five ranges in the Far North.  The results can help us to better understand how caribou populations may change in the future.
 Gretchen Lescord, Laurentian University (PhD Candidate), is studying the accumulation of heavy metals such as mercury in fish using samples collected throughout the Attawapiskat River watershed near James Bay in Ontario. Her project is highly relevant to Indigenous people who consume fish in the region and will also provide a baseline for assessing chemical contamination as mineral exploration and mining increases, particularly in the Ring of Fire.
 Justin Johnson, Trent University (MSc Candidate), is looking at how hybridization (interbreeding), landscape changes, and climate change will affect the distributions of both wolves and coyotes and their prey over time.  His project will combine genetic techniques and range mapping and modelling to help identify habitats that are important for carnivore conservation efforts across Ontario.  
  Samantha Morin, Trent University (MSc Candidate), is studying the interaction between lynx and bobcats at the southern edge of their range. In recent decades, the distribution of the Canada lynx has been contracting, while the distribution of the bobcat has been expanding northward, but the interaction between the two species is not well-understood. Samantha is using snow tracking as well as GPS transmitting collars in an area along the north shore of Lake Huron to investigate and compare how lynx and bobcat differ or overlap in terms of habitat use. This assessment will contribute to a better understanding of the ecology and the interaction of these two species and provide recommendations for lynx conservation.

Northern Boreal Mountains

Clayton Lamb, University of Alberta (PhD Candidate and Vanier Scholar), is investigating how the availability of various foods as well as human hunting pressure affects grizzly bear population size. When hungry bears in search of food come into conflict with humans, the result is often death for the bears. Working with the British Columbia government, Clayton develops population estimates and habitat use data by using hair snares that tug fur from passing bears that can then be used for DNA testing as well as through radio-telemetry tracking of bears.  His work is the first to integrate these sources of information over large regions of northern British Columbia.

Daria Martchenko, Trent University (PhD Candidate), is studying mountain goat populations in northern British Columbia and Yukon. Mountain goat populations, reliant on rugged mountain habitats, are often separated by wide stretches of relatively poor habitat. Daria will use genetic data sampled across the known populations to quantify their degree of isolation of one population from another. This will enable her to assess the influence of factors such as the migration rate between populations and population size on survival. Conservation of these populations will benefit from understanding the likely geographic links that have connected these populations.

Michael Peers, University of Alberta (PhD Candidate), is examining the potential impact of climate change on snowshoe hares which develop white fur in winter. He is particularly interested in how earlier snow melt in spring, and later onset of snow in fall, may be creating a mismatch in the colour of the hares’ fur compared to the environment around them, making them more obvious to predators. Key questions are whether the mismatch could decrease the survival of hares and whether individuals have the ability to reduce the risk by changing their behaviour or by adjusting the rate at which they change colour.

Phaedra Cowden, Trent University (PhD Candidate), is investigating the use of bryophytes (mosses) as a tool to monitor pollutants, especially heavy metals that are distributed through the atmosphere. Her past work has involved collecting mosses to evaluate their suitability for monitoring pollutant deposition across large regions. Now she plans to establish a monitoring network across Yukon to quantify geographic patterns of heavy metal accumulation and potential risk. This effort will also create an extensive moss species catalogue for the Northern Boreal Mountains region.

Eric Palm, University of Montana (PhD Candidate), is using data gathered from animals fitted with GPS transmitter collars to better understand when and how caribou use the variety of habitats in the mountainous northern boreal region of Yukon and Alaska. He will link the information on caribou movements to mapping of habitats derived from remote sensing, satellite imagery and drones, as well as from field investigations, to better understand caribou habitat preferences and responses to landscape changes, such as wild fire and human activities. This work will help to inform decisions about the best combination of approaches for caribou conservation in the northern boreal mountains.

William Twardek, Carleton University (MSc Candidate), is evaluating how the common practice of catch-and-release fishing may be affecting the survival and reproductive output of ocean-going steelhead trout in northwest British Columbia rivers. The trout are caught and subsequently released in commercial and subsistence salmon fishing operations as well as by recreational anglers as the fish move from ocean to upstream spawning grounds. The stress of repeated captures may be affecting their survival, ability to travel and spawning behaviours. Steelhead have a central place in the culture, economy and environments of many northern communities. William's research will help managers understand the effects of catch-and-release fishing and develop better strategies for this important species.