SACKVILLE, N.B. – Mount Allison University students in geography and environment professor Josh Kurek’s biomonitoring methods class are gaining first-hand experience in monitoring design, fieldwork, and data analysis this semester.
The class spent a weekend earlier this fall collecting data from restored wetlands managed by research partners Ducks Unlimited Canada at the Beaubassin Research Station near the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border. They have been working to generate data and analyze their results all semester.
“Here is a great example where students can actively contribute to an important environmental management issue through an immersive learning opportunity,” says Kurek. “This hands-on, meaningful experience really excites and motivates the students, and me, too.”
Jacob Demers is a fourth-year environmental science student from western Quebec. He says this kind of research has been a great addition to his degree.
“We spent the weekend collecting samples from different wetlands – ones created recently and others decades old,” he explains. “By looking at the number and kinds of organisms in our samples, we are hoping to find out more about the different wetland environments.”
The group looked specifically at macro-invertebrates — insects and other invertebrates living in the water, visible to the naked eye. Dozens of samples along with other environmental measures were collected at three different wetland types, which ranged in age and origin (natural or developed by humans). With this knowledge, researchers can gain a better understanding of how wetlands age and their changes in productivity, which ultimately affects waterfowl habitat and their food abundance.
The class, made up of 11 students, then spent part of their semester processing sample and counting the insects, over 5,000 in total, and analyzing the data through independent work. They also engaged in individual literature reviews and will each submit a report on their findings.
Fourth-year environmental science student Cara MacKenzie says this kind of experiential learning is definitely beneficial. MacKenzie also worked with Kurek as a research assistant over the summer.
“The weekend field trip was rigorous. It’s a different atmosphere when you’re living in your research area, even just for a weekend,” she says. “I think this kind of experience lays a good groundwork for how to get this kind of work done by knowing the different steps involved and the procedures that need to be followed.”
Kurek says the class is in close communication with Ducks Unlimited as they finalize the study.
“Our partners are very interested in our findings as they will assist in their management of restored wetlands. Next year, we will expand our sampling and also involve scientists at Canadian Wildlife Service in Sackville as part of our science communication efforts. These environmental science students now have valuable knowledge that wildlife scientists are keen to consider in their management strategy.”