By Darren Lum
U-Links is inviting the public to its first ever virtual Celebration of Research, featuring 30 community-based research projects including the topics of biodiversity protection, shoreline stewardship and biomonitoring from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 27 on the Zoom platform.
The no-fee event moderated by not-for-profit Art of Festivals director, Fanny Martin is a showcase of student research efforts for local community organizations such as the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, the non-government organization, The Land Between, and local cottagers’ associations.
Amanda Duncombe-Lee, U-Links program co-ordinator, said this event is a long-standing annual U-Links tradition and gives the public insight to students’ work.
“We just see it as a really good opportunity for the public to connect about important research that’s happening in Haliburton County in the areas of the environment, socio-cultural and economic [areas],” she said.
The event’s presentations will start with a few sessions in the main room, and once those are completed there will be additional sessions held in breakout rooms, featuring the remaining student presenters.
Fourth-year Trent University student in conservation biology Leanne Matthews is part of the opening group of students in the main room, who will present her findings after studying benthic invertebrates at seven sites on Kennesis Lake since September. This was part of a group effort where 11 lakes in the area (17 in total in the Haliburton region) are being studied in what is year two of a five year study.
“Right now, we’re just kind of collecting enough data over the next few years to create that baseline so we can start saying like, ‘Oh, something is wrong here. Or, they’re doing something really great. The lake looks amazing,” she said.
A benthic invertebrate is an organism without a backbone that lives in or on the bottom sediments of rivers, streams and lakes. It includes such aquatic larval insects as mayflies, and also mussels and snails. She adds examining these invertebrates helps to provide a health profile of a lake.
“By understanding how these communities work and how they live in the lakes and how they are affected by pollution then we can understand the community of the lake as a whole so that would impact fish populations, which in turn would affect like angler involvement and fishing activities … so they’re one of the more central focuses of lake health,” she said.
There were more than a thousand invertebrates collected and brought back to the lab to be identified, organized into groups and used to provide scores on lake health, she adds. She continues, invertebrates with a high intolerance to pollution have a high score and those intolerant have a low score. Leeches and snails have high intolerance while mayflies are less tolerant and serve as “key indicator species.”
“What’s missing can sometimes tell us more about the lake than what’s present,” she said.
Environmental and resource science Trent University student Samantha Dunlop will be in one of the breakout rooms to present Biodiversity Planning and Protection in the Land Between project: understanding the levels and opportunities for environmental protection at the municipal level in the land between bio-region.
From September, she worked on the identifying what the municipal bylaws or the “policy levers” that are within an official plan related to environmental features in a given municipality such as areas as trees, setbacks, shorelines, brown fields, green space, night lighting, noise, zoning bylaws for the Land Between.
“We’re able to identify the different bylaws that say give direction on tree preservation, or establish buffers between lakes and different buildings or roads and things like that,” she said.
Dunlop said this project is “creating an inventory of those policy levers that we know what’s what and what’s where and then doing a content analysis of those policy levers we’re able to identify more themes and understand what they mean. From there a gap analysis can be done in the future,” she said.
It’s important, she said, to point out the gap analysis is not part of the scope of her work.
Dunlop said the the Land Between has planned to present this information to the municipalities, but for this event the hope is to raise ideas in the community.
“At least during the Celebration of Research, we’re hoping that this will inspire people to think about some of the bylaws and things in place and think about gaps. Maybe somebody from Peterborough is going to look at it and go, ‘Oh, we don’t have that specific policy lever to protect that sort of habitat so it’s that local level of awareness and action,” she said.
After the presentations and breakout sessions, there will be a networking cafe available for an informal virtual chat about the projects.
“That’s one of the organic processes that happens at the in-person Celebration of Research. It’s that coming together of the community to talk about the research and maybe there might be an employment for a student that’s there, or someone wants a follow-up project idea,” she said.
Duncombe-Lee said it was important to have an event this year after the short-notice cancellation of last year’s Celebration of Research,
“We’re just working extra hard this year to put together, hopefully, a dynamic and engaging event that we want to basically bring people together,” she said.
With an in-person event, the concern is about ordering enough food, the quality of audio and the venue, but with a virtual event there are a variety of technical details to work out and recommendations that users have the most up-to-date version of Zoom.
There will be two “dry runs” ahead of the event to address any potential problems.
Duncombe-Lee encourages early registration so the number of people attending for the event are known to ensure the best user experience. However, the deadline to register is a day before the event. She adds the recommendation is for people to use a desktop computer or laptop using the operating system Windows 7 or higher for the best user experience. Register at www.ulinks.ca.
Although this year’s event is virtual, Duncombe-Lee believes it could serve as an example for others.
“It’s going to be a very new experience, but we hope it goes well and we hope that other organizations are inspired by the event to do their own virtual events because for a lot of us it’s the only choice we have right now,” she said.