Articles by author: Amanda Smits

  • Brock student makes Top 20 in national science research photography contest

    Master of Sustainability Science student Dana Harris is wrapping up her degree program with a bang — or rather, a snap.

    She and 19 other researchers from across Canada are vying for the 2018 People’s Choice Award in a national research photography contest offered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

    NSERC’s Science Exposed showcases images taken during scientific research being conducted in all fields by faculty and student researchers in post-secondary institutions and researchers in public and private research centres. Public voting to help determine the contest’s winners is now open on the Science Exposed website and continues throughout the summer.

    Harris’ photo, titled “Exploring the Jack Pine Tight Knit Family Tree,” shows phases of developing xylem cells, stained in different colours, that are found in a wood sample cored from the outermost part of a jack pine tree in the Northwest Territories, where she is from.

    Dana Harris photo submission

    Dana Harris’ submission to the NSERC Science Exposed competition features cells of the jack pine tree.

    She says she uses the photo and others like it as a conversation starter to explain her research, which examines the impacts of climate change on sub-arctic ecosystems.

    “When I would show my friends and family pictures of what my jack pine cells look like, they would say, ‘oh, I thought that was a scarf or knitting or netting,’” she says. “That’s where I got the title of my photo.”

    The image, shot from a microscope, shows the jack pine tree’s phloem, cambial and xylem cells (blue dye) and mature xylem cells (red dye) in a thin slice of the wood.

    It is one of a series of images taken weekly over the past year to track the growth of the jack pine tree’s various cells.

    “Understanding these growth dynamics will help better estimate the impacts of climate on cell development and jack pine tree ring formation,” says Harris. “This type of information is useful for researchers who create climate reconstructions using tree rings as a source of historical climate data.”

    Canada’s far north is widely considered to be the ‘canary in the coalmine’ of climate change, as melting permafrost, changes in vegetation cover and shrinking ice caps are among highly-visible changes to the environment.

    Harris is presenting her research findings at the “Wood formation and tree adaptation to climate” conferencein Orleans, France from May 23 to 25.

    “Brock is very proud of our student researchers, who channel their knowledge, energy and curiosity into investigations that address key challenges in society,” says Brock’s Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon.

    “The fact that our student’s photograph is among the stunning images of scientific research is testament to her skill and the training and research mentorship she received from Brock University faculty.”

    Making it to the Top 20 for the People’s Choice Award is a particularly sweet victory for Harris.

    She was also a competitor in NSERC’s Science, Action! research video contest, making the first cut of the three-round competition. Altogether, seven videos from Brock University were in the contest.

    Harris’ video, “Jack Pine Growth, NT,” has garnered more than 1,400 views.

    Following her conference presentation in France, Harris will head back to her hometown of Yellowknife to “continue developing the overall understanding of the ecological and environmental impacts of climate change on sub-arctic ecosystems,” she says.

    Categories: Applied Research

  • RECL 4P16 – Advanced Wilderness Program Planning

    Blog Contributor: Garrett Hutson

    RECL 4P16 Group Photo

    The RECL 4P16 (Advanced Wilderness Program Planning) 10-day wilderness backpacking trip returns from the Bruce Peninsula on a high note. The trip was co-led by an ESRC research assistant and RECL alumna (Liz Peredun, second from the left standing), an ESRC participating faculty member (Garrett Hutson, second from the right standing) and a RECL graduate student (Chris Falcioni, not pictured). From April 25 to May 5 the group hiked from the town of Lion’s Head, Ontario to the Bruce Peninsula National Park through deep snow and challenging terrain along the Bruce Trail. Fourth year RECL students worked in leadership teams and taught extensive environmental studies curricula while in the field. Completing the trip represented the final requirement for many of these students who will be graduating from Brock this coming June.

    Categories: Blog, Experiential Education, Faculty Contributor

  • First week at the ESRC: An introduction to what we’re working on this summer

    Blog Contributor: Shelby McFadden

    Summer Student Assistants 2018

    Summer student assistants (from left to right): Kaitlin, Shanen and Shelby working in Theal House.

    From the moment my parents and I pulled up to the quaint wonder that is Theal House during a tour of campus, I knew that I would get along perfectly at Brock. I immediately decided to accept my offer for the Masters of Sustainability program for fall 2018. I made the important decision in Swiss Chalet over lunch, as my family and I went over all the benefits of attending Brock.

    Little did I know then, but I would later be offered the Special Projects Assistant position within the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) for the summer. And so on the evening of May 6th, I moved to St. Catharines, and by the next morning, I was sitting in Theal House and starting training. Some of you may have a vague recollection of hearing about how the ESRC renovated and moved into Theal House back in February and how the Centre is partnering with Facilities Management on sustainability initiatives through a formal charter.  These milestones mark an exciting time for sustainability at Brock, and this summer is no exception, as we are working hard in the Centre on sustainability planning.

    To help carry out this new work on sustainability at Brock, three students, including myself, have been hired for the summer to work on both sustainability planning and communications. This is a really exciting opportunity for me, as I get to familiarize myself with Brock and the ESRC before I start my Masters in the fall. I will be able to gain valuable and relevant experience in the field of sustainability, and help contribute to something meaningful and positive in the Brock community.

    To be able to have a job you enjoy often feels rare to find, and so I am beyond thrilled to be joining the passionate and skilled staff dedicated to sustainability in the ESRC. I think the most amazing part is that staff, faculty, and students are all coming together to share their insights and skills, to engage with issues surrounding sustainability, and help to share Brock’s future directions.

    In the week and a half I’ve been at the Centre, I feel like I’ve gotten a good grasp on what’s currently happening at Brock in regard to sustainability, and I am optimistic for what is to come in the future. I am convinced there is a lot of good work being done at Brock, but that there is also a lot of room for growth and improvement. I want people to be aware that even though the Centre is tucked away in its own private space on campus, we are very much an active part of campus, and that there’s a lot of good and promising work being done here. I encourage faculty, staff, students, and visitors to pay attention to sustainability initiatives and efforts throughout the year, and to come visit us at Theal House and see what the ESRC is doing. We will be around all summer working hard on these exciting initiatives. Stay tuned to find out additional information and initiatives in our weekly summer blog series.

    Categories: Blog, Innovative Partnership, Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock

  • Brock Master of Sustainability student heading to Cambridge University for PhD in Zoology this Fall

    Blog Contributor: Samantha Morris

    Lydia Collas - Cambridge University

    Lydia Collas graduating with a BA (Honours) Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge. Photo credit: Aiden Chan

    Master of Sustainability student, Lydia Collas, is headed back to Cambridge University to start her PhD in Zoology under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Balmford this September. Building off her master’s research, which focuses on decision-making in agriculture, Lydia’s PhD research will explore “reforming agricultural policy to safeguard biodiversity: Are farmers willing to adopt land sparing?”

    The Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) is also pleased to announce that Lydia is the recipient of the ‘Cambridge International Scholarship’. This scholarship is awarded by the Cambridge Trust to the 250 highest ranked students undertaking PhD studies at Cambridge University. The ESRC would like to congratulate Lydia on this accomplishment and wish her all the best with her studies at Cambridge this Fall!

    Before heading back to the UK, Lydia will defend her Master’s thesis titled “Decision-making in agriculture: Why do farmers decide to adopt a new practice?” on May 23rd at 1pm. The defence will take place in the Cairns Building Room 209M (the Biolinc Boardroom), Brock University, and everyone is welcome to attend.

    Categories: Blog, Thesis Defense

  • Green thumbs needed to grow Brock Community Garden

    In addition to plants, the University is hopeful interest will grow in the Brock Community Garden.

    Brock’s grounds crew is busy tilling the soil, creating new grass aisles and enlarging the 12 garden plots located beside the entrance of the Zone 2 parking lot near Theal House.

    University staff, faculty and students looking to cultivate their green thumb are invited to use one of several free garden plots, assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Six plots are available, with six already claimed. The Rosalind Blauer Centre for Child Care will use two plots for experiential learning; Biological Sciences Professor Liette Vasseur’s research team will use three plots to test different cover crops — plants grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil; and Brock employee Alison Innes (MA ’13) plans to tend one plot for her personal vegetable garden.

    Before learning about the community plots last year, Innes, the social media co-ordinator for the Faculty of Humanities, considered herself a ‘gardener without a garden’ and often resorted to container gardening in her apartment complex.

    “It’s just wonderful to have space to grow things,” she said of the University’s communal greenspace. “It’s easy to stop by the plot at the end of the day and pick some fresh veggies to take home for supper.”

    Last year, Innes grew radishes, lettuce, carrots, chard, cucumber, zucchini, onions, beans and garlic. This year, she looks forward to adding potatoes and trying some heirloom varieties of vegetables such as purple beans. She also has an assortment of herbs and pollinator plants.

    Unfortunately, butterflies and bees aren’t the only animals the plants attract.

    “I joke that the deer and bunnies on campus are really well fed,” she said. “They got all my sunflowers and most of my beans last year. It takes a little creativity to discourage them from munching, but that’s the case wherever you garden.”

    Garden plots are expected to be ready for use after Tuesday, May 22. Water will be available near the garden as well as some tools for sharing. Pesticides are not permitted and annual and non-invasive plants are preferred.

    “I can’t wait to get started,” said Innes. “I find working in the garden really calming and meditative. I like to garden in the evening when it’s a bit cooler and will sometimes see wildlife and birds.”

    Innes encourages first-time gardeners to consider getting a plot.

    “Try it. It’s not as difficult as it might seem, although your garden will need regular care like weeding and watering,” she said. “There are lots of easy-to-grow vegetable like potatoes, beans or summer squash, and lots of great online resources on how to layout your garden. Growing plants from seeds keeps costs down, too.”

    Staff, faculty and students interested in claiming a garden plot are asked to contact Grounds Manager John Dick at

    Story originally published in The Brock News.

  • Brock-Lincoln Living Lab research project to examine Lake Ontario shoreline flooding

    The flooding of coastal communities along Lake Ontario last year caused major damage and made people realize that century floods aren’t nearly as rare as the name implies.

    A new research collaboration between Brock University and the Town of Lincoln is aimed at helping the community understand how to deal with the impacts of climate and environmental changes and examining potential avenues of solutions for future development along the shore. It’s the first externally funded project as part of the Brock-Lincoln Living Lab partnership announced in October 2017.

    Brock UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability Liette Vasseur is leading the three-year research study for the Ontario component of a larger project by Université du Québec à Rimouski, which is examining how various coastal communities can deal with and share ideas on the impacts of climate and environmental changes.

    Brock UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability Liette Vasseur

    “Communities are becoming more and more exposed to different hazards,” said Vasseur, who has been involved in similar research initiatives in other communities in Atlantic Canada and Ecuador. “With climate change, these types of events are coming faster and more often.”

    The project has received $280,000 in funding from the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR), with additional support from the Town of Lincoln and Brock. MEOPAR is an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government as a National Centre of Excellence that supports research and trains students in the area of marine risk and resilience.

    Lincoln suffered around $1 million in damage as a result of back-to-back spring storms in 2017 that caused massive flooding from Lake Ontario. The storms led to the Town’s first-ever voluntary evacuation notice for residents living near the Lake Ontario shoreline, and caused significant damage to Charles Daley Park and sewer systems in Jordan Station and Campden.

    Vasseur said climate change scenarios over the next decade are projecting continuous sea level rise and increases in extreme weather events. This will amplify the severity and frequency of flooding in coastal communities like Lincoln, which is continually growing with more people living near the Lake Ontario waterfront.

    “People were always talking about 100-year events. Now it’s more like one every five years,” she said. “It shows that we need to be more prepared. When we’re planning things like residential developments, we need to plan in a way that we’re going to survive with these types of events.”

    For the Town of Lincoln, the research will provide crucial information about current and future risks.

    “In 2017, Lincoln experienced the real and harsh effects of severe weather on critical infrastructure in our community,” said Lincoln CAO Mike Kirkopoulos. “As another benefit of the Brock-Lincoln Living Lab, this research is grassroots to our community, helping us better understand the conditions for collective ownership of adapting to climate change as an organization and community.”

    Vasseur said the research team will include a postdoctoral fellow and a master’s student, who will collect data in Lincoln, and share information and ideas with other researchers and communities along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

    “It will be a very good learning experience for the students, while helping the communities at the same time,” she said. “We’re hoping that by the end, the data we’re going to get can be used by communities all along the coastline.”

    Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton said municipalities like hers are learning that more frequent smaller floods — not just rare major flooding events — can have a big impact on resources.

    “Climate change and the impact on municipal infrastructure is top of mind for our council,” Easton said. “With the growing municipal infrastructure funding gap, municipalities have a responsibility for long-term planning and mitigation of the effects of climate change. This research is critical for council to understand how we can better identify actions toward climate change adaptation.”

    Story originally published in The Brock News

  • Environmental sustainability is the theme as Brock teams up with Niagara Parks

    The longstanding relationship between Brock University and the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) has entered a new era after the two institutions inked an agreement to work more closely in developing knowledge and practices in protecting the environment.

    In a ceremony Friday (April 20) at the NPC’s School of Horticulture, Brock Provost and Vice-President Academic Tom Dunk joined Niagara Parks Chair Janice Thomson in signing a Memorandum of Understanding designed to enhance the conservation practices of both organizations, while creating educational and research opportunities for Brock students and faculty through their work with Niagara Parks staff.

    Addressing members of the Parks Commission, Dunk praised the agreement as a reassuring sign of two organizations sharing a commitment to benefit people in the surrounding region, and far beyond.

    “We are both significant Niagara institutions that share a responsibility to use our resources and abilities for the greater good of our own community, and indeed of the whole planet,” said Dunk.

    A central player in this rekindled relationship is Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, whose Director, Ryan Plummer, was a key architect in developing the MOU and encouraging the collaboration behind it.

    The MOU calls for creating an Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI) that uses the expertise and resources of both organizations to increase environmental stewardship through public events and, in the case of students, through co-op education opportunities, course work and research.

    Plummer said an example of the potential for this MOU can be seen at the Niagara Glen Nature Area, where some 130,000 visitors a year hike down trails through the forested Niagara Gorge to the edge of the rushing Niagara River. Staff and researchers from both organizations can study public perceptions of the environment in a setting like that, to better understand which stewardship activities work best and which can be improved upon.

    “The MOU will advance the understanding and practice of environmental stewardship,” said Plummer. “Our partnership with the NPC addresses this two-fold challenge and does so in an iconic landscape. Engaging Brock faculty and students directly with staff from the NPC is sustainability science in action.”

    NPC Chair Thomson said the timing of the new agreement with is ideal.

    “This partnership reflects Niagara Parks’ steadfast commitment to the environment,” said Thomson, “and we look forward to continuing to work closely with Brock University and its team at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre in further advancing and promoting our shared goals.”

    Brock’s ESRC, a part of the Faculty of Social Sciences, is one of Canada’s leading environmental research units, encouraging research excellence in environmental sustainability and engaging in knowledge mobilization that impacts the environment.

    Niagara Parks in an agency of the Ontario government, entrusted to preserve and protect the lands surrounding the Niagara River. Besides managing millions of visitors each year to its Niagara Falls attractions, the Commission operates a wide range of facilities along the Niagara River between Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake, including historic sites, golf courses, nature trails, restaurants and its renowned School of Horticulture.

    Story originally published in The Brock News

  • Brock and Niagara Parks to sign MOU Friday

    Brock University’s history of collaboration with the Niagara Parks Commission will add another chapter this Friday (April 20) when officials sign a Memorandum of Understanding designed to support the stewardship and conservation practices of both organizations.

    The agreement aims to benefit both Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, which advances environmental sustainability through excellence in research and education, and the important stewardship programs that Niagara Parks undertakes.

    A signing ceremony will be held during a public Commission meeting at 10 a.m. in the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture in Niagara Falls. More details on the MOU will be released following Friday’s event.

    A self-financed agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Niagara Parks is entrusted to preserve and protect the land surrounding Niagara Falls and the Niagara River.

    The partnership comes on the heels of the ESRC unveiling its new home in the renovated Theal House on Brock’s campus. A grand opening was held Feb. 28 for the revamped space, which is now a focal point for the University’s sustainability efforts.

  • Congratulations to the 2018 winners of the sustainability poetry contest

    On March 21, the UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global, and the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre hosted the annual UNESCO World Poetry Day Celebration in St. Catharines. Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate with us at Mahtay Café!

    The theme for this year was “The Future We Want.” We would like to thank to everyone who submitted poems to the annual sustainability poetry contest and congratulate the 2018 winners:

    * Hannah Johnston, Elementary Student (Poem: “Now”)

    * Emily Lizbet Fulton, High School Student (Poem: “Do we have to die before dessert”)

    * Danielle Izzard, College/University Student (Poem: “My feet are damp”)

    * Liz Bonisteel, General Public (Poem: “Two worlds”)

    * Victoria Vieira, College/University Student, French (Poem: “Les cris d’univers”)

    We would also like to say a big thanks to the contest judges: Gregory Betts, Adam Dickinson, Neta Gordon, Nigel Lezama, and Catherine Parayre.

    Visit the UNESCO Chair website to learn more about the sustainability poetry contest.

    Categories: Blog

  • Brock research examines messaging to encourage less red meat consumption

    With the beef industry acting as a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, Brock University researchers are examining what can be done to cut down on the consumption of red meat by Canadians.

    Brock food scientist Gary Pickering and graduate student Samantha Stea are examining what type of messaging works to encourage people to either lessen their red meat consumption or stop eating it all together.

    The duo asked 593 red-meat eaters from across Canada why they eat beef, pork, lamb and other red meat, as well as how much they know about the environmental impacts of red meat farming.

    “Taste and quality are the most important motivators when it comes to consuming red meat,” says Stea, who recently completed a Master of Sustainability degree.

    Interestingly, the fourth-highest motivation for eating red meat was for health reasons, going against “traditional wisdom” that consuming too much red meat is actually bad for human health, says Pickering, a Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology, as well as in Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre.

    “Concerns around the ethics and morality of eating red meat were very low,” he says.

    Participants read a list of 13 environmental impacts — including global warming, deforestation, overuse of land, acid rain, soil contamination and others — and ticked off those they thought were associated with red meat consumption.

    Pickering and Stea then presented the red meat eaters with one of six message types that contained information about the environmental impacts of red meat production.

    The first type was a simple control: a factual statement of several negative environmental impacts of red meat production such as “The amount of corn and grain needed to feed one cow could feed 10 to 15 people.”

    The second and third version of the statements contained subtle variations that framed the facts in different ways. For instance, the “Canadian place identity” frame changed the earlier sentence to “In Canada, the amount of corn and grain needed to feed one cow could feed 10 to 15 people.”

    The “social norm” frame added, “People are making dietary choices to reflect their feelings towards these impacts,” while other messages contained combinations of the place identity and social norm frames.

    The researchers then asked participants several questions about their intended future red meat consumption.

    Almost half of the participants said they would reduce their red meat consumption after reading the control statement. The social norm statement also motivated participants to say they intended to eat less red meat. Place identity had no impact on changes in future consumption.

    Participants also re-read the list of 13 environmental impacts and once again ticked off those they thought were associated with red meat consumption. In all 13 categories, the red meat eaters’ knowledge and awareness of the environmental impacts of red meat farming increased.

    The researchers say several important lessons can be drawn from their study, “Optimizing Messaging to Reduce Red Meat Consumption,” which was published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Communication, and won the Best Paper Award at the International Conference on Food and Agriculture Technologies in Bali, Indonesia last year.

    Stea says the results paint a hopeful picture of what can be done to protect the environment.

    “It can be easy and simple to incorporate eco-friendly ideals and choices into our day-to-day lives,” she says. For example, by thinking about how we can make slight adjustments to our diet, like eating red meat less often, we can help reduce the environmental impacts created by the red meat industry.

    Many studies have outlined the severe environmental impacts of red meat farming that contribute to climate change, such as significant methane emissions, the global warming impact of nitrogen in fertilizers and manure, deforestation for pasture, and the huge water requirements used in farming.

    Story originally published in The Brock News.