Updates of the Chair

  • Protecting snapping turtles and other wetland species

    Wetlands are beautiful habitats where many unique species of animals can be found. We are all
    able to help protect and conserve these critically important ecosystems.

    In Ontario, most of our important wetlands have been mapped and are protected through various regulations. Wetlands that support critical habitat and species are called Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSW) and are protected from development and disturbance. However, simply drawing a line around a wetland and saying it is “protected” is not enough to ensure the protection and survival of the species it contains. Many wetland species, such as turtles, snakes, and frogs, are mobile and capable of traveling great distances to find food and suitable habitat for breeding. When wildlife moves between habitats, they become extremely vulnerable to threats that could impact their ability to survive (and thrive).

    Everyone can play a part in helping to protect and conserve our treasured wetland species. One
    simple thing we can all do to help is to be mindful of the presence of wildlife on our roadways.
    Springtime, in particular, is a vulnerable time for many wetland species as they are on the move to find suitable nesting areas. Snapping turtles are of special concern in Ontario because they often lay their eggs in gravel along roadways in late May and early June and are at high risk of road mortality.

    You can help snapping turtles and other turtles by safely removing them off the road if you see
    them. Many tips and tricks can be used to ensure you do this without harming yourself or the
    turtle, but here are a few of the basics:

    • Never lift a turtle up from the tail, as the tail is attached to the turtle’s spine. To a human,
      this would be like being lifted up by your neck.
    • Snapping turtles have long necks and can extend their mouth past their front legs. You
      can safely pick up a snapping turtle by holding the very back of its shell behind its back
    • Large snapping turtles can be effectively maneuvered backwards across road surfaces by
      pulling on the back part of their shell. Although slightly bothersome to them, it can save
      their life without hurting them.
    • Mats from your car can also be used to wedge under large turtles and move them to
    • Leave a nesting turtle alone while she is egg-laying in the sand, gravel, or even loose soil
      (she will appear very docile, almost as if she is asleep, while she is laying eggs). Brightly
      coloured objects such as pylons, painted rocks (which can be a great craft for young kids)
      or safety vests can be placed beside a nesting turtle on the edge of the road to increase her
      visibility for other drivers. This will not bother her, as she will be focused on the job at-

    The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt a Pond YouTube video also offers a variety of useful and clever
    techniques for safely removing turtles from roads. Just remember, if you see a turtle on the road, remove it in the direction it was traveling and be mindful of traffic. It is never worth putting your personal safety at risk.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the
    impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur,
    Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier, and Jocelyn Baker). Visit our
    website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca.

    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • Brock Profs call for renewed connection with nature in new book chapter

    What does the future of education look like, and how does it need to be adapted and re-evaluated to create a more sustainable future? Two Brock University professors contributed to this debate in their chapter selected for publication in a recent e-book from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

    Liette Vasseur, Professor of Biological Sciences and UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability: From Local to Global, and Christine Daigle, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Brock’s Posthumanism Research Institute, were chosen to present their work in the e-book titled Humanistic futures of learning: Perspectives from UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks.

    UNESCO initiated the call for chapters last summer with the goal of bringing together diverse perspectives of how education can provide a foundation for building peace and driving sustainable development. The book will later serve as the basis for a global report, developed by the International Commission on the Futures of Education and will guide future policy debate, research and action.

    Vasseur and Daigle’s chapter, “Strengthening our connection to nature to build citizens of the Earth,” was selected from numerous contributions from around the world. In the chapter, they highlight the dangers of rampant consumerism and explain why the existing disconnect between humans and the realities of a depleting planet will prevent current and future generations from creating a sustainable future.

    “If we don’t begin to realize now the important connection we have with nature, we will continue doing what we are doing, which is destroying this planet,” says Vasseur.

    She says that by relying on technology as a learning tool instead of spending time physically immersed in nature, it is difficult to fully grasp the critical functions that biodiversity and the natural environment play in everyday life. Without fully understanding this interconnectivity, it is impossible to then understand that overall well-being is directly impacted by ecosystem degradation.

    Bridging that gap requires a shift away from the unsustainable model of viewing the natural world as merely a vessel for consumerism and economic growth.

    “We assume that economic growth can be infinite, but our planet is finite — we only have one,” says Vasseur. “We can’t continue to exploit what’s non-renewable or there will be nothing left for future generations.”

    Vasseur and Daigle propose that a new educational approach focusing on nature, our place in it, and a mindfulness of the relationships between all living things, must be developed.

    “A critical posthumanist perspective, such as the one I embrace, sees all beings as fundamentally entangled,” says Daigle. “We must understand this and work toward fostering relations with the other beings with whom we live, so that the web of beings may thrive—including, potentially, ourselves.”

    She says achieving that will require a major overhaul of the entire education system from pre-school to lifelong learning.

    “We seem to be going in circles in our environmental policy decision-making — we devise solutions that cause other problems that we then must address — but the reason we fail is that we are devising those solutions based on the same old problematic worldview and set of values,” says Daigle. “If we transform this radically, a goal we propose in the chapter, we will start devising different and better solutions.”

    Categories: Updates of the Chair

  • 2020 Sustainability Poetry Contest winners announced

    The winning entries for this year’s Sustainability Poetry Contest have been chosen. Hosted annually by Brock University’s United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair, the contest invites Niagara poets to submit original written works, in English or French, that celebrate sustainability. This theme of this year’s contest was the International Year of Plant Health, which drew the most entries the contest has received since it first began in 2015.

    The winners of the contest are typically announced during an annual World Poetry Day Celebration in St. Catharines, but given the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event has been postponed. While the event will be rescheduled for a future date, Brock UNESCO Chair Liette Vasseur decided to congratulate the winners in advance.

    “We were so pleased to see so many members of the Niagara community participate in this year’s contest and thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the wonderful entries,” said Vasseur. “While we are disappointed that we couldn’t celebrate World Poetry Day in person this March, we look forward to coming together to share poetry and honour the winners as soon as it is safe to do so.”

    This year’s winning entries include:

    • Un monde tout vert by Brock Concurrent Education student Alexander Emmitt Yap
    • Help the Plants by Harry Byun, Grade 3 student at Kate S. Durdan Public School in Niagara Falls
    • Terra by Elizabeth Grace Tomaino, Grade 12 student at Blessed Trinity Catholic Secondary School
    • The Active Agent by Diana Vasu, English Language and Literature Student at Brock University
    • Adam and Eve Recall the tree by Franco ON Cortese, of Thorold, Ontario

    All of the winners have been contacted and will be notified when a new event date has been selected.

    Vasseur also extended a special thanks to her Brock colleagues who served as this year’s judging panel: Catherine Parayre, Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture; Gregory Betts, Professor with the Department of English; Adam Dickinson, Associate Professor of English and award-winning poet; and Neta Gordon, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Student Affairs and Curriculum in the Faculty of Humanities.

    The forthcoming poetry celebration will be free and open to the public. Those interested in attending are encouraged to monitor the UNESCO Chair’s website for updates on when a date is selected. An e-book compilation of all of this year’s entries will also be published on the website in the coming months.

    Categories: Updates of the Chair

  • MEOPAR BLOG: The Importance of Niagara’s Wetlands

    The Great Blue Heron is one of the many diverse species that rely on Niagara’s wetlands for survival.

    Access to clean, healthy water is critical for life. With more surface water than any other country in the world, Canada is also home to 25 per cent of the world’s wetlands. Canadian wetlands include fresh and saltwater marshes, wooded swamps, bogs, seasonally flooded forest, sloughs and any land area that can hold water long enough to let wetland plants and soils develop.

    Wetland ecosystems are important to the social, economic and ecological health of Canadians, providing a wide range of leisure opportunities including fishing, hunting, boating, and swimming; purifying and filtering nutrients, sediments and other pollutants from surface water; and protecting the country’s drinking water systems.

    Often referred to as vital lifelines of nature, wetlands provide links between water and land habitats, making them one of the world’s most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems.

    Wetlands support over 100,000 freshwater species globally, providing food and habitat for a large variety of species — including humans. Rice — the most important source of nutrition of nearly half of all human-kind — is grown in wetland complexes, for example. Not only that, but most commercial fisheries depend on wetlands for part of their lifecycle, with fish providing almost half of the world’s population with a significant portion of their nutritional protein needs.

    Habitat loss and degradation are recognized as the single greatest threats to plants and animals (biodiversity) in Canada. Despite the important contributions that wetlands provide, over 87 per cent of our global wetlands have been lost, primarily to land conversion, invasive species and climate change. A quarter of all wetlands in Canada are found in Ontario, and Southern Ontario has lost over 90 per cent of its original wetlands due to urbanization (housing and businesses) and, to a lesser degree, agriculture.

    People and nature have co-existed for thousands of years and now, more than ever, people are understanding the role that nature plays in both mental and physical health and well-being. Residents of the Niagara Peninsula are incredibly fortunate as this region has highest diversity of plants and animal species in all of Canada. In fact, the Niagara Region is one of the most biologically diverse life zones in all of North America. Its local climate is moderated by the Great Lakes and the Niagara Escarpment, which supports the existence of plants and animal species that are not found anywhere else in Canada. An example is the ancient white cedars, which can only be found within the Niagara River gorge and along parts of the Niagara Escarpment. Many of these species, such as the endangered Northern Dusky Salamander, are dependent on wetlands for survival. Ensuring the sustainability of wetland ecosystems is therefore of great concern — not only for the species they contain, but also for the well-being of the humans that cohabitate these regions.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg and Sam Gauthier). Visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca.


    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • Earth Day Message from Brock’s UNESCO Chair

    Since we can’t celebrate in person this year, Liette Vasseur, Brock University’s UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: from Local to Global, has a special Earth Day message for us all — which is more important now than ever. Watch the video below, or on YouTube.

    Categories: Updates of the Chair

  • Brock professor earns co-editor role with scientific journal Botany

    From The Brock News, Monday, April 20, 2020 | by 

    Biological Sciences Professor Liette Vasseur recently accepted a five-year co-editor appointment with the acclaimed scientific journal Botany, including an option to renew it for an additional five years.

    “It’s certainly an honour to be involved,” says Vasseur, who began working with the journal in 1998. “I first became an associate editor; at the time, it was called the Canadian Journal of Botany.”

    Her current research for Brock University’s Faculty of Mathematics and Science is in plant science.

    “My main focus is on examining how plants adapt to climatic and environmental changes,” says Vasseur. “The research is mainly conducted in rural communities, in vineyards, vegetable farms or pastures. In addition, I continue examining how we can better understand the population ecology and genetic of species at risk in order to restore their populations.”

    Co-editors differ from associate editors by being asked to read submissions from a wider range of topics. Vasseur says she’s looking forward to reading various types of article in her role.

    “As associate editor, you tend to be focused on your expertise only,” she says. “This will allow me to read other subjects and also meet the associate editors.”

    She believes she was selected for the honour likely because she’s “been with the journal for quite a long time and I tend to be rigorous in the reviews. The area of ecology is also a very popular component of the journal.”

    Vasseur also credits her bilingualism as being a strong point for the journal, which is also bilingual. She hopes to help bring an even higher profile to the journal by “having more people submitting quality manuscripts and knowing more people are reading the articles in the journals.”

    The fields of research featured in the journal have a lot to offer.

    “It goes from mycorrhizal inoculation mitigation and plant biomechanics to pollination and microbial interaction and plant species migration,” she says. “In fact, it is a vast field and many new discoveries are found on a regular basis.”

    Mathematics and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed is “pleased to hear about the appointment and happy to hear a faculty member will be representing the team as co-editor of a well-respected journal. Congratulations to Vasseur for her many years of research and contributions to the field.”

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, many areas of research are challenging to complete, but Vasseur is looking for the roses among the thorns.

    “Studying plants in an agricultural setting means I am especially encouraging people at home to think about starting their own gardens,” she says. “It’s not too complicated and brings joy, as well as education for kids.”

    Categories: Updates of the Chair

  • MEOPAR Blog: How much do we consume?

    Reducing our footprint is crucial for ensure the sustainability of our world.

    Have you ever considered how much you consume? The amount that we consume is known as theecological footprint (EF). It is a value that was developed in 1990 by two researchers, Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. It is an effective tool to estimate our current individual environmental impact on the planet and which factors contribute to it, such as the energy required to operate homes, electronics, clothes, food, magazines, restaurants, travel, and more.

    The ecological footprint is calculated by determining and then comparing the cycle of supply (what we already have) and demand (what we want).  The tool first measures the resources that are already produced in our ecosystem and how much waste the planet can absorb. What is naturally produced is classified into a few categories: food and fiber, livestock and fish, timber and other forest products, energy, and space for urban infrastructure. The tool then compares what we effectively use as an individual, a population or a country.

    Currently, the planet cannot keep up with the demands we are placing on it. In fact, the planet needs one year and eight months to produce the resources that we are currently using and then absorb what we waste. That cycle may even become longer in the future, with estimates that it may take two years for the planet to replenish its resources and absorb the waste necessary to keep up with our increasing demand by 2050! It’s clear this is not sustainable.

    The ecological footprint also varies widely from country to country. The computation of the EF indicator incorporates all the inputs (resources) and transforms them into one parameter called ‘global hectare (gha)’. One global hectare (gha) is equivalent to one hectare of bio-productive land with world average productivity. In 2014, each Canadian required roughly 8.26 global hactares (gha) to meet the country’s demand, i.e. the amount of land to grow the food or materials extracted from various places in the world to produce the resources we need. Comparatively, people in the African countries of Cameroon and Burundi needed only 1.66 gha and 0.66 gha, respectively. If every country had similar consumption patterns as Canada, we would need the equivalent of five planets to keep up with the demand!

    With that in mind, it is important to consider your own ecological footprint and how your actions can help decrease the unsustainable demand on our planet. You can start by calculating your own EF here, and then use these data to think about different ways you can reduce this EF. This may include reducing resource consumption (saving water, saving electricity), making diet changes (buying local foods, eating less meat), using sustainable transportation modes (biking, busing) and efficiently managing waste (recycling, composting). You can start any time, and in very simple ways —and every little step helps.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg and Sam Gauthier) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca.


    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • MEOPAR BLOG: When do plants flower? A fun way to enjoy the outdoors

    Capturing a backyard shot of one of the first blooms to upload to the PlantWatch app.

    Do you enjoy the outdoors, springtime walks or gardening? Have you noticed which flowers have already been blooming? Plants are amazing at telling us how the weather is changing from one year to the next. In fact, many spring plants are sensitive to the number of nice, sunny days we get with temperatures higher than 0 degrees Celsius. It only takes small temperature changes to cause plants to flower early or late. This means that a cold spring will later be reflected by several spring flowers blooming late.

    The recording of these dates of first or full blooms is a science in itself: It is called phenology. But why bother recording these dates? Doing so helps us understand how our climate is changing over time. This is not really new; records in Europe were first recorded bySwedish scientist and artist Linnaeus (father of the taxonomic classification of species) in 1750. In Canada, Nova Scotia appears to be one of the first provinces that systematically recorded phenological data. This was organized by Nova Scotia’s Superintendent of Education, Dr. Alexander H. MacKay, who requested that students collect the dates of plant flowering between 1897 and 1923. Thanks to these historical records from across North America, for example, we know that some plant species are now flowering earlier due to climate change.

    Anyone can record dates of blooming plants in their neighbourhood. It is part of a citizen science initiative where your data can be integrated into a national monitoring program called PlantWatch. You can find more information, add your data and see your data on the map at naturewatch.ca/plantwatch/. As part of a network of “watchers,” you are kept informed of the results and the trends in our province and in other parts of Canada. This is a fun and completely free way to enjoy the outdoors. It’s also a great way for kids to learn about different plants, their names and how flowers open and produce seeds.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg and Sam Gauthier) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca.


    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • MEOPAR Blog: Spring Migration of Birds in the Niagara Region

    During the spring months we often see beautiful birds, such as the Rose Breast Grosbeak shown above. Photo courtesy of Marcie Jacklin.

    The Niagara Region and its 12 municipalities are located between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, making it an ideal corridor for migrating birds. The various habitats in the region support an exceptional diversity of migratory birds during the spring and fall.

    Many species will come through Niagara during the spring migration. In fact, with the warmer temperatures we have been experiencing in the region this spring, many of these species are already back.  Spring migration is unique because we begin to see some of the amazing songbirds that only visit the region for a short time, such as the Scarlet Tanager, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, and Blackburnian Warbler. Some of these species also come here for the summer to breed.

    Aside from the songbirds, there are also many other species of birds whose migration patterns can be observed during this period. Some of the first birds to return are different types of waterfowl that visit Lake Ontario. A number of these migrant birds, such as the Northern Shoveler and the Blue Winged Teal, are only present for one to two weeks—so make sure you watch for them and check them off your birding list!

    Niagara is home to many different bird watching areas, and with the mild weather we have been having this spring, birdwatching is a great way for people of all ages to pass the time and learn something new while practicing social distancing.

    The Niagara River Corridor, Port Weller East Pier, and wooded areas along the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shoreline are great locations for spotting some of the region’s most amazing birds.  Many local conservation parks and trails, such as Beamer Memorial Conservation Area and Mud Lake Conservation Area, currently remain open for passive recreational use and are also perfect places for birdwatching (all buildings within the parks, including public washrooms, are presently closed, however).

    There are also great resources online if you want to learn more about local bird populations from home. The All About Birds resource from Cornell, for example, has a searchable bird database and other great resources for new or veteran birdwatchers alike.  The National Audubon Society website is another great resource, providing information about ecosystem-wide conservation initiatives and local bird populations, as well as hosting citizen science initiatives like the Christmas Bird Count.

    Niagara Birds by John Black and Kayo Roy can also be accessed online, offering 25 articles and 368 species accounts authored by professional ornithologists and highly experienced amateur birders.





    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • MEOPAR Blog: Bring back the bank swallows

    Photo Caption: Shoreline bird nests along the banks of the Lincoln coastline are at risk as the shoreline continues to erode. 

    Many people living in coastal communities have likely been lucky enough to experience the magic of bank swallows zipping through the air, showing off with an aerial display of acrobatics. Bank swallows are widely distributed across the world and can be found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.  Canada’s largest populations of bank swallows occurs between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  These birds migrate through the Greater Niagara Region during the spring and summer months and can often be spotted in the Town of Lincoln. Unfortunately, their population has been declining since 1970, and they are now considered a threatened species in North America.

    Several factors are believed to be responsible for the decline in bank swallow populations. These birds prefer to nest in burrows along the shoreline (or banks) of rivers and lakes with vertical faces of silt and sand deposits. With the effects of climate change on shorelines causing erosion and land degradation, this is a major contributor to the decline of bank swallow populations. Coastal development and the addition of hard infrastructure along the shores have accelerated this phenomenon. This loss of breeding, nesting and foraging habitats for these shorebirds forces them to look elsewhere for these resource-rich areas. Many of these birds are now also found in sand and gravel pits where the banks remain suitable, although not ideal. This also presents many challenges to the species as activities in gravel pits, such as digging and movement of trucks, may affect their survival.

    Due to the Species at Risk status of bank swallows, they are protected by the government to ensure their populations do not continue decreasing. The population of bank swallows is beneficial for the community as increasing biodiversity results in healthier ecosystems. As individuals, you can help encourage their conservation by protecting their habitat. With proper adaptation strategies used to protect shorelines, you can increase the survival of bank swallows. Homeowners living on the shoreline may even be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of Species at Risk and their habitats, which is a great way for coastal communities to contribute to the conservation and restoration of their shorelines.


    Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair