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Biodiversity : Innovation + Job News

5 Biodiversity Articles | Page:

TD Green Streets taking applications for innovative urban forest projects

This month, TD Green Streets — a flagship program of non-profit Tree Canada — kicks off for TD Green Streets 2016. Until November 30, Green Streets is looking for proposals for innovative projects aimed at growing or caring for urban forests.

Green Streets is the only national grant program in Canada focused on urban forestry, and since 1994 it has awarded funding to almost 500 Canadian municipalities across the country. This year, 12 recipients will receive $25,000 in grant funding. The initiative is driven by the fact that caring for and fostering urban forestry is more difficult than most people think, according to Tree Canada president Michael Rosen.

“Some people think they just grow out of the sidewalk or they’re just there, but it requires a lot of maintenance, planning and work,” said Rosen. “So we’re looking for projects that are going to establish and maintain these trees, and have them grow into an old age.”

The need for a program dedicated to fostering urban forestry also stems from the fact that most Canadians live in highly-populated urban centres.“About 82 per cent of Canadians are now living in cities and towns that are basically urban in character,” said Rosen. “And what we’re finding is that municipalities are making more of an effort to ensure that trees are part of the infrastructure of cities.”

Funded projects in the past include a creative way of capturing and using water runoff in "Silva cells," filtering it through soil to clean it in underground units, and then providing water for the trees above in Mississauga’s Central Parkway Rain Garden. “Trees are important wherever they are. Even when they’re far away from urban centres, they’re still performing a wonderful environmental function,” said Rosen. “But trees in urban areas are that much closer to people, and they’re that much more significant to humans.”


U of T study finds ecosystem disaster in non-native species

In 1890, a pharmacist named Eugene Schieffelin released some 60 European starlings into New York's Central Park. He did so because the group he was part of, the American Acclimatization Society, wanted to make it so that the the skies of North America were filled with the sights and sounds of all the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.

Schieffelin and company got their wish and then some.

More than 100 years later, the European starling is everywhere, including Toronto. Free of its ancestral predators, the species has managed to grow unchecked, much to the detriment of North America's native wildlife and even to human activities like farming.

However, the European starling is only the most famous example of an invasive species being introduced to North America. Either by design or mistake, countless other non-native plants and animals have found their way into North America.

One such species is the European fire ant (myrmica rubra, for those that enjoy their Latin taxonomies). Colonies of this aggressive ant are often found near water, and they've become a common sight in the Don Valley and on the Toronto Island. A chance encounter with one of these ants often ends with a nasty bite.

What could be worse, is that this ant—and other invasive species like it—could be working together with other invaders to increase the rate at which they both spread across a new ecological system.

Megan Frederickson, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Kirsten Prior, a biology professor at the University of Florida, as well several postdoctoral fellows have spent the past year studying the European fire ant.

On a UofT-owned nature reserve an hour north of the city, the researchers used 42 plastic kiddie pools (pictured) to create siloed ecosystems. They filled each pool with soil and the seeds four different species of wildflowers—three of which were native to Ontario, and one, the greater celandine plant, which was not. They then released the European fire ant in about half of the pools and a native woodland ant in the other half, and let them go about their work over the winter.

When the team returned in the spring and summer, they found that the fire ants had dispersed all the species of wildflowers, but particularly the invasive greater celandine plant, to far greater effect than their North American cousins.

This finding seems to in part validate a theory called invasional meltdown, which suggests that the establishment of one invasive species can help facilitate the incursion of other non-native species.

“I’d say we have really good evidence for half of the story. Our experiment very clearly shows that this invasive species, the european fire ant, can help this invasive plant spread,” says Professor Frederickson. “What we don’t know if the reverse is also true.”

Frederickson and her team are working towards seeing if the greater celandine plant somehow helped the fire ants.
The term invasional meltdown was coined by evolutionary biologists Daniel Simberloff and Betsy Von Holle in a seminal 1999 paper.

“Since they wrote this paper in 1999 people have been interested in looking for examples, and there are a handful examples out there but not a whole lot. There’s some debate in the field on how common and important this phenomenon might be—and it's one of the reasons we were interested in doing this study,” says Professor Frederickson.

In the press release that announced the study's findings, Professor Frederickson's colleague Kirsten Prior succinctly stressed the importance of their research. “Invasive species are a leading threat to natural ecosystems, and can have impacts on society,” she said.

“Research on how ecosystems become invaded and the consequences of invasion is important. It sets us on the right path to develop solutions to reduce the spread and impact of these harmful species.”

Source: University of Toronto
Photos: J.G. Sanders, K.M..Prior.

Who's Hiring in Toronto? SickKids Foundation, Canada's National Ballet School and more

Some of the more interesting employment opportunities we've spotted this week include:

Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, a non-profit devoted to preserving Ontario's Greenbelt, an area surrounding the Golden Horseshoe, is hiring a research and policy analyst. As the title suggests, the role involves significant amounts of research, though there's a major outreach component as well. Specific requirements include engaging with a variety of government and non-government organizations.

The SickKids Foundation has two new openings this week.

First, they're seeking an associate graphic designer. The position requires three to five years of experience in digital marketing or communications, and will see that the person that takes on this position help the non-profit with its fund raising initiatives on behalf of Sick Kids Hospital.

The foundation is also seeking to hire an associate events director. The role has a significant emphasis on building and mentoring a team, as well as building new and existing events. This position requires five to seven years in a related leadership role.

On the culture side, Canada's National Ballet School is hiring a digital media co-ordinator. The role involves creating audiovisual material that will help with the school's promotional, marketing and educational needs. Three-plus years of related media experience is a requirement of this position, as well as expertise with programs such as Sony Vegas and DVD Architect.

Finally, the National Reading Campaign is looking for someone to join its board of directors as an executive director. Much of the role involves working with a volunteer board, and managing the campaign's initiatives. Candidates living in Toronto are preferred, though those living outside of the city with an exceptional skill sets will also be considered.

Do you know of a job opportunity with an innovative company or organization? Let us know!  

Ryerson develops online tool to calculate how much money that tree in your yard is saving you

Ryerson professor Andrew Millward thinks you need a tree in your yard.

He is so convinced, in fact, that he’s gone and developed a very seriously titled online tool, the Ontario Residential Tree Benefits Estimator, to convince you he’s right.

According to a paper the geography professor co-wrote, in which he and his team followed 577 trees to provide 25- and 40-year energy conservation projections, "each tree will save between 435 and 483 kWh per household -- equal to running a dishwasher once every day for an entire year. This can translate into a saving of upwards of $40 annually."

"Trees provide many social, economic and environmental benefits in addition to the energy conservation ones we highlight in our study," he says. "And they require an investment of time and care, especially in the first years following planting. Because large trees deliver the lion’s share of benefits, cities require a collective contribution/will/action to ensure we have large healthy trees in our cities. Tools, such as the estimator we have developed, help make the economic case for care and maintenance of trees."

Users of the tool choose their city, tree species and its location on the property to calculate their own real or potential savings.

The estimator was developed for 27 cities around Ontario, with coding by Nikesh Bhagat from Ryerson’s spatial analysis graduate program. According to Millward, the team -- which also includes Michelle Sawka, Janet MacKay, LEAF and Misha Sarkovich -- would be open to tailoring it for other cities around the country and the world.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Millward

University of Toronto secures $7.3 million in research grants

There's some good news coming out of the federal government: the University of Toronto has been awarded a total of $7.3 million over the next five years to support eight separate research projects. The money comes via the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which is the federal government's primary agency for issuing scientific research funds.

The largest grant comes via the Strategic Network Grants (SNG) program, which focuses on supporting research that is likely to have an economic impact on Canada within a decade, and specifically on large-scale collaborative projects that span organizations and disciplines. This $4.4 million grant will go to the Canadian Network for Aquatic Ecosytems, which includes researchers from 11 universities and several government departments, and whose lead researcher is the University of Toronto's Donald Jackson. The network will use the money to investigate how the loss of aquatic biodiversity will affect Canadians—how our services, economy, and industry are changing as a result of environmental stress in aquatic ecosystems. That, said the network in a statement announcing the grant, "will help inform policies on the development of Canada’s natural resources in regions where rapid economic development is underway."

Another $2.9 million will be distributed among seven other projects at the university via a separate grants program. Among the scientists awarded research funds: a chemical engineer studying innovative ways to process pulp and paper mill waste; a materials science researcher exploring efficient light harvesting; and an ecologist examining how to optimize marine protection areas.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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