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Newfoundland home to majority of an endangered species

Newfoundland home to majority of an endangered species
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By Glenda McCarthy

A multi-agency research project hopes to create a predictive model ecologists can use to identify areas of suitable habitat for the critically endangered species boreal felt lichen (Erioderma pedicellatum).

While the species has suffered major reductions and is considered to be one of the most endangered lichens in the world, there is hope
of its survival with findings in Alaska, Russia and even right here in Newfoundland. Today, it is known that the majority of the world’s
recorded boreal felt lichen are located on the Avalon Peninsula and south coast of Newfoundland.

A team of scientists led by Dr. André Arsenault of the Canadian Forest Service (CFS), has been studying the ecology and distribution of the lichen in Hall’s Gullies and surrounding landscapes on the Avalon Peninsula since 2011. This collaboration now includes CNA, CFS, Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Natural Resources, the Centre for Forest Science, Innovation Newfoundland Labrador, and the Department of Environment and Conservation, working together with the ultimate goal to develop a site suitability model.

The results of the model would allow researchers to select field-work locations in a more efficient manner, targeting the areas
where the lichen is most likely to be. That’s where Darin Brooks, the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) instructor at CNA, comes in. He says his role in the project is to develop a spatially explicit predictive model in collaboration with Grenfell Campus.

“The first phase of the project was to collect field information to understand the habitat of the boreal felt lichen and the dynamics of the forests where it is found. This was led by the Canadian Forest Service in collaboration with the Newfoundland Forest Service and Environment and Conservation, and later Grenfell Campus of Memorial University,” Darin says.

“Dr. Dmitry Sveshnikov of Grenfell and I received an RDC (Research & Development Corporation) Regional Collaboration Research Initiative grant in 2014. It focused on the characterization of forest stands and individual trees of Newfoundland ecosystems to develop a predictive model. This complemented the ongoing research by Dr. André Arsenault to develop a predictive model for the boreal felt lichen, supported by the Centre for Science and Innovation and the Canadian Forest Service.”

Newfoundland home to majority of an endangered species.

The project combines Erioderma geospatial modeling (at a landscape level) with specific on-ground lichen analysis (at an
ecosystem scale), and characterization of the trees that it grows on.

“My role was chiefly in the development of a habitat site suitability model and the creation of a geostatistical model for the prediction of Erioderma presence/absence.”

In addition, Darin’s role as a researcher and representative of CNA included providing state-of-the-art GIS modeling software, high-end GIS computers, GIS lab time, and current GPS technology to the project. The collaboration has also enabled a successful multidisciplinary approach combining field ecology, lab-work, satellite imagery, and sophisticated geostatistical analyses in GIS.

According to Darin and the rest of the team, Robert LeBlanc, a 2013 GIS post-diploma graduate, who currently works with André at CFS, has played a critical role in the project through data collection, data analysis, model design, validation design, and field validation.

“Robert’s field experience working with André in the field, his training as a biologist with Grenfell, and his intense GIS training from
the GIS Applications Specialist (post-diploma) has placed Robert in a privileged position to make the bridge between detailed field-work and state of the art GIS modelling,” Darin says.

“It’s been great to be working alongside Robert again. We have worked on a couple of research projects together since he graduated.

Robert was an exceptionally strong student when he was in the GIS post-diploma program – and he is definitely living up to his potential as a researcher.”

Robert says working on all aspects of this project has been a great experience.

“As a recent graduate, collecting data on a globally rare species that has such a high profile within the province was really cool. There are very few places in the world in which the population of the boreal felt lichen is thriving, so working on a project that has such significance at the regional, national, and even global scale is very exciting and gratifying,” Robert says.

“I have worked individually with André, Darin, and Dmitry on various projects (past and present). When the modeling portion started, it was nice to have everyone on one team, working on the same project. Everyone specialized in something different, and we all fed off of each other’s strengths, making the workflow smoother and more enjoyable.”

Darin says the research this group is working on is important on many levels.

“First, given that Newfoundland is the home of the majority of this globally rare lichen species, it presents us with an amazing opportunity to improve the state of knowledge and science on this species,” Darin says. “Also, the approaches we are using enable us to develop both fundamental and applied aspects of science. The development of a predictive model can assist land use management, especially on the Avalon Peninsula where there is active land development in potential boreal felt lichen habitat.”

He says their model will provide managers options about changing plans or developing mitigating measures to reduce impact on this
lichen species.

“This research is also important because it is demonstrating international level research done at a local level in a strong
collaboration between Grenfell, a federal government scientist, CNA researchers and students, and the province of Newfoundland and
Labrador.”

CNA’s GIS Applications Specialist (post-diploma) program, Grenfell Campus MUN, and Canadian Forest Service have enjoyed a strong and extensive collaborative research partnership since 2010, mainly due to the required GIS capstone project, which is part of the required curriculum.

“Through the years, new research partnerships, independent of the GIS capstone, have emerged between the three entities, with each partner lending their particular expertise to cutting edge research topics,” Darin says.
In addition, several GIS post-diploma graduates have been hired by CFS and Grenfell Campus in a research capacity – in both short term contracts and long term commitments.

“The blended expertise of the partners creates extremely strong research teams capable of providing solutions and results to
contemporary complex issues.”

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