Updates June 2018

Greetings Everyone

Alberta, June 21 2018

Summer is here and with it the start of the third field season for BERA!  With everyone heading out, we would like to briefly review some of the BERA research activities since our BERA research workshop last November, and provide some highlights of the planned summer field work. Specific notes on the status of individual lab members can be found below.

Over the past year, our BERA team members have continued to advance their research projects. Several undergraduate Honours and Masters Theses have been completed; ongoing and new Masters and PhD projects are steadily progressing with the continued collection, processing, and analyzing of data; and two new postdoctoral projects will be collecting field data this summer.  The list of associated journal publications and conference presentations to date is bearing witness to these successful research activities!

At last fall’s plenary discussion at the research workshop, the BERA team was greeted with a wealth of positive feedback to the current research directions by the growing groups of BERA funding partners and BERA collaborators.  In response, the BERA Principal Investigator (PI) team decided to move forward in developing an enhanced work plan with a new ‘big grid’ pilot project at Kirby South. The pilot offers a great opportunity for the various BERA research teams to collaborate in one common study area, where portions of the area have undergone a range of restoration treatments.  Kirby South is located in the Cold Lake region south of Conklin and provides the best combination of access and data availability of the BERA sites sampled to date. It is equipped with wall-to-wall coverage of high-quality remote sensing data flown by BERA in 2017, enabling the teams to pursue a series of interrelated research questions. This pilot project adds depth and breadth to the existing BERA’s objectives, by raising questions about cumulative effects of human footprint/industrial activity on wildlife, the abiotic conditions exist on seismic lines, and their influences on the trajectory of vegetation recovery.

This year, most teams will be spending portions of their summer in Kirby pilot pursuing the following activities:

  • Establishing a 6×6 km big grid (Bayne lab) and equipping it with Automatic Recording Units (ARUs) that collect a) coarser-scaled measurements of bird vocalizations at 600 m ground intervals, as well as b) finer-scaled measurements using improved technological equipment in a sub-section of the big grid at 200 m intervals for multi-scale investigations;
  • Forest structure measurements, such as a) understory structure, b) canopy structure, and c) coarse woody debris for remote sensing analyses and mapping (McDermid and Castilla labs);
  • Measurement of micro-climatic and soil compaction conditions on seismic lines in support of vegetation trajectory modeling (Nielsen lab; soil component in collaboration with Strack lab). The Liang loT lab is continuing their research on wireless sensor networks for human footprint monitoring and will be running field tests in an area closer to their research development center (i.e. Kananskis UofC field station) before deploying them in the Kirby pilot project.

Some specific notes on individual team members are listed below and will complete this update:

Remote Sensing Team:

  • Man Fai Wu has completed his contribution to the McDermid lab’s first effort to delineate coniferous seedlings in remote sensing imagery: in this case using softcopy photo interpretation. The team is still finishing up the analysis, but Fai has moved on to a new experiment using automated detection techniques.
  • Gustavo Lopez Queiroz joined the BERA RS team in September 2017 with the objective to conduct research on the remote sensing of coarse woody debris for caribou habitat restoration in Alberta’s boreal forest. Gus defended his proposal last month and is currently preparing for his field mission to collect CWD measurements on seismic lines and adjacent forests in portions of Kirby South.
  • Shijuan Chen successfully defended her Masters Thesis in June 2017 and published her work last winter on characterizing vegetation structure on anthropogenic features with UAVs. Shijuan is currently undertaking a PhD program at Boston University.
  • Mustafiz Rahman is BERA’s geospatial technician, supporting the geospatial needs of the entire project, but he is also a postdoctoral-level researcher in his own right. This summer, he is launching a study to characterize forest understory vegetation using BERA’s high-density LiDAR and photogrammetry data acquired over the Kirby South area in 2017. Mustafiz’ work will assist in the development of new tools to characterize boreal forests, and contribute to our understanding of the effects of disturbance.
  • Guillermo Castilla and his CFS team are planning a UAV acquisition in early August in a seismic line in the Peace River area where BERA collaborator Maria Strack is measuring methane. In addition Guillermo and his CFS team will continue working in the seedling height estimation for the Kirby pilot sites where they have generated point clouds from their UAV images flown at different altitudes.

IoT/ground sensor Team:

  • Kan Luo is preparing for his PhD candidacy exam this summer, including a literature review document and a proposal document. He is also designing and developing the IoT board, its firmware, wireless radio network for communications, gateway for bridging IoT nodes to the Internet, and the cloud software for sensor data storage and analysis. He is working with Dr. Saeedi to deploy a 100 nodes network in the Kananaskis field station.
  • Sara Saeedi is developing the de-noising algorithm, software that implements the algorithm, and hardware that uses three axis accelerometers to detect presence of ATVs and animals. Dr. Saeedi is also working with Kan on the cloud software to ensure the cloud data and analysis are Open Geospatial Consortium standard compliant. Sara will also work with Kan deploy and test the 100 node sensor network at Kananaskis station.

Ecological Team:

  • Angelo Filicetti is collecting field data on post-fire recovery of seismic lines in aspen stands this summer. These are compared with nearby unburned seismic lines with similar ecosite conditions. He also revisits a sample of his 2016 post-fire jack pine sites during spring to look at rate of change in downed snags which accumulate post-fire creating natural line blocking.  His research findings on fire and forest recovery rates on seismic lines in Jack Pine forests were published recently.
  • Caroline Franklin joined the Nielsen lab as a postdoctoral fellow last month – welcome Caroline! Caroline designed a microclimate study for the summer which is examining light and temperature patterns across different seismic line types comparing narrow (3D) or wide (2D) lines that are orientated north-south lines or east-west.  This includes measurements in the centre and edges of the seismic line, as well as 3 locations into the forest (2 forest edge and 1 forest interior).  At these same sites, tree regeneration counts are being done to relate light and temperature microclimate to tree regeneration.
  • Jocelyn Gregoire is wrapping up her Thesis focused on how the threatened Canada Warbler responds to vegetation recovery on seismic lines in upland aspen stands. She has created two methods of sound triangulation processing that is increasing our efficiency in mapping territories of the birds in order to assess whether they defend territories across seismic lines and how this is influenced by vegetation density.
  • Scott Wilson successfully defended his Masters Thesis in summer 2017. He is currently working as a consultant in Whitecourt.  He has two papers submitted that evaluate how different bird species respond to vegetation recovery on well pads that are certified as reclaimed. He has found that birds are using well pads as the vegetation regrows but that most species use the well and the adjacent forest as part of their territory.  He developed new techniques that allow us to apply spot-mapping principles using ARUs.
  • Connor Charchuk successfully defended his Masters Thesis in spring 2017. He has a published paper in Forest Ecology and Management and another that is just about submitted.  Connor studied understory protection harvesting. This form of harvesting protects understory spruce from trampling during aspen cutting. The bird community in this type of harvesting is far more similar to the original forest than traditional harvesting.  Particularly good news is that old-growth species like the Brown Creeper are observed using this type of harvesting within a few years of harvest, and that by 10+ years since understory harvest, the bird community has almost return to a similar state as the original forest.  Connor developed some novel ARU techniques combined with LiDAR processing to fully evaluate the habitat use patterns of the Brown Creeper that has been seen using understory protection stands.
  • Natalie Sanchez is looking at how birds react to industrial noise. Specifically, she is evaluating song plasticity to determine if this can explain why some species can persist in noisy areas while others avoid such areas. This work is being done as part of our Big Grid program in an effort to seperate the relative importance of footprint (i.e. seismic lines, wellpads) from the disturbances that people create when using the landscape.   She has developed automated recognizers for a species called the Lincoln’s Sparrow and is developing new tools to determine when an individual bird changes its song over a season.
  • Richard Hedley is post-doc in the lab. Richard has been instrumental in developing a better workflow for sound triangulation.  This summer he has two triangulation projects on the goal.  In the first, we are looking at how planted seismic lines influence birds in spruce stands and comparing this to natural regeneration on the same line in Kirby pilot.  The second project is evaluating how Yellow Rails are influenced by human disturbances in graminoid wetlands.

Collaborator Teams:

  • Laureen Echiverri is a PhD student of the Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chair program at UofA and will undertake one of her chapters in collaboration with BERA with the Nielsen lab. Laureen is examining how the vascular plant community changes with silvicultural mounding of seismic lines in the Kirby site near Conklin.  This involves comparing the understory plant community in the hollows, side slopes (lawns), and tops of mounds, and then comparing this to natural conditions (hummocks) in the adjacent forest.
  • Annette Dietmaier is a Masters student at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) Munich and is undertaking her research project in collaboration with BERA with the McDermid and Castilla labs. Annette’s work is aimed at characterizing forest gaps, and will help us to understand the effects of industrial disturbance on forest structure. By working in the Kirby South study area, Annette’s maps will also assist other teams within BERA.
  • Michael Fromm was a Masters student at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) Munich and was undertaking his research project in collaboration with BERA with the McDermid and Castilla labs. Michael’s work involved the use of convolutional neural networks (“Deep Learning”) for automated detection of coniferous seedlings on seismic lines. Michael’s Thesis represents the first step in an expanding research focus on the use of machine-learning techniques within the BERA remote sensing group.
  • Maria Strack and her UWaterloo Team (including post-doc Scott Davidson) are collaborating with BERA to evaluate soil compaction on seismic line by measuring a range of soil properties on and off lines and following mounding treatment.