Field Work in Gatineau Park

When I started studying biology, I was really excited to get outside and do some field work. This year, I was fortunate to get a summer job in the Forrest Lab at uOttawa. The PI, Dr Jessica Forrest, is currently working with Dr Risa Sargent  on a long-term study of the phenology of wildflowers and pollinators in Gatineau Park, Quebec, Canada. Part of my work includes helping Dr Forrest and Dr Sargent collect data for this project. I was really excited to participate on this project when Dr Forrest brought it to my attention. This was an opportunity for me to practice my bee catching skills, learn new methods of sampling bee populations and learn some of the intricacies and aspects of working in the field. So I finally got the chance to get some real field work under my belt!

Phenology: The study of the impact of climate on the seasonal occurrence of flora and fauna (dates of flowering, migration, etc.) and of the periodically changing form of an organism, especially as this affects its relationship with its environment.

– Oxford Dictionary of Ecology (4 ed.)

trap-nests with emergence vials
Trap-nests with emergence vials

The aim of this project is to determine how inter-annual climate variation influences the phenologies of plants and pollinators and to determine if that variation can disrupt the temporal synchrony between interacting species. This mismatch in the timing of life cycles can occur when the cues that regulate phenology differ between species and those cues are affected by temperature. It is hypothesized that as climate changes due to a warming atmosphere, the different life stages of plants and pollinators will no longer coincide to allow adequate interactions between species. To evaluate these effects, the study is looking at the timing of the appearance of buds and flowers of various ephemeral wildflowers in Gatineau Park. To evaluate the phenology of bees, the activity of cavity-nesting solitary bees (mainly in the family Megachilidae) is being monitored, bumble bees are being surveyed and data from pan traps is being collected. Field work for this study occurs during the spring (mid-April to mid-June). In the spring of 2012, five 5x5m plots were set up near the southern tip of Gatineau Park. Plots were located so that they are at least 100m apart and at least 100m away from hydro-electric power lines near the study site. In 2013, another five plots were added, some of the old plots were moved and wooden trap-nests were setup near each plot to observe the activity of cavity-nesting solitary bees. You can learn how to make a trap-nest at the USDA Bee Lab’s webpage (link).

Bombus bimaculatus - May 17, 2014
Bombus bimaculatus – May 17, 2014

During the field season, we visited the study area three days a week. Every day that we went, we checked the paper straws in the trap-nests looking for any bee activity. If any new cells where found, they were marked with a line and the date. We also looked out for the emergence of bees from the previous years. These were trapped in small vials (painted white to keep cool) that were placed in front of last year’s nests. At each plot we also counted the number of buds and flowers of different ephemeral wildflower species. As we hiked between plots we kept our eyes open for bumble bees and attempted to catch as many as we could. Once we caught a bumble bee, we identified it using a key developed by Dr Forrest and we photographed it for our records. In addition, on Tuesdays we set up bee bowls (pan traps) along one edge of each plot. We returned the next day to collect anything caught by the bee bowls.

The work that I did was a great deal of fun. Truth be told, it never felt like work at all. Although some days were very cold and others it rained, I had an absolutely amazing time. I enjoyed every single day regardless of the weather and regardless if we caught any bees or not. I had a great time practicing my bee-catching skills and learning about the detail to which each part of the study was designed. I learned many new skills and how to properly design methodologies for ecological studies. I also worked on creating a pollen reference collection that we could compare to when looking at the pollen consumed by the solitary bees nesting in the trap-nests. I also had the great pleasure of working with Jake Russell-Mercier, a former graduate student of Dr Risa Sargent. Jake took his time to teach me about many aspects of ecology, technical skills and his own work. He also shared many stories that inspired me to further focus my academic goals in ecology. I extend a huge thanks to Jake for his incredible patience, kindness and friendship.

Pollination in action!
Pollination in action!

This was a great project to work on and a fantastic introduction to real field work. Although I am excited to go to Colorado for further field work, it would have been great to continue to work on this project until the end of the season. I hope that next year I will have the opportunity to help out again!

Ephemeral wildflowers of interest:

  • Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
  • Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
  • Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
  • Galium sp.
  • Sharp-lobed and round-lobed hepatica (Anemone acultilioba and A. americana)
  • False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
  • Twoleaf miterwort (Mitella diphylla)
  • Hairy Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum pubescens)
  • Roses (Rosa sp.)
  • Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • Early/Virginia saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis)
  • Early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum)
  • Large-flowered/white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Photos from Gatineau Park

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