White Baneberry: Doll’s Eye Plant

Source: White Baneberry: Doll’s Eye Plant

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Glendon – Riverbanks and School in the Real World

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Panorama of the hilltop before the river – a mixture of bare ground and autumn beauty

Winter was fast approaching when Shesan and I arrived on the Glendon campus with cameras (well, smartphones) in hand. It was that strange transitional period between seasons, where the golden beauty of the forest in the valley was in full force, yet the small shrubs and flowers had already withered away, creating a bare forest floor. Walking across the field and much further than I got to explore on my first visit to Glendon, we soon found our stretch of the riverbank to note and photograph. Along a path slanted away from the clear-cut field and view of the school buildings themselves, we were almost encased by tall trees that made our little slice feel very secluded from the rest of the river – a personal part of nature to dig in to.

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Our personal cut of a huge, beautiful campus

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We became one with nature trekking through the woods, and I think nature became one with us a little bit.

The distance from the path to the river varied along our path, and the further we got in the direction away from main campus – the bigger the distance to the river. Immediately, it was easy to divide our stretch of the river into two parts: The quiet, precipiced part and the rapid flowing yet flat part. Life close to the water was very sparse in both parts but it was clear that there was a decent amount of damage the stretch had collected over time. With a very bare area, it was easy to see that the state of the expanse between river and dry land was due to erosion and the way the water interacted with the sides of the bank. The stretch of nearly still water presented an interesting issue: the bank did not slope towards the path but became an almost vertical 2.5 metre drop. This meant that there was almost no existence of what Donat (1995) describes as a “riparian zone” – a transitional area between water and land that is important for sustainability with a key element of vegetation. There was no interaction between the many trees that lined the sides of the path and the river/riverbank itself (and trees/roots make great stabilizers of banks) since there was no riparian zone slope, but just a drop between the two parts that did not allow for any interaction. At one of the largest drop-offs a few trees had been completely overturned by the receding banks, roots completely out and horizontal as the ground had given away beneath the trees – a major example of the consequences this erosion can have.

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The calm stretch of river

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Shesan standing heads and shoulders above me (I’m at the edge of the water) as he takes a look over the precipice. There is no room for a riparian zone in this drop and definitely no way I’ll be able to scale this mountain to work with my partner again.

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The damage of erosion: The soil gave away from underneath the tree and the tree fell right over, roots and all.

The rapid, flowing part of the river followed a small bend and seemed to have had some restoration work done on it before! Specifically, many large rocks lined the water’s edge – creating a buffer between the water and the bank walls as well as shaping the path of the river. These fast currents took in water flow not just from the main river pathway but also from a smaller stream that seemed to funnel out here into the main river, creating even more flow. Here, since the water did not touch the walls there was a much shallower, more sloped transition from water to land – clearly showing the effects the rocks had on containing the river and aiding against erosion.

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Rocks line the rapid flowing river’s path and create a buffer between land and water

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Seeing the river and the two very different states it is in, as well as some measures against and consequences of erosion and riverbank slumping, I think we were able to learn a lot about the effects and the state of Glendon. Most importantly, I think the adage “seeing is believing” is incredible relevant to the studies and tasks I’ve taken over my time in my Applied Plant Ecology course – I never thought that I would be able to identify an issue and try to make a difference in any part of the world by just following through and really applying things that I learned at school to their fullest. Yet, here I am analyzing a riverbank after just a few months of study and making suggestions on how I think York University can improve the state of its natural environment!

Speaking of suggestions, following the advice of Palmer et al. (2005), I believe best thing we can do for the riverbanks is not just offer solutions that fix the problem, but those that show resilience. Being able to think in the long-term and have solutions that are able to recover and continue working in the face of adversity means the restoration will both fix and maintain over time. With resilience in mind, I do believe that large rocks and obstructions that help the flow of the river will create a space that allows for a great riparian zone. Additionally, the planting and maintaining of trees and other vegetation within this zone will create a strong foundation for the soil to resist erosion and ultimately have a network to rely on. A great chart developed by Beechie et al. (2008) shows the plan processing that can create the smartest, most resilient fixes and hopefully is the final piece of a puzzle in restoring the riverbanks of Glendon.

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The flow chart on the restoration process as presented by Beechie et al. (2008). A great basis for planning on implementing restoration ideas that the students of BIOL4095 have provided!

With all this in mind, I hope Glendon can take some advice and thoughts from a student who learned a lot and hopes to have been able to use it in some way to make a mark on the world and restore some of Toronto’s natural beauty!

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Hard at work and very focused on his camera. Don’t forget, Safety First!

 

References:

Palmer, M. A. et al. 2005. “Standards for Ecologically Successful River Restoration.” Journal of Applied Ecology 42(2): 208–17.

Beechie, T., G. Pess, P. Roni, and G. Giannico. 2008. “Setting River Restoration Priorities: A Review of Approaches and a General Protocol for Identifying and Prioritizing Actions.” North American Journal of Fisheries Management 28(3): 891–905. http://dx.doi.org/10.1577/M06-174.1%5Cnhttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/M06-174.1.

Donat, Martin. 1995. “Bioengineering Techniques for Streambank Restoration A Review of Central European Practices by Bioengineering Techniques for Streambank Restoration A Review of Central European Practices.” (2): 1–92.

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It Comes Full Circle

The end of the semester tends to be a difficult time, with final projects and exams on the horizon slowly looming over. It’s a threatening and stressful time and anything can really be the tipping point between sanity and complete chaos. My last blog post isn’t entirely related to the content of the course but it’s very much about my journey and comes full circle in the worst way possible.

If you recall my first ever blogpost I wrote about the issues with taking the course and how the York University administration impeded me from achieving my goals of a smooth course selection. After dealing with so many supports and offices I was able to take off a faulty financial block and get into the classes I need at the very last second – fighting a few others to click enroll after school had already started.

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My struggle with the higher powers unfortunately didn’t end in September and my bad voodoo seemed to have followed me right until the end of the year. Specifically, my bad luck with support and technical issues ran right into my technologically wonderful and advanced course of BIOL4095. The twitter assignment has been no short task of updates, having spanned over 3 months and taken many different moments both in class and my personal interests. Yet, with a loss of password and a change of devices (and perhaps what may have been some unknown risqué tweets about leaves) left me with a twitter account that was completely reset and scrubbed clean just two weeks to the end of school. All the work, time spent, and connections made disappeared and nothing was left but my handle and a strange message to call a number for an automated code.

Now began a new quest very similar to the one I undertook early this school year; calling and emailing support and bouncing between help services in order to figure out what happened to my account. The similarities diverge here, as nothing helped and no straight answer as to what happened other than my account being reset was told. A lesson in frustration and a scramble to make up for a semester’s worth of work and connections. I do hope that the things I did say stuck with someone and overall the entertainment of my dealings both at the beginning and end of my blogs make up for the lost content. I do wish I had more to show. It’s funny to me how some things seem to repeat and come full circle, and in this case it happened to be my luck and the slow gears of support and authority.

(Image:http://tessin.weebly.com/uploads/2/2/1/6/22162390/676060876.jpg)

All in all, I’ve had a fun time both tweeting and writing these posts and will definitely miss these habits once the course is over. I hope maybe I’ve picked up enough of a habit to one day tweet about things a little less green and varied in front of friends that aren’t in biology. For now, just the Glendon post to go!

Thanks for sticking by these!

Ron

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A Close Encounter with the Leafy Kind

Both plants and animal courses I’ve taken tend to focus on the Earth as a whole and ‘Humans vs The Other Lifeforms Out There” and often represented the big picture of the wild world where things have developed over history. Often, the big picture and general processes have had the emphasis placed upon. Otherwise, the small interactions are often overlooked or used as small examples. The domestication of the wolf into the dog is such an example that I’ve encountered through highschool and university evolutionary/animal biology courses that was often used to portray artificial vs. natural selection or genetic variety in a species. Yet, not often did I see the discussion on the impacts on Humans (which tend to be an important species for us!) and the general effects of the relationship of domestication over time without referring back to larger topics.

I believe this same pattern can be seen in the discussion of plant biology. Often we’ll go over conservation, diversity, ecological benefits, large scale usage in history, etc. but not often have I seen the discussion on the cultivation and usage of plants on a more personal level for humans. For example gardening, or as I ran into a few journal articles, keeping and maintaining house-plants. More specifically, the small-scale effects of house-plants and how they could have some pretty major effects on our lives. I found this a really interesting study on how small changes we could make to ourselves to add the nature we so often study could lead to so many benefits even in our artificial environments.

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Plants are something that are definitely looked over often – gardening can be seen as for retired people with weird, older hobbies and houseplants are tacky and take work. Yet there’s something endearing about a plant that one takes care and watches grow, a bit like a pet and at the same time this ‘pet’ allows you to study better and be healthier by just existing in your room.

A journal article I found on plant-associated microbes discussed the positive effects of houseplants as they had unique micro-organisms that were able to filter air and improve the indoor air quality (Berg, et al., 2014) leading to a cleaner living space. Additionally, a paper looking into the psychological benefits of indoor plants as a review found patterns of evidence that these plants reduced one’s overall stress and increased one’s pain tolerance (Bringslimark et al,. 2009).

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(Image:https://appliedplantecology.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/8efe9-1436201625041.jpg)

There are many interactions and benefits from plants and the list could go on and on with different psychological and physiological benefits but I think these examples have the same clear message: Our relationship with nature is one that is very close and deeply impactful on our lives even within our artificial creations. Oh, and also get a houseplant, it’s good for you!

Keep an eye out as I’ll be posting my final blog (which will make this year come full circle with post #1) as well as my Glendon post very soon!

Bye for now!

Ron

References:

Berg, G., Mahnert, A., & Moissl-Eichinger, C. (2014). Beneficial effects of plant-associated microbes on indoor microbiomes and human health? Frontiers in Microbiology, 5. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2014.00015

Bringlismark, T., Hartig, T., & Patil, G. G. (2009, December). The psychological benefits of indoor plants: A critical review of the experimental literature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29(4), 422-433.

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There’s an App for Science!

Last year in BIOL2010 I found myself really enjoying the keying we did based on plant leaves/seeds and especially the pressure of being timed. It was like a game to me to see if I was able to solve this puzzle of identification. At the same time I ended up taking Ecology the previous semester and remember how much of a hassle it was to identify plants in the field (with a handbook of nearly 30 pages) for a marked 5 page report. The classic “there has GOT to be a better way” came to me and I figured if we’ve had keys for decades upon decades to determine a plant species based on identify markers – there must be some sort of technology to make this easier in this day and age.

Of course, the second classic “There’s an app for that” came along just as soon as I thought this. A quick search in my phone’s Google App Store led me to Pl@ntNet. Unfortunately, I could no longer be an inventor of the revolutionary change in keying plant life – but now the struggle was hopefully over!

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(Image:https://ronkweb.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/pl-ntnet_vignette.png)

Technology is ever so unfortunately limited, and sometimes the hopes we have are squashed by the fact that magic does not exist. The app couldn’t just see a certain shade of green or spike on a leaf and tell me exactly where/when/how/why/and what type my plant was but it definitely was close to accurate often on all my practice attempts, giving me a drop down menu of possible species that seemed to often match closely if not be completely correct. I was impressed by the fact that this worked so well and at the very least existed as a beautiful blend of classic plant identification and the advent of technology that sits right in your pocket and has more knowledge than the undergrad piloting it. Yet truthfully, what impressed me even more that I didn’t realize until after coming across this app was what it provided on a larger scale. Sure, I could possibly have an easier time identifying plants and writing reports faster, but there was also an entire community at my fingertips that seemed so opposite to so much of academia.

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(Image:https://ronkweb.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/application-pour-reconnaitre-fleurs.jpg)

The app wasn’t just smart because of the magic of wi-fi and circuits, but there were people who were initially identifying and creating a database for these plants in their region. More so, if the app ever got stuck on a plant it could be updated for individual review. Anywhere in the world now, people connected on this app would be able to review your picture and help with your identification. Compare that to being stuck on a plant and having nothing more than a textbook, a key, and whichever colleague was actually in the building the day you were this is a huge leap. An interconnected field of the plant biology community. The openness and built-in aspect of sharing really stood out to me compared to some things I’ve learned about the world of paywalls and journal articles; Where every great class I’ve had talked about open access and the power of sharing with the culture that is still all too slowly being promoted. Now there was an app that had this communication built in and promoted open-access work and cooperation from the start.

(Image:http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/images/thumb/c/c4/Open_access.png/500px-Open_access.png)

Overall, an idea I had to make my report writing life easier turned into a marvel of technology and open-access work when I found Pl@ntNet, and I’ve been able to find even more apps as I write this article. The world is opening up more and more and our scientific community can only benefit from it!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time, hopefully with more apps in tow on both ends!

Ron

Check out this article for more amazing plant-identification apps: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/tools-and-accessories/the-best-apps-to-identify-unknown-plants-and-flowers/

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The Administration – Or How Not to Trust the Higher Powers

Introductions are known to be pretty great; Whether it’s meeting someone new and hoping the right impression is made or it’s starting out a new course and being excited for the future and that first homework-free week.

When it comes to York University, you know there’s always a sprinkle of bad in something that seems too good to be true. My bad happened with course selection this year. The beginning of summer usually likes to punctuate the study-less relaxation with a midmorning scramble to lock in the grades for your next year. Competition feels even higher then when trying to beat out your classmates for grades – as how can you get a better grade when you can’t even get into the course?

For me, this seemed to be the first year I could finally get into all the courses I wanted and that additionally meant they’d be courses I actually liked (Anecdotally, there’s a positive correlation between having freedom of choosing courses (rather than being locked into chemistry) and actually enjoying the courses). Alas, poking the beast that is York University is never advised. My poke was choosing summer courses and then deciding to change them a week later. What should have been a simple drop one course and add another turned into me not being able to choose any Fall courses as my dropped courses never did really drop and I was forced into selection lockout until I paid for the course I was not attending.

This is where administration came in even more. Although it was confirmed that I was technically dropped from my course (I wasn’t just skipping it I swear), no one person had the power to fix my financial block. An exercise in frustration occurred as I was bounced between different academic and financial departments week to week as someone tried to find someone who forgot to drop me or take off my block. This dragged on from July to September and many “24 hour wait for your account to be assessed and cleared” were passed before my account – and wallet! – were free from the clutches of York University. Victory-ish! I was a week behind on being able to actually enroll in the courses I had selected and had to scramble now and attend classes hoping someone would drop in the first week and I could snipe their seats from them.

I know my first blog post is a bit colloquial and off-topic, but I do promise it all comes together. If it wasn’t for my dedication to clicking enroll over and over again in the first week of school hoping that someone wouldn’t realize how great of a course they had ahead of them I wouldn’t be here writing this blog post. Now, it’s safe to say the storm is over which hopefully means BIOL4095 will be smooth-sailing with the winds behind me!

I promise there will be more leafy greens in the next post, so do keep an eye out for me!

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Riverbank Stabilization of the Don River at the York University Glendon Campus: A Review of Fluvial Processes, Landforms, and Stabilization Processes

The Applied Plant Ecology of York University were sent to the Glendon Campus to review the riverbank of the Don River and provide possible solutions to the current processes happening. Maya, my partner, and I were assigned a section of the riverbank that was situated at a dysfunctional bridge.

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There were 4 main segments to our section:

Before the bridge

On one side of the river (north side), there was exposed, fairly packed boulders and slight undercutting from the river which exposed roots of plants and trees.

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On the south side of the river, there was less undercutting but more accumulation of sediment, forming what seemed to be the predecessor of a point bar, but not quite. Soil was much more exposed here.

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Under/near the bridge

On the north side of the river, there were more large rocks however these were more sparse than the section before. They were not ordered in any fashion. Also, water levels seemed to have dropped as seen on the column supporting the bridge.

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The south side of the river was normal, with mud platforms the only characteristic. However this is probably because of lack of vegetation, as this section of the river is shaded by the bridge.

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A little after the bridge

On the north side, there was formation of a point bar and many sparse rocks, large and small. Ahead of that was a large cliff that mirrored that of the south side. Another point bar, fallen trees, and debris were subsequently present.

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On the south side, there was a tree directly after the bridge which was severely uprooted. Succeeding it was a fairly long mud cliff, with roots hanging over and out of it. All of this was placed above a mud platform.

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After the bridge

On the north side (not quite north anymore, but the same side), there was undercutting and sparse vegetation on the exposed soil.

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The south section starts with a collection of fallen branches and trees, succeeded by a large point bar, then more undercutting. Along this section the soil was heavily eroded, much more than before. Further ahead there was a long collection of stabilization rocks.

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Discussion

Firstly, it is important to examine each side of the river (north/south) because river dynamics effect each side differently. For example, as you will read, meanders are coupled with pools and riffles on each side of the river, and those elements affect the formation of the riverbank.

Since our segment had many disjointed rocks and boulders, one can assume there was a considerable amount of bedload on the bottom of the stream which would increase turbulence, as water moving over the bedload would be removed from equilibrium. The large amount of erosion and undercutting of the riverbank can also contribute to increased turbulence in the form of suspended load.

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Our segment can be defined as a single meander, with the north side having the deep channel and the south side having the shallow channels. The undercutting on the north side, or the cut banks, are a product of meander dynamics. As water approaches a bend, it is forced to the outer side and swings around the bend, where the flow is shortly after redistributed along the entire channel. The force of water swinging around a bend causes erosion along and after the bend until the water is redistributed.

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The mud platforms explained above are most likely the product of a below bankfull stage, i.e. low discharge. The river is currently in a below bankfull stage because high discharge that results in bankfull only occurs during the early part of spring. This is because melting of snow and ice after winter inputs great amounts of water into the stream. Bankfull stage would result in the height of the stream reaching the mud cliffs above the mud platforms mentioned.

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There was a large amount of erosion due to meander mechanics in our section and probably along the whole river because lower discharge rates increase shear stress on the bed and banks.

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Average discharge of the Don River at a location south of Glendon Campus. March (early spring) has the largest discharge (Q) while April, November and December closely rival one another for the distant second.

Solutions

One of the most important instances that must be taken to restore river function is the rehabilitation of vegetation. Plants establish root systems which stabilizes the soil and prevents erosion. When the soil is stable, it is tightly packed and avoids degradation. To enhance this process, dominant, native species can be introduced as they can have a positive impact over invasive species, and they establish a deeper root system. Our section of the river was very sparse of vegetation and the soil seemed to be very poor in mineral quality; it almost resembled clay. The roots of trees and grass were heavily exposed on the meander cliffs, a clear sign of weak soil subject to weathering and erosion. However, it would be difficult to establish a strong vegetation system along our riverbank because of the steep slop that makes up the levees. Gravity against the vegetation can put an increased strain on the soil and trees may not be able to stabilize the toe of the bank.

The reason most of the rocks in our section were disoriented is probably due to the weak soil not being able to hold them in place. Also since our section was located at a meander – the force of the stream hitting the rocks may have moved them out of place. This is evident because in the section after our segment, the boulders were not out of place. However the section ahead was also situated along a meander, albeit smaller. Can this mean the rocks in our section were simply placed poorly? Or since the meander bend was larger, hence greater stream force, they were knocked out of place? Or maybe the bridge is a factor? A combination of these may very well be the reason. Obviously we cannot change the landform of the river i.e. it’s meandering processes, however we can simply change it’s surroundings. A combination of gabions, enhanced vegetation, and riprap would greatly enhance our section of the Don River. However examinations of other parts of the river would be useful in finding potent solutions because if the characteristics found in our section is uniform throughout the rest of the river, the most cost efficient technique should probably be used. If our section is an outlier, it can be treated with special circumstances. DSC09896.JPG

The fluvial dynamics, costs, and maintenance of a riverbank is outlined extensively in a restoration and stabilization guide for a stream in Richmond, Virginia. I would recommend a quick skim as it goes into much more detail about protection and stabilization especially. Thank you for reading. 

Link to guide: http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Portals/0/DEQ/Water/Publications/BMPGuide.pdf

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