Members of the SERS community are involved in cutting edge sustainability research, important policy initiatives and outreach. Check out the 'SERS Stories' below to see some examples of how we are helping to protect, restore, reform and transform the world around us.

Secure the Soil before we lose it!

Soil pictures

The dilemma began when we challenged ourselves to solve the elemental issue of food security about a century ago. We assumed that the climate would not change, but unknowingly we created numerous environmental issues through industrial agriculture causing the degradation of the natural resources such as soil. We thought focusing on the interdependent human needs – water, energy and food is enough to address the current and future challenge of sustaining humankind while protecting and addressing environmental concerns. But, the continuous degradation of the soil as the human needs interacted showed we were, and still are, obviously getting nowhere fast. If we do not recognize the role of soil as a critical component of food, energy and water security, we are treading on dangerous grounds!

SERS Stories: Traditional music for community resilience: Shetland fieldwork

I I just returned from a life-changing five months in the Shetland Islands where I was doing field work for my PhD.

SERS Stories: ERS 340 Ecosystem Assessment Spring Field Course

For three weeks in May, students had the opportunity to get hands-on experience in many ecological field skills. Further, students worked towards receiving certifications in some professionally recognized programs.

SERS Stories: ERS 283 Ontario Natural History Spring Field Course

ERS 283 Ontario Natural History 2019 field course saw 16 students living up in Cabot Head, Ontario for an immersive nine-day field course experience.

SERS Stories: ERS 341 Prof Restoration Practice I Spring Field Course

As a three week, Monday to Friday field course, ERS 341 Professional Practice I is designed to equip students with the real-world tools and experience that will carry them into their dream jobs, graduate studies, and beyond. Introducing students to monitoring and assessment techniques for mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, soil, freshwater mussels, and plants, students gain hands-on learning experience in collaboration with partner organizations and experts in the field.

SERS Stories: ERS 342 Prof Restoration Practice II Spring Field Course

The students enrolled in ERS 342 Professional Conservation and Restoration Practice II, a 1.0 Credit course, were provided an excellent opportunity to learn from ecological restoration professionals engaged in forest, prairie, wetland, and marsh restoration in the Long Point World Biosphere.

SERS Stories: Every drop of this river is another good, good day.

Mosaic Sturgeon filled with plastic scales

Nothing about a river is straight, nor is its management straightforward.  I quickly learned from my exploratory research, evaluating monitoring indicators in the Muskoka River Watershed, that the supposedly simple task of generating a list of environmental indicators for monitoring watershed health was more about social equity, communication, organizational capacity and partnerships, than it was about managing the watershed – at least at that stage in the monitoring program’s development.  The question ‘what do we measure to understand watershed health’ quickly evolved into questions around whose definition of health was used, who decided what the priorities should be, why certain groups were not engaged, what the implications of exclusion might be, and how to rectify this exclusion.  Essentially, the monitoring indicators workshop I spent weeks designing turned into a philosophical discussion largely about the community, not the watershed.  The 14-year old watershed monitoring and reporting program was overhauled and redesigned to incorporate the interests and needs of the community. The new program (as of 2018) is one of the strongest examples of watershed reporting I have reviewed.


Hands, soil and plant

As kids we used dirt for play – ‘mud burgers’ anyone? – and parents demanded that we wipe our feet and wash our dirty hands when we came inside the house.  But soil is not dirty! In fact, soil contains an entire universe of organisms – one  gram of soil contains billions of bacteria, thousands of fungi and algae. In addition to the billions of organisms, soil is also a mixture of living and non-living materials. The non-living materials include rock particles that have weathered over thousands of years from the bedrock below, plant residues and dead microbes. Soil’s living component ranges from microscopic bacteria to earthworms and rhodents. All components that are living – or once living – are categorized as organic while those that never lived, like the minerals, are referred to as inorganic. Combined, soil’s organic and inorganic components form a complex network of interactions: organic materials decompose and become soil’s highly fertile humus layer. Soil humus is a form of highly recalcitrant carbon that is stored in the soil for more than 1000 years. In fact, a handful of soil means you are holding an entire living ecosystem in your hands with some of its components more than a millennia in age.

“You Break It, We Fix It”

Forest and Waterfall picture

Environment and resource problems can seem hopeless at times, especially when governments abandon all pretense of good governance.  Before we stop off at the local fast food joint and order a final “Ennui Meal” with extra bathos, it might be best to stop and think of the solutions rather than just the problems.