January 2019

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.


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.

Ducks and development

Matt Dyson in the forest

It always starts with unpredictable inclement weather, which generally includes snowstorms and temperatures below -10. But then it happens, the temperature climbs above freezing, the snow melts, and the moment the ice begins to break up on the smallest wetlands, there are ducks on the pond. This is my happy place. It’s spring in Alberta’s boreal forest and everything is literally coming to life. Spring marks the return of birds to the boreal, which is home to millions of breeding birds and charismatic megafauna that call this mosaic of forests and wetlands home. For many people, this is the wilderness and it represents some of the world’s largest expanses of remaining intact forest. However, not only is the boreal rich in wildlife, but also in natural resources and energy.

“Work hard, stay positive, and get up early. It’s the best part of the day.”*

Brad Fedy releasing a bird.

Springtime for those of us that study ecology is typically a busy and exciting time. In the Fedy Lab of Wildlife and Molecular Ecology most of our research focuses on birds. So springtime means ducks are arriving from their southern habitats, song birds are singing, and grouse are displaying and mating. That also means that after months of preparation my students and I are finally back in the field. Our time outside with the animals and systems that fascinate us so much makes all the designing, planning, permitting, purchasing, hiring, and budgeting worth the effort. We have two large, ongoing field-based projects: one in northern Alberta and the other in northeastern Wyoming.

Integrated monitoring and management for watersheds: What I learned in Australia

Stuart, Simon, Mike, and David

One sunny day in the early 1990s the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Jim Soorley, was gazing down from an airplane as he flew over Moreton Bay, halfway up Australia’s east coast. He noticed a discolouration of the water where the Brisbane River entered the bay – a dark plume that extended out into the bay. He pointed out the plume to his travelling companion and asked him what caused it. His travelling companion was probably the best person in the world to answer that question – Bill Dennison from the University of Queensland.

A pattern language for traditional music and resilient community

Students playing the violin.

Appalled by the inhuman failures of modern architecture and planning, critics such as Jane Jacobs reflected on the capacity of traditional, vernacular, unplanned and organic development to produce pleasing, diverse and human scale architectural designs and townscapes.

Continue reading: A pattern language for traditional music and resilient community

Ritual matters for ecology

World map painted on both human hands.

Rationally speaking, there is a broad scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change, yet we have not managed to deal with it in practical terms. There is a dismaying lack of progress on many environmental issues despite the passage of almost fifty years since the inception of the environmental movement.

Continue reading: Ritual matters for ecology

Flush your disgust

Oil and water splashes together

In a World Water Day Op Ed article for The Globe and Mail, Sarah Wolfe wrote about the connection between emotions and water.

Continue reading: Flush your disgust