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Symons seminar series: graduate research


On November 4, 2015, the Symons seminar series on Graduate Research held their second presentations.

With people following the “homework assignment” of last month to bring a friend, the audience was a decent size. They all listened as Tessa Nasca and Cristen Watt presented their research thus far in their fields within a maximum allowed time of 20 minutes.

Nasca and Watt explained what they’d done in the past, what they are currently working on, and what they will be doing in the future, with a little help from the audience on that last one.

The over arching theme of this month’s presentation was behavioral impacts of the physical land. Keeping that in mind, the Symons Series chose Nasca and Watt based on their differences within the field. While one focused on human, the other focused on animal.

The first presenter was Tessa Nasca who is in her second year of her MA studies in Sustainability. Within her 24-slide presentation, she discussed her involvement in a program called Active Neighbourhoods Canada (ANC) and their project in Peterborough.

Active Neighbourhoods Canada works with citizens to plan and design their dream neighbourhood with an emphasis on streets and sidewalks. Using a three-step process, the program plans to get many community members involved, but as one audience member pointed out, they are not getting everybody’s voice as she lives in the area where the survey is being done and Wednesday was the first time she heard of it.

Regardless, the three-step program is as follows: Step 1 is Portrait, when everybody sees what it currently looks like, citizens and ANC alike; Step 2 is Vision, when they let the citizens’ imaginations run wild of what the perfect town would include. In this phase, ANC brings in designers to help with the process; Step 3 is the final plan phase which is a document to help the vision come alive.


In Peterborough, ANC has currently finished its first phase and is on the second phase now. In Peterborough, ANC is working on an area approximately 20 square blocks. The areas’ boundary lines are George street, King Street, Reid Street, and Townsend Park at Stewart street. They also have a major focus on a park within the perimeters, which was commonly associated with criminal activity. In order to make it more appealing to the average user and citizens, they created a garden and park set within it.

In addition to talking about ANC, Nasca also pointed out her involvement in Peterborough and what her job is within the ANC. In her presentation, she stated she is a great fit for the program since she has embedded herself within many programs in Peterborough and currently attends all events that the ANC put on. Her job within the ANC is as a researcher. Her job entails bringing focus groups and surveys forward. One survey she conducted brought forth very staggering results. 62.1% of people had never attended a public consultation, yet 55.2% of people surveyed were interested in attending events to benefit their town. However, she pointed out some barriers of why they are not doing so. The first is trust and skepticism that an organization will actually do their job. A few others are resource availability, established process, and policy.

When Nasca was done, we took a quick fifteen minute break to grab refreshments before coming back to hear Watt talk about her research.


Watt, an M. Sc. candidate and current environmental and life sciences student, presented her research on lynx dispersal across Canada in four sections: intro, methods, results, and conclusions. Another important fact, before getting into content, is that she is doing her research out of Trent’s Dennis Murray lab.

Now, onto the content.

IMG_2428sThis talk focused on the boundaries that affect lynx. Her research was focused within Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska. Her thesis question was: Do the Rockies restrict dispersal of Canada’s lynx?

Besides the obvious physical boundaries that affect the lynx population, there are three other boundaries: cryptic, environment, and habitat. Together, these
majorly affect lynx. The importance of noticing these problems is so that there can be a lower extinction rate. Although they are not currently on the list, they will be there soon if we continue to treat them as we do. Some reasons why we need to care for this problem is species interaction, genetic
diversity, and environmental change.

The lynx is very closely related to the snow hare. The hare accounts for almost 100% of their [lynx’s] diet. This led up to the audience agreeing that Watt’s next
project should be studying the relationship between hares and lynx with some very specific suggestions of how to go about doing so. Watt did agree that every ten years, the population of the lynx and hare do dissipate, but then come back. Currently, there is a high population of both.

The lynx itself can have a very wiIMG_2452sde dispersal as they can travel up to 1,500 kilometres. The example given was, “Imagine walking a straight line from Traill College to Florida.” This is the lynx dispersal. Thus, the answer to her thesis question was “somewhat”, as it only relates to some locations on the wide dispersal.

Thus, the next thing to look for is a corridor. A corridor is the area that connects two separate habitats. The surprising fact about this was that the most important issue with corridors was snow cover and then terrain roughness. Surprisingly, the least important problems were habitat sustainability and forest cover.

The next Symons series talk will be on Wednesday, December 3, 2015 with a theme of “Past Shapes the Present”. Grad students Chad Andrews and Paul Meredith will present their findings at Traill College starting at 7PM. So, come on out and participate in the homework assignment: bring a friend or two!

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