Adapting to droughts and floods on the Prairies

As climates change across the Canadian Prairies, it is important to understand how they will affect the resiliency of our ecosystems. UWinnipeg Assistant Professor Dr. Rafael Otfinowski (Biology) and his research assistant and future graduate student, Hollie Swart, are working on two research projects that examine the range of environmental conditions that are becoming more frequent in the Prairies, drought and flood, and exploring how they will impact the function of plant communities.

Dr. Rafael Otfinowski + Holly Swart , ©UWinnipeg, Using the Department of Biology herbarium to identify, catalogue, and digitize plant specimens collected in the field

Dr. Rafael Otfinowski + Hollie Swart , ©UWinnipeg, Using the Department of Biology herbarium to identify, catalogue and digitize plant specimens collected in the field.

In collaboration with the International Drought Experiment, Manitoba Agriculture, and Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives, the first research project, located in Brookdale, MB, will impose a four-year drought on a rangeland. By using rain shelters and monitoring plant community composition and productivity, as well as the availability of soil nutrients, the findings will offer insight into how to better plan and adapt to changing climates on the Prairies.

“Manitoba is a fascinating place for ecological research,” expressed Otfinowski . “Being able to collaborate with a variety of stakeholders, like industry and community organizations, allows us to combine research and teaching in finding solutions to anticipated challenges of climate change which can be immensely rewarding.”

The second project focuses on the impact of cattle grazing on seasonally flooded meadows. Wet meadows are an important rangeland community in Manitoba that provides diverse ecological services, including the production of forages, carbon storage, water filtration, and resources that sustain biodiversity. In collaboration with Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives, this two-year project, conducted outside of Brandon, MB, examines changes in the composition and function of plant communities, including the abundance of invasive plants, in response to the intensity and timing of cattle grazing. Building on previous research, the project aims to help sustain the productivity and ecosystem services provided by wet meadow rangelands in Manitoba.

 

Dr. Rafael Otfinowski + Hollie Swart presenting their drought research to producers and collaborators of the Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives (Brookdale, MB, July 25, 2016). Funding for the project provided by Manitoba Agriculture. Photo credit to K. Wolfe

Dr. Rafael Otfinowski + Hollie Swart presenting their drought research to producers and collaborators of the Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives (Brookdale, MB, July 25, 2016). Funding for the project provided by Manitoba Agriculture. Photo credit to K. Wolfe

Environmental Science Forest Ecology student Hollie Swart graduated this past spring with a four-year BSc in Environmental Science and Biology and a minor in Geography. She began her research in her field of study at UWinnipeg this summer with Otfinowski.

“I feel very fortunate to do research with Dr. Otfinowski while getting firsthand experience in my field of study,” said Swart. “It is rewarding to apply the skills that I have developed in the last few years of my undergraduate degree and I am excited about the career opportunities that lie ahead.”

She plans to pursue a Masters in Bioscience, Technology and Public Policy at UWinnipeg next spring.

MEDIA CONTACT
Naniece Ibrahim, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg
P: 204.988.7130, E: n.ibrahim@uwinnipeg.ca

*photos were supplied for photo gallery

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