It was the best of times, it was… no, it was just awesome. That’s how Cassandra Robillard and I feel about our summer working as environmental monitors at the Canadian Museum of Nature. We spent the summer on the property around the museum’s research and collections building, which is called the National Heritage Building. It’s located in Gatineau, Quebec (see a map).

Between owl sightings, frog-catching and minnow-fishing in the pond, and finding seductive moss (yes, that is a species; its scientific name is Entodon seductrix), we managed to accomplish some of the things we set out to do at the beginning of the season!

A man and a woman examine the sand near the water's edge.
Senior Research Assistant Noel Alfonso and environmental monitor Emma Lehmberg search for tiger beetles in the sand near the quarry next to the Natural Heritage Building property. The building, which is in Gatineau, Quebec, houses the research and collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature. Image: Cassandra Robillard © Canadian Museum of Nature

Moss Collection and the Barcode of Life

We made several trips into our “backyard” to collect moss for DNA sequencing with Jennifer Doubt, the museum’s bryologist. Each clump of one species constitutes a specimen. After collecting the moss in the field, we dry them out and take samples for DNA analysis.

Moss on a tree trunk.
More than 136 identified moss species were found on the museum’s property this summer. Image: Emma Lehmberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Moss collection is delicate work, and I have to admit Cassandra has much more patience than I do when it comes to prying it off rocks and trees and plain old ground. Nonetheless, it definitely opened my eyes to those micro-ecosystems that I had never noticed before. (If you want to be amazed, take a magnifying glass and go spend some time in the woods!) At last tally, we found more than 136 moss species (all already known to science) on the property.

Two women look at a moss specimen that one is holding.
One of our summer goals was to share our discoveries with the museum staff members. Here, Cassandra shows a moss specimen to one of the museum’s educators, Katherine Day. Image: Emma Lehmberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Beetle Survey

A woman installs a plastic container into a hole dug into forest floor.
Cassandra places a carabid pitfall trap for the beetle survey. Image: Emma Lehmberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Our second big task this summer was to undertake a survey in the forest of ground beetles in the Carabidae family.

Beetles are a bio-indicator of ecosystem health, and no survey of them had been done on the property before. We hope that it can be an ongoing survey, each year telling us something about how the diversity varies and what this means for the health of the land.

To catch the carabids, we set up pitfall traps in four different habitats (poplar-pine, hemlock, maple-beech and birch-spruce-maple). The result was varied and sometimes overwhelming—some days we would visit the traps and they would be so full of beetles, we couldn’t see the bottom! After collecting them, we’d pin the beetles and store them away to dry and be identified.

Beetles in the liquid at the bottom of a plastic container.
A full carabid trap in mid-July, containing mostly Carabis nemoralis. This trap is located in the poplar-pine habitat. Image: Emma Lehmberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Natural Heritage Building Guides

Our third large task was to conceptualize and write two field guides specifically for visitors to the Natural Heritage Building property: one about trees and one about ferns.

To a non-expert, these groups can be hard to identify in the field (we know from experience!) Through these field guides, as well as trail stations with labelled trees, we hope to make that a lot easier.

Other Work

Aside from these three large tasks, we also continued two studies that are ongoing from last year: monitoring invasive, non-native buckthorn, and surveying for deer ticks.

Buckthorn is an incredibly resilient plant, and controlling its ever-onward march into portions of the property has been challenging. However, our control methods have largely proven effective (treatment of cut buckthorn stems with glyphosate, a herbicide) and we are waiting to see what next year brings.

A woman's hand holds two leaves for comparison.
A comparison of the two species of invasive, non-native buckthorn: common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) on the left and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) on the right.
A young glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) with deformed, stunted leaves.
A glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) clone after treatment with glyphosate. Image: Emma Lehmberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Our tick surveys are an attempt to monitor the presence of deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) on the property. These ticks can transmit Lyme disease. The property does see some traffic from their hosts, deer—and even a moose this year!—and Lyme disease has been a concern for the past couple of years. However, we’re relieved to say we have had no sign of deer ticks since surveying began.

A woman with a pack on her back looks at the landscape.
Cassandra during a tick drag on part of the museum’s property. Image: Emma Lehmberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Alas, with the end of summer comes the end of the Environmental Monitoring Program’s field season, and we must pack up our boots and be on our way. But before the piles of field guides are returned to the museum’s library, we would like to thank everyone that helped us, and we hope you will stay tuned next summer for more EMP field highlights!