MESPOM Project Offerings

The following SENS faculty are willing to work with MESPOM students interested in projects listed.

Please contact the faculty directly for more information.

MJ Barrett - Multiple Ways of Knowing and Human-Nature Interactions

MJ Barrett

Assistant professor, SENS; Assistant professor, Department of Curriculum Studies, College of Education

Dr. Barrett has the opportunity for a student to examine threshold concepts for a new ecological paradigm. This project involves thematic analysis of qualitative data to develop and validate a set of threshold concepts that are barriers to integrating Indigenous and Western worldviews in environmental problem-solving. Threshold concepts have been developed by Land and Meyer and identified as critical for accessing “new and previously inaccessible ways of thinking about something” (2006). Skills required: The student will need strong writing and organizational skills and the ability to analyze qualitative data using NVIVO data analysis software.

Ken Belcher - Agricultural Landscapes
Ken Belcher

Professor, Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics, College of Agriculture and Bioresources; Professor, SENS  

Project: Understanding Tradeoffs in Water Allocation
As a critical natural resource water is being used for a number of competing uses. Water is being extracted for irrigation of agricultural crops and livestock watering, as an input in industrial and manufacturing and municipal uses. At the same time surface water has in stream value through river and lake ecosystem services, recreational value, dilution and processing of pollutants and for hydro-electric power generation.

This research project will focus on evaluating how people understand the value of these competing uses and the tradeoffs inherent in allocating water as a scarce resource. Specifically, the research project will carry out valuation experiments using the Social Sciences Research Lab at the University of Saskatchewan and a sample population of water users. This lab is set up to carry out computer based experiments social science experiments.  

Project: Appropriateness of Market-Based Policy to Provide Environmental Quality in Agricultural Landscapes
The increasingly intensive nature of modern agricultural production is imposing significant impacts on agri-ecosystems. At the same time many developed country governments are allocating fewer resources to the development and implementation of public policy to address these impacts. As an alternative to publicly funded incentive programs a range of policy instruments that rely on market exchanges between farmers and other stakeholders to improve environmental quality have been developed in various agricultural landscapes. Examples of market-based policy measures include phosphorus emission trading, water markets, wetland mitigation banks and biodiversity banks.

The project will focus on developing a relatively comprehensive literature review of market-based policy instruments that have been used to address environmental concerns. An objective of this project will be to develop an organizing protocol based on the review to facilitate understanding and selection of appropriate market-based policy instrument to meet specific environmental objectives. 

Lalita Bharadwaj - First Nations and Water Health
Lalita Bharadwaj

Associate Professor, School of Public Health; Associate professor, SENS  

Project: Beyond Physical: Impacts of the Water Crisis in First Nations 
Dr. Bharadwaj has the opportunity for a student to conduct a thematic analysis of qualitative data to explore and identify the barriers and challenges to water supply from a First Nations perspective.  

Skills required: Strong writing and organizational skills and the ability to analyze qualitative data using NVIVO software.  

Project: Water Consumption Choices and Perceptions of Water Related Health Risks Among First Nations in Saskatchewan
Dr. Bharadwaj has the opportunity for a student to conduct a statistical comparative analysis of quantitative survey data to explore and identify the aesthetic concerns and consumption choices of 6 Saskatchewan First Nations communities.  

Skills required: Strong writing and organizational skills and ability to analyze quantitative data using SPSS software.

Ryan Brook - Land and Resource Management
Ryan Brook

Assistant professor, Department of Poultry and Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Bioresources; Associate professor, SENS

Project: Modelling risk of collisions between vehicles and wildlife
This project is part of a larger study of wildlife-vehicle collisions in Saskatchewan. Collisionswith moose and deer result in several human deaths per year and cost millions of dollars indamage to vehicles. The project will use data from radio-collared wildlife as well as existingdata on locations of vehicles collisions to develop a predictive model of moose-vehicle and deer-vehicle collisionsand evaluate risk factors including habitat, crop patterns around highways, and road characteristics.Roles and responsibilities: conduct spatial analysis of the existing data using Geographic Information Systems.Write a summary report and contribute to a peer reviewed publication (student will be a co-author).

Skills required: Experience with ArcGIS spatial analysis software and good English reading and writing skills. Basic knowledge of statistics is also important.

Jill Gunn - Sustainability Assessments
Jill Gunn Assistant professor, Department of Geography and Planning, College of Arts and Science; Associate professor, SENS

Dr. Gunn has the opportunity for a student to perform a comparative effectiveness evaluation of sustainability assessment, as practiced in a Canadian, English, Western Australian or South African context. The project aim is to determine the relative procedural, substantive, transactive, normative, pluralistic and learning effectiveness of several recent sustainability assessments to better understand the challenges of advancing international practice in this area. The intent is to publish the results of the evaluation in an internationally peer-reviewed environmental assessment journal.

Skills required: Excellent reading, writing, and oral communication skills. Social science background is desirable as well as familiarity with the fields of environmental impact assessment and regional planning.
Markus Hecker - Predictive Aquatic Ecotoxicology
Markus Hecker

Associate professor, SENS; Canada Research Chair in Predictive Aquatic Ecotoxicology

Project: Water quality assessment in the Saskatchewan River Basin using Effect Directed Analysis
This project will be imbedded in a larger study that assesses water quality in the South Saskatchewan River (Saskatchewan, Canada) watershed using a novel bio-assay directed approach combined with analytical chemistry (termed Effect Directed Analysis). It uses biological endpoints (cell-based in vitro assays) and analytical chemistry to identify toxic potentials in water samples collected at a number of field sites in S. Saskatchewan. Potential water quality issues are associated with waste-water effluents, stormwater runoffs of larger communities and cities, as well as agricultural and industrial (e.g. mining) practices. The data will be used to characterize potential risks to humans and wildlife due to decreased water quality, and - if such risks are present - pinpoint the sources responsible for the observed decrease in water quality.

Roles and responsibilities of the student (under supervision and after appropriate training by supervisor or other personnel): Collect (depending on weather) and prepare (e.g. extraction, filtration, fractionation) water samples for biological and chemical analysis. Conduct in vitro (cell lines and/or fish egg test) assays to identify specific biological activities of samples or their fractions. Statistical data evaluation. Write a summary report, and - if permitted by the data - contribute to writing a peer-reviewed publication (student will be listed as a co-author). The student will need to complete the following safety course at the University of Saskatchewan before any work can commence (courses are between 1/2 and 1 day long): Biosafety, Laboratory Safety.

Skills required: Very good English reading and writing skills. Natural science background with some laboratory (pipetting, etc.) experience. The student should be willing to participate in possible field excursions to collect samples. Basic knowledge in statistical evaluation of data sets is expected.

Project: Assessment of the species specific sensitivity of native fish species to environmental contaminants
Human activities result in the discharge of many chemicals into northern Canadian aquatic ecosystems. In combination with current global challenges such as climate change, these pose not yet fully understood challenges to organisms and people living in these environments. To assess impacts on the aquatic ecosystems of these regions, it is crucial to understand effects on species that serve as indicators of the health of these systems, and what their sensitivity to stressors such as contaminants is. This project investigates the sensitivity of native fish species to environmental contaminants of concern (e.g. metals, dioxin-like compounds, endocrine disruptors), and compares it to that of standard laboratory model species. It aims to establish predictive models for the extrapolation of exposure risks to native species to enable better informed environmental risk assessments for these chemicals.

Roles and responsibilities of the student (under supervision and after appropriate training by supervisor or other personnel): Plan and conduct short-term exposure studies with early life-stages of fish. Routine water quality assessment and maintenance of exposure experiments. Bio-analytical investigations (determine growth, deformities and mortality of fish; collect tissues and analyze sub-lethal biological effects such as changes in gene expression, biochemical homeostasis). Statistical data evaluation. Write a summary report, and - if permitted by the data - contribute to writing a peer-reviewed publication (student will be listed as a co-author). The student will need to complete the following safety course at the U of S before any work can commence (courses are between 1/2 and 1 day long): Animal Ethics Training, Biosafety, Laboratory Safety.

Skills required: Very good English reading and writing skills. Natural science (biology) background with some laboratory experience (pipetting, etc.). Experience with working with aquatic vertebrates will be beneficial but is not critical. Basic knowledge in statistical evaluation of data sets is expected.
Andrew Ireson - Hydrological Processes
Andrew Ireson

Assistant Professor, School of Environment and Sustainability; Assistant Professor, Global Institute for Water Security; Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Geological Engineering, College of Engineering 

Hydrological processes determine how water is cycled through the environment, and determine the availability of water for plants, animals and humans. Models are useful tools to develop and test our understanding of how these processes work in diverse areas. However, developing reliable models is particularly challenging, largely because of large uncertainties associated with observations, and a lack of knowledge of the properties and processes that operate in the subsurface (soil and groundwater).   

Dr. Ireson is conducting research which focuses on combining field observations with models to improve process understanding. There are opportunities to conduct research in the Prairies, Boreal Forest and Rocky Mountains of Canada, supervised by Dr. Ireson. Here, the hydrological processes are strongly dominated by the seasonal snowmelt event, which occurs sometime in April-May. Suitable candidates will have some background in hydrology/hydrogeology, and will ideally have excellent computational skills. They should also be willing to conduct field work in Western Canada.

Tim Jardine - Organic Pollutants
Tim Jardien

Assistant Professor, School of Environment and Sustainability; Assistant Professor, Toxicology Centre

Project: A global synthesis of the bioaccumulation potential of persistent organic pollutantsEcological and human health risks associated with persistent organic pollutants are dictated by their persistence, bioaccumulation potential, and toxicity. The second characteristic, bioaccumulation potential, is best measured in the field because it incorporates ecological complexity that cannot be replicated in the laboratory. Over the past 20 years, a body of literature has developed consisting of studies that compare pollutant concentrations against trophic levels of organisms, as measured by ratios of stable nitrogen isotopes. A synthesis of this literature will reveal if those chemicals identified in laboratory studies as bioaccumulative do indeed exhibit that behaviour in the field, and the physical, chemical and biological factors that drive variation.

The student will synthesize data from >100 papers on a variety of chemicals. A background in aquatic ecology, chemistry, toxicology or risk assessment is required. The project will be based at the University of Saskatchewan under the supervision of Dr. Tim Jardine, and will involve collaboration with Dr. David Walters (US Environmental Protection Agency), Dr. Karen Kidd (University of New Brunswick) and Dr. Katrine Borga (Norwegian Institute for Water Research). The research will assist in the understanding of the behaviour of priority pollutants in the environment and contribute to risk assessments for legacy and emerging chemicals.

Paul Jones - Environmental Pollutants
Paul Jones

Associate Professor, SENS; Associate Professor, Toxicology Centre   

Project: Development of a Bayesian Belief Network to Assess Fish Health 
The assessment of fish health depends on a variety of measurements at several levels of organization. These measurements can include both quantitative and qualitative data. Current projects carried out in collaboration with First Nations Communities in Canada’s north are aiming to assess the impacts of upstream industrial activities on the health of fish in the Slave River and Delta. As part of this assessment we wish to integrate western science techniques with local and traditional knowledge to better understand impacts on fish health. The use of Bayesian belief Networks (BBNs) is attractive for these types of study as they permit the integration of different forms of knowledge. This project will assess the utility of this approach to the current studies and will also use historical datasets to explore the desired structure and properties of BBNs   

Project: Assessment of Different Pattern Recognition Techniques for the Apportionment of Pollution Sources 
Increasingly statistical pattern recognition techniques are being used to evaluate the nature of complex environmental pollutant mixtures. A variety of approaches, many relying on Principle Components Analysis (PCA), have been used with varying degrees of success. While these exercises are relatively straight forward when the contributing source patterns are known they become much more complex and equivocal when source patterns are unknown. In essence, in these cases the desire is to ‘decompose’ the complex mixture to permit source identification and apportionment. This project will use synthetic and ‘natural’ contaminant data sets to compare the utility of the various methods currently available. 

Vladimir Kricsfalusy - Biodiversity and Conservation
Vladimir Kricsfalusy

Associate professor, SENS
Biodiversity and Conservation Group:

Project: Conservation status of threatened species Because the conservation of biodiversity occurs under time and resource constraints, it is necessary to prioritize species most deserving of attention. Priority-setting criteria make a substantial difference in species categorizing as compared to to solely considering extinction risk. Natural history collections are identified as a valuable source of information in applied conservation practice, particularly for species-rich taxa like vascular plants.

We use online herbarium information combined with a novel, straightforward priority-setting approach to screen large lists of rare plant species. Data are quantified to develop priority scores (for a given species) using three key criteria: provincial/regional responsibility in species survival; species’ local population characteristics; and the anthropogenic threats causing species to be rare. The use of a hierarchy of these criteria enables identification of species deserving attention and/or further study, while the method itself is deemed to be highly relevant to conservation managers and decision-makers due to its scale adaptability and fairly minimal resource requirements.

Project: Population demography of sensitive plant species
We aim to explore the role of demographic factors for population viability of sensitive plant species. Anemone patens s.l. (Ranunculaceae) is a typical example of a prairie plant which is still common, despite the substantial loss of its original range due to extensive agriculture and industrial development. Because habitat fragmentation is already threatening A. patens, studying these effects and demographic monitoring to get a better idea of how plant populations cope with the different habitat conditions and management regimes is of important scientific and conservation interest.

Population demography and reproductive biology of A. patens in response to deterioration of habitat conditions, management systems and environmental attributes are being studied. We examine how population size, degree of isolation, geographic region, habitat quality, and management regimes relate to demography and population viability to estimate population trends and extinction risk for different parts of species’ range. We also quantify how the demographic rates vary among individuals and populations of the study species; these can have not only a considerable effect on population dynamics, but can also generate evolutionary change.

Project: Biodiversity and conservation of endangered fescue prairie
Current estimates indicate that, on average, less than 20 per cent of the original prairie in the Central Plains remains, and only 3.5 per cent has been protected within Canada overall. For some prairie types, the situation is critical; e.g. most of fescue prairie in Saskatchewan was ploughed and less than one per cent of the once vast area remains. Therefore, fescue prairie should be considered among the most endangered ecosystems in Canada.

We aim to explore and experimentally assess the link between habitat fragmentation, native plant species decline and increasing impact of invasive exotic species in fescue prairie. The long term objective of my research program is to contribute to the development of ecological theories predicting the impacts of global environmental change and anthropogenic disturbance on species diversity, structure and function of grassland communities in fragmented landscapes.

Project: Grassland restoration and management
A Native Prairie Restoration Initiative (NPRI) has recently been developed by a group of scientists from the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan together with conservationists from the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve with a mandate to improve the ecological condition in the target area through interaction between scientists, researchers and conservationists, students, volunteers and members of the local community.

Karsten Liber - Experimental Aquatic Ecotoxicology
Karsten Liber Professor, SENS; Director, Toxicology Centre

One of the biggest challenges in aquatic toxicology is to provide good risk assessments of contaminant mixtures. Pollutants are rarely present in the environment as single contaminants,but generally present along with a variety of other contaminants that can vary in concentration both spatially and temporally.

This project would evaluate the interactive toxicity of selected mixture combinations related to metal pollution from Canadian resource extraction companies. A separate project could look at the influence of water quality characteristics on metal speciation and toxicity of metal mixtures. Research would involve toxicity experiments with aquatic organisms (invertebrates or juvenile fish) and modeling of metal speciation, interaction, and bioavailability.

Karl-Erich Lindenschmidt - Water Quality Modelling and Surface Ice Process
Karl-Erich Lindenschmidt

Associate Professor, SENS; Associate Professor, Global Institute for Water Security   

Project: Water quality modelling of the Qu’Appelle River, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Water quality sample data that has been collected along the Qu’Appelle River (e.g. nutrients, oxygen, chlorophyll-a, etc.) will be used to calibrate and validate an established model (WASP v.7) to determine the ecological state of the river system. Scenarios can then be run to mimic management and policy strategies, such as reducing nutrient load by upgrading a treatment plants, regulating discharge during flood or drought events, etc.).   

Project: Modelling river ice processes along the Saskatchewan River 
The South Saskatchewan River downstream of Lake Diefenbaker is regulated by the Gardiner Dam. One of the dam’s uses is the generation of hydropower. Variable discharge in winter is required to cover peak demand for electricity. Using a river ice model, a safe maximum amplitude of the discharge can be determine which will not breakup the ice cover in winter and cause mid-winter flooding along the river.   

Project: Winter limnology study of selected reservoirs in Saskatchewan 
Ice cover thicknesses and snow depths on Canadian prairie reservoirs during the winter season can affect the production and oxygen levels in rivers. The length of the ice covered season (from autumn freeze-up to spring breakup) will also affect the lake’s aquatic ecosystem. Data from several winter seasons can be analysed to made deductions of the future state of these reservoirs in regards to climate change.   

Project: Modelling temperature and salinity stratification in reservoirs 
An established lake/reservoir model is to be used to mimic the stratification of water temperature and salinity in a Canadian Prairie reservoir. Included in the model is an ice module to simulate ice thicknesses during the course of the winter season. The calibrated model can be used to run long-term simulations of climate change scenarios.   

Project: Analysing remote sensing data with ArcGIS to determine geomorphological changes or rivers 
Satellite and aerial imagery from different years can be drawn upon to determine geomorphological changes of the river network. Correlations with discharge and water level data can be used to determine the effect of flooding and ice jamming on morphology.

Marcia McKenzie - Sustainability Education
Marcia McKenzie

Associate Professor, Department of Educational Foundations, College of Education; Associate Professor, SENS; Director, Sustainability Education Research Institute  

The Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) is a research-based partnership between academic research institutions and national and international organizations. SEPN is a large-scale research project on environmental sustainability education policy and practice in Canada. SEPN’s core focus is the policy-practice gap. SEPN examines existing, new, and innovative policies and practices that hold the most promise for enabling educational change for a more environmentally sustainable future. The research is organized into two subthemes: EC-12 (Subtheme A) and PSE(Subtheme B), and three iterative themes, (1) document analysis, (2) community engagement, and (3) knowledge mobilization.  

SEPN is looking for students to work on Theme 1: Document Analysis, which involves examining existing policy to understand how current educational policy is engaging with environmental issues and examining existing sustainability policy discourse in education (including policy and assessment frameworks) across provincial Ministries of Education, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and a range of PSE institutions.  

Project: Environmental Sustainability Education Policy in Canadian Aboriginal Education Systems 
In Canada, individual territories and provinces govern Aboriginal Education at the EC-12 level; however, individual First Nations and Inuit Authorities and individual reserves are responsible for carrying out policy and curriculum. SEPN is also examining sustainability education policy in three Aboriginal PSE level institutions: Nunavut Arctic College, University College of the North, and the First Nations University of Canada. This project will examine the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), Aboriginal education authorities’, reserve schools’, and Aboriginal PSE institutions’ policies in relation to sustainability education, potentially including a historical examination of Indigenous philosophical principles of environmental stewardship and interconnectedness. The student would be involved with developing the methodology, data collection and analysis methods, and collect policy documents for this project.  

Project: Development of Historical Document Analysis Methodology and Methods 
SEPN’s Theme 1 document analysis uses critical policy analysis drawing on discourse theory. This project will involve developing the data collection methods and qualitative data analysis plan to conduct a critical policy analysis that examines policy origins and traces the historical development of environment-specific educational policy. This analysis will examine policy origins and history and will consider factors such as definitional trajectories, policy mobility, and points of tension among approaches.  

Skills Required: Very good English reading and writing skills; fluency in French is an asset. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills (written and verbal); ability to work productively, both individually and in groups; ability to work independently and efficiently; strong time management skills. Experience and familiarity with discourse analysis and critical policy analysis and familiarity with analyzing qualitative data using NVivo 10 is a major asset.

Christy Morrissey - Avian Ecology and Wildlife Ecotoxicology
Christy Morrissey Assistant professor, SENS; Assistant professor, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Science

Project: The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on wetland invertebrates
Wetland habitats in Canada’s Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) are under serious threat from eutrophication, use by livestock, vegetation loss, lowland drainage, sedimentation, and chemical contamination. There is a growing concern that pesticides and other chemicals designed to improve agricultural production are degrading wetland water quality with suspected consequences for waterfowl and other wetland birds who consume invertebrates. A relatively new class of insecticides – neonicotinoids have rapidly become one of the most commonly used pesticides in Canadian agriculture, and may have direct effects on wetland ecosystems through reduced insect abundance and diversity. The student will do lab work on existing samples to assess Macroinvertebrate abundance, diversity and biomass from a range of sites with differing agricultural impact and neonicotinoid use.

Project: The role of pesticides in affecting grassland bird abundance
Over the past 25 years, grassland breeding bird species have shown the most dramatic and widespread decline of any group of birds in North America. Explanations of this decline have mainly focused on the conversion of native grasslands to farmland, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation, and nest parasitism by cowbirds. However, the timing of the application of agricultural pesticides often overlaps with the avian breeding season in North America and is implicated in the decline of some grassland species. Little information exists regarding historical changes in Canadian agricultural pesticide use and changes in grassland bird populations. The student will explore whether there are any temporal correlations between changes in agricultural pesticide use and grassland bird populations in the prairie Canada between 1966 and 2006 using geographic information system (GIS) spatial analysis of existing large datasets. Analytical and experience with GIS are a major asset.

Project: Behavioural effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on migratory songbirds
We are investigating the potential of Aroclor 1254, a commercial polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) mixture, as an endocrine disruptor in European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). While numerous published studies have documented overt signs of PCB toxicity, such as tremors, paralysis and anorexia, this study focuses on the subtle effects following low dose exposure during early development on the endocrine system, namely the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT axis). The student will conduct behavioural experiments on captively dosed birds or analyze existing video data on a completed experiment to assess differences in activity patterns by dose group.
Maureen Reed - Biosphere Reserves and Forestry Communities
Maureen Reed

Professor, SENS; Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, College of Arts and Science   

Project: Assessing Networking and Social Learning Strategies in Canadian Biosphere Reserves 
In 2011, the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association joined in a partnership with Maureen Reed at the University of Saskatchewan to enhance scholarly understanding and practical capacity of Canadian biosphere reserve (BR) practitioners to participate effectively in multi-level governance for sustainability. Our efforts were focused on creating and implementing regional and national networking and social learning strategies. Since then, biosphere reserve practitioners have worked on collective projects to learn from one another, share best practices, and reflect on their successes and challenges. They focused their attention on education for sustainable development, sustainable tourism, and land management/ecosystem services.   

The student in this project would be asked to prepare and conduct an evaluation of the extent to which learning and capacity building were achieved across the network. The student would be required to understand the concept of social learning and its application to this research, identify a framework for evaluation, develop appropriate questions, conduct interviews with project participants (within and beyond biosphere reserves), prepare a plain language report, and with others, prepare a paper that is suitable for publication. This project will contribute to the SSHRC project "Creating Networking and Social Learning Strategies in Canadian Biosphere Reserves."   

Project: "Community" in Canadian model forests and community forests 
In Canada, new models for forestry have been established to insert "community" needs and objectives within the objectives for sustainable forest management. Model Forests and Community Forests are two separate, but similar, models.   

The student will be asked to conduct a critical review of literature in "community forests" and "model forests" to better understand how they have been characterized and to determine what attributes of each model contribute to sustainable forest management. Students will then work with researchers to identify a set of interviews to help determine distinctions and commonalities, with a view to determining how lessons learned by studying across the models might better inform sustainable forest management. The results of the research will contribute to a collaborative article for publication. This project will contribute to the SSHRC-funded research project, "The role of communities in collaborative forest governance."   

Project: A Framework for Gender, Adaptive Capacity and Forest Management in Canada 
While forestry in Canada demonstrates a strongly gendered division of labour, there is almost no research that examines how adaptive capacity in forest management might be gendered.   

The student working on this project will be expected to review literature related to gender, adaptive capacity, and forest management to develop a framework for analysis. The student will then be responsible to co-conduct and analyze the results of a workshop with members of the Prince Albert Model Forest Board of Directors (with a questionnaire) to determine their awareness of gender issues for residents of forest-based communities. This study will form the baseline for an on-going study of gender, adaptive capacity and forest management. This project will contribute to a pilot project, "Linking gender, climate change adaptive capacity and forest-based communities in Canada."