The Churchill Rock Bluffs are located adjacent to Hudson Bay.

Gigapan: Eric, Steve, and Darren

Arctic Ecology Field Course 2012 – Churchill Manitoba

In 2012 the University of Guelph & the Ontario Universities Program in Field Biology's course in Arctic Ecology was fortunate to have 8 GigaPan units to distribute amongst the students to help them experience, explore, understand and question this special sub-Arctic environment.

Students of Arctic Ecology 2012 familiarize themselves with GigaPans and various collection methods (a Malaise trap is in the background) at Ramsay Creek. Hayley and Cassie’s GigaPan is visible on the foreground on the far side of the creek. (Photo: Eric Scott)

The Arctic has many species not found elsewhere and a warming climate is predicted to have a particularly dramatic impact on it's unique biodiversity. Understanding Arctic biodiversity has become an important part of the research and teaching at the University of Guelph, from first year to senior field courses to graduate research. Churchill is located at the junction of the boreal, arctic, and Hudson Bay biomes. In the first week of the course we explored terrestrial, freshwater, and marine arctic environments, as well giving experiences in both aquatic and terrestrial methods used to survey invertebrate biodiversity. In the second week, students conducted independent research projects where they develop, initiate and conduct research. Students used both GigaPans and DNA barcoding to study their systems. Students explored new ways to use GigaPan panoramic photography in their biodiversity projects that included habitat characterization and species counting.

Our goal for including GigaPans in this course was to expand the opportunities for experiential learning about Arctic biodiversity by students in two courses (the upper-year Arctic Ecology BIOL*4610 and the introductory biology course in Discovering Biodiversity BIOL*1070). To that end, the digital products of the two cutting-edge technologies used in this course: DNA barcoding and GigaPan imaging are publicly accessible and sustainably maintained; both are annotated through time by a community of experts and non-experts alike; and both connect the digital and natural worlds. Students were encouraged to use their GigaPans in any or all aspects of their project. Some used the panoramas to secondarily enumerate the diversity present within a quadrat while others used the panoramas to quantify the structural complexity within each area. To that end, students were challenged to set up their robots very close to the ground, and that their cameras were set on auto-focus, so that as much detail as possible was captured in each small portion of the panorama. As a result, we have captured not only the people looking for spiders and carnivorous plants, but the spiders and the carnivorous plants themselves.

Arctic Ecology student Amanda Boyd taking field notes while her GigaPan is capturing Goose Creek (photo by Eric Scott). Arctic Ecology students Dan Gibson, Chris Britton-Foster and Yurak Jeong (left to right) GigaPan while sampling bluff ponds along Hudson Bay (photo by Eric Scott).

The DNA barcodes created by this class are all publicly available. More than 300 species were barcoded in the ~850 specimens that were collected: amazing diversity evident in that approximately every third specimen the students selected was a new species.

It is our hope that these DNA barcodes and habitat GigaPan Panoramas, including hundreds of snapshots (and stories) with which we have annotated these panoramas, will be used by future students of Arctic Ecology. These students will revisit the same locations in the future, and they will have a unique opportunity to compare changes through time using DNA and high resolution panoramic photography. In addition, we hope the panoramas will be used by students of other biology classes who will not get the privilege of visiting Churchill. Our virtual “field notes” will help introduce them to the habitats and species of this special place.

Our course was based out of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC). Founded in 1976, the Churchill Northern Studies Centre is an independent, non-profit research and education facility located 23 km east of the town of Churchill, Manitoba. The CNSC provide accommodations, meals, equipment rentals, and logistical support to scientific researchers working on a diverse range of topics of interest to northern science. In addition to research, the Centre facilitates a wide range of educational programming ranging from general interest courses for the visiting public to university credit courses for students.

Arctic Ecology 2012 participants: Front row (from left): Megan Sparkes, Eric Scott, Hilary Lyttle, Chris Britton-Foster, Kami Valkova, Cassie Russell, Eli Levene, Natalie Duitshaever Back Row: Kate Pare, Darren Kelly, Amanda Boyd, Tallia Masse, Kelsey Desnoyers, Stephen James, Dan Gibson, Trevor Bringloe, Fatima Mitterboeck, Hayley Cahill, Debbie Silva, Kelsie Paris, Alex Smith, Sarah Adamowicz, Yurak Jeong. (photo: Eric Scott)

We gratefully acknowledge the support critical for the student GigaPans from the CREATE Lab Outreach Program at Carnegie Mellon University, the Learning Enhancement Fund of the University of Guelph, the Fine Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Mary Jo Daines, Clara Phillips and Dror Yaron.

Guest Editors

Alex Smith is a professor of molecular ecology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. His interests include biodiversity, cryptic species and working in both field and laboratory to integrate field and molecular biology into questions of ecological and evolutionary importance to conservation.

Sarah J. Adamowicz, Assistant Professor, Integrative Biology & The Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph

19 Students of AE 2012 (Amanda Boyd, Chris Britton-Foster, Hayley Cahill, Kelsey Desnoyers, Natalie Duitshaever, Dan Gibson, Steve James, Yurak Jeong, Darren Kelly, Eli Levene, Hilary Lyttle, Talia Masse, Kate Pare, Kelsie Paris, Cassie Russell, Eric Scott, Debbie Silva, Megan Sparkes, Kami Valkova)

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