The upper Bay of Fundy and southern Gulf of St. Lawrence support many salt marshes and mudflats (i.e., soft-sediment habitats). This is not typical of Atlantic Canada, where the dominant habitat is usually rocky shore. Salt marshes and mudflats are highly productive habitats containing important food webs, provide nursery and feeding habitat for birds and fish, and provide essential ecosystem services such as nutrient transport and coastline protection. Salt marshes are also carbon sinks as well as help maintain healthy water by the microbial processing of organic and inorganic wastes. In Atlantic Canada, there is now strong interest in restoring salt marshes, which have in the past been converted to farmland. There is also much interest in conserving mudflats, which have long been refueling/feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds, particularly in the upper Bay of Fundy.
The intern will work on a number of projects on the ecology and restoration of salt marshes, and the ecology and conservation of mudflats. Our projects involve both independent work that can be supervised remotely, as well as lab and field work as part of a research team; the balance between those two types of work will depend on what is allowable in the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the coming months. We have data and samples from restoration and experimental projects that have to be processed and analysed, as well as sites to monitor if possible in the coming summer and fall. The intern will gain experience in a combination of the following: (i) successional dynamics of developing salt marshes (in the field and from aerial photographs), (ii) successional dynamics as mudflats recover from disturbance (processing samples under dissecting microscope, which we can provide for remote work at home); (iii) ecological linkages between salt marshes and mudflats (processing of samples and data analysis); and (iv) use of seeds and seedlings of the marsh engineering species Spartina alterniflora in the restoration of salt marshes (collecting samples and independent processing of samples).
Our research lab has studied salt marsh and mudflat community ecology for over two decades, and we now have good data on species compositions, seasonal and yearly variation, and many samples on the response of these ecosystems to disturbance. We have observed that these ecosystems are quite resilient to various disturbances (e.g. tidal amplitudes, winter disturbance, shorebird visits, breaching of agricultural dikes), and have of late been conducting experiments and sampling programs to test this observation. We also want to identify ecological linkages between the two systems (such as outwelling of plant detritus from salt marshes which may feed the food web on mudflats) that may contribute to their resilience. The intern will contribute to all of these projects.
Duties and responsibilities
The intern will process samples using a dissecting microscope (mudflat samples), herbarium and photographic images (salt marsh plants), and computer software (aerial photographs). As well, the intern will manage and analyse large data sets on mudflat and salt marsh dynamics, research the scientific literature, and assist in writing reports and papers. If possible (following the appropriate safety guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic) between June and October, the intern will sample salt marshes by quantifying densities and state of plants, development of S. alterniflora seeds, invertebrates, and salt pool fauna (including fish), will photographically monitor focal patches of salt marsh plants, and will assist in sampling biofilm and microbial eukaryotes on mudflats.
Knowledge and skills
We seek an intern with a background in biology, ecology or environmental science. A college diploma or university Bachelor’s degree in one of these fields is required. Previous field research experience would be an asset so that the intern better understands how field samples are collected. Applicants should have a strong interest in ecological research, and be happy to work irregular hours in the field under variable conditions (if field work becomes possible). Skills required include: ability to work outdoors for extended periods (possibly); ability or willingness to learn to identify invertebrates, minnows, birds and salt marsh plants; computer literacy, including ability to work with spreadsheets and prepare reports; ability to use a dissecting microscope; excellent attention to detail and record keeping; ability to follow set research protocols; ability to work independently and collaboratively with others.
College graduate diploma or university Bachelor’s degree in Biology, Natural Resources, Environmental Science or related field.
If field work is possible: valid driver’s license; First aid/CPR (training will be available if the applicant lacks this).
Career-Launcher Internships are funded by the Government of Canada under the Youth Employment Strategy. For program criteria information visit their website.
Qualified interns are:
- Post-secondary students and graduates
- No more than 30 years of age at the start of the internship
- Canadian citizens, permanent residents or persons granted refugee status in Canada*
- Legally allowed to work according to the relevant provincial and Canadian legislation and regulations
- Not receiving employment insurance during their internship
- Available to work for at least six months
- Not previous participants of a federal youth employment program
- Not employees of the hiring employer prior to the start of their internship (does not apply to previous coop students or student interns)
*Refugee protection must be conferred under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Persons awaiting refugee status, as well as those who hold a temporary visitor visa, student visa or work visa, are ineligible to participate in a Youth Employment Strategy initiative.