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#TrentExploresCanada: Student-led Research Helps Ontario Lake Association Understand Impacts of Freshwater Calcium Decline

August 30, 2019

School of the Environment Community-based research project provides practical experience developing environmental solutions

Ankit Tripathi, Marissa Pucci and Roshelle Chan stand in front of their presentation.

In Ontario cottage-country, east of the Canadian Shield, calcium levels in lakes have been declining for decades. Now, cottagers and homeowners on Kawagama Lake in Haliburton, Ontario are noticing the decline’s effects on the surrounding environment. Sugar maple trees don’t look healthy or are dying. There has been an observed increase of the invasive species known as spiny water flea, and a decrease in a species known as Daphnia.

The decline of calcium concentrations has been well documented, and is due to the legacy of acid deposition and repeated cycles of forest harvesting. As models suggest that calcium levels will continue to fall, three students in Trent’s Environmental Science/Studies program worked with a local lake association to bring more awareness and community solutions for the issue.

Bridging the gap between scientists and community
In partnership with the Kawagama Lake Cottagers’ Association (KLCA), Roshelle Chan, Ankit Tripathi and Marissa Pucci completed a literature review of studies on calcium levels in Kawagama Lake as part of a community-based research project. Hands-on learning projects like this at Trent enable students to not only gain deeper learning experiences during their studies but also contribute to solving real-world issues.

“The goal of our project was to bridge the gap between scientists and the local community to generate greater public awareness on the issue,” says Ms. Chan.

“We read scientific publications, simplified them and presented them in a way that was relevant to the stakeholders and understandable by anyone,” says Mr. Tripathi. “It was a reminder that we are privileged to be studying what we are at this level and that scientific communication is a responsibility that we have.”

The team produced a report for the KLCA and its members that helps members better understand the issue of declining calcium concentrations in lakes, and its biological connections to aquatic and terrestrial environments.

“As calcium continues to decrease, calcium-rich species, such as sugar maple trees on land will not be able to re-establish successfully; ultimately resulting in a restructuring of the forest composition,” says Ms. Pucci. “In the aquatic environment, the Spiny water flea population density will continue to increase as calcium levels decrease, ultimately affecting the food web.”

The trio of student scientists also left the cottagers’ association with a series of mitigation strategies aimed at reducing the effects of calcium decline, its findings summarized in a full report.

“I am very hopeful that positive changes will flow from continued collaboration between Trent and KLCA, especially with the ongoing research work at Trent on remediation strategies and the passionate advocacy of KLCA members,” says Ms. Chan. “I hope KLCA can be a successful example to other affected lake communities, demonstrating that it is possible to transform knowledge into action and play an active role in the conservation of a resource that is treasured deeply by many individuals and families.”

The community-based research project is one of the hands-on learning opportunities available through programs in the Trent School of the Environment.

Community-Based Research at Trent is coordinated through Careerspace, Trent’s department of Co-op, Careers and Experiential Learning. To learn more about CBR opportunities please visit the Trent Community Research Centre or U-Links Centre for Community Based Research.