What a great year 2016 was for Fiera Biological. We landed new clients, formed new working relationships, hired new talent, and ventured into new lines of business. Honestly, so much happened in 2016 that there is just too much to report in this blog, so we’re narrowing our focus to the top 5 highlights of 2016.
1. New Blood!
Some new faces entered the Fiera arena this year, and as a result, our team has never been better. In order of arrival, here they are:
Erin Doxsey-Whitfield, M.Sc.
Erin arrived in April, and wasted no time establishing herself as an essential team member on a range of projects. Erin has a B.Sc. in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and a M.Sc. in Geography. She comes to us with over nine years of professional and academic experience in the area of environmental science and GIS, including hydrology, hydrogeology, spatial analysis, and cartography & mapping. Erin likes maps. She likes making maps, studying maps, following maps, and just admiring maps. She also likes long walks through wetlands while studying, following, and admiring maps that she has made. Erin’s position with Fiera is as a Hydrologist & GIS Specialist. She is basically awesome, and rarely gets lost.
Brad Danielson, Ph.D.
Hiring Brad was in the works for over a year before his official start date in July, so by the time he settled in and got down to business, we had an exciting list of projects for him to dive into. Brad is an Earth Scientist with over 15 years of professional and academic experience in the areas of glaciology, electronics, precision GPS, automated instrumentation systems, time-lapse photography, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems. Brad’s position with Fiera is as Team Lead, Research and Development, UAV and Instrumentation Specialist. As this gargantuan title suggests, Brad is coordinating some important research we are undertaking that involves using aerial drones to capture habitat imagery. Brad has excellent attention to detail, outstanding hand-eye coordination, and don’t even bother thumb wrestling with him. Brad is a techno-geek hiding in an Instrumentation Specialist’s body.
Shantel Koenig, Ph.D. (Candidate)
Shantel started with us in October, and brings us highly valued capabilities in complex spatial modelling and statistical analysis. Shantel has a Masters in Geographic Information Systems, and is presently a PhD Candidate whose graduate research is focused on using Spatial Interaction Models (SIMS) to model metapopulations and analyze landscape connectivity. She has experience creating Resource Selection Function (RSF) models for species at risk, processing and analyzing wildlife movement (telemetry) data, creating land cover classifications, and conducting habitat connectivity analysis using a variety of spatial modeling techniques. Shantel’s position with Fiera is as a Landscape Ecologist. When Shantel isn’t in the office, there is a good chance that she is riding a muddy bicycle somewhere really, really fast, or countering the stigma associated with having advanced statistical skills by tweeting images of her costume wearing cat.
2. New Toy
Actually, its not a toy at all. Far from it. In March we put our order in for a Draganflyer X4-P unmanned aerial vehicle, a UAV, a drone. We call it Riley, and there has been many tweets and much instagram in Riley’s honour since its arrival in early August. We have been using Riley to do some pretty cool stuff, including projects with Ducks Unlimited and Alberta Environment and Parks. Riley is an important part of some new research and development initiatives.
3. New Research
Fiera began some research in 2016 in collaboration Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa in the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, to develop advanced wetland mapping techniques using drone-based imagery. The overall goal of this work is to improve existing processes for mapping, evaluating, and understanding wetlands and wetland condition. We hope to achieve this goal by developing techniques for mapping wetland vegetation using high spatial resolution imagery, and identifying reliable metrics of wetland condition that can be remotely evaluated (drone or high-resolution satellite imagery). Together with Dr. Sanchez-Azofeifa, we have been awarded an NSERC Engage and funding through MITACs that is being used to fund a Post-doctoral student to help us pursue these research objectives! It’s all very exciting and we are expecting conference presentations and peer reviewed publications to follow!
4. New Approaches
Work continued on the City of Calgary Parks Habitat Condition project. We reached phase 3 which involved assessing landscape connectivity as it relates to terrestrial wildlife for the entire city. Wildlife habitat connectivity is relatively unstudied in an urban context, but is thought to be integral to maintaining urban biodiversity. We used a circuit theory modelling approach to show how different components of a city, such as city parks, contribute to connectivity across the municipal landscape. The GIS and modelling wizardry that was required to do this would not have been possible without the cutting edge keenness of our geomatics team collaborating with our ever eager ecology-minded types. Despite all of this wizardry and ever-eagerness, models still need to be verified, so we spent the spring collecting biodiversity data throughout Calgary to test and refine the model. The field work associated with this project was pretty weird at times, creeping around in back alleys and industrial areas at 4 in the morning to count birds and such, but it also left our wildlife team with a new respect and admiration for Calgary’s amazing park system and the wildlife it supports. A manuscript describing this work is in preparation for submission to a peer reviewed journal, and the City of Calgary has a new tool in its toolbox for planning and managing its urban open spaces.
5. New Benchmarks
Parkland County recently made public our report which inventories wetlands and the historic wetland loss across the county since circa 1950. The report also includes an evaluation of current wetland condition, and required an advanced level of geomatics expertise (remote sensing, spatial analysis and modelling), data compilation, and data management. Data was compiled from a wide variety of sources in order to evaluate wetland condition, requiring intense quality and accuracy scrutinization. The Parkland County Wetland Inventory and Historic Loss Assessment is the most rigorous and advanced landscape level wetland study of its kind in Alberta, and we expect that it will set a new benchmark for informed decision making tools where wetlands are concerned.
There you have it folks, The Fiera Top Five of 2016. I’m sure you will agree that 2016 has been a fantastic year for us. Still, we are jazzed about the things coming up in 2017, and can’t wait to get to work on them. Have a safe holiday season everyone, and the happiest of new years!
… The Fiera Crew