All posts by Opinicon

Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Queen's University

Two centuries of plant diversity data uncovered

By Mahsa Aghaeeaval

The Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) harbours a treasure that few people know of – The Fowler Herbarium. This is where I spent much of my time during Summer 2019 as the “Data Management and Herbarium Assistant”, a position supported by Queen’s University via their Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP). The Fowler Herbarium is a natural history collection containing approximately 140,000 plant specimens from all over the world, including non-vascular plants, (mosses, liverworts, hornworts and algae), vascular plants (ferns, conifers, angiosperms), lichens, and some fungi. The primary goal of the herbarium is to document and archive plant diversity, particularly from Eastern Ontario, provide access to specimens for scientific study, and make relevant data available to researchers and others who are interested (e.g. artists, writers).

People can visit the collection at QUBS in person by contacting our Collections Manager, Adriana Lopez-Villalobos. However, as we wish to make these herbarium specimens discoverable and more accessible to a broader audience, we are digitizing the entire collection. The project involves 5 stages: 1) creating an initial database, updating nomenclature, and repairing and barcoding our plant specimens, 2) high-resolution imaging, 3) transcribing data from labels, 4) data cleaning and mapping onto Darwin Core terms (a standardized lexicon for specimens), and finally, 5) sharing these data with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF – via our local node, the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF) and the Canadensys Network ( By digitizing and sharing our plant specimens online, QUBS not only allows more people to discover and use specimens,  but also prevents fragile specimens from further damage due to repeated handling.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Data portals like GBIF gather information from museums and institutions from all over the world, and allow anyone with a computer and internet access to explore and use years of data collected on almost  every known species and ecosystem on the planet. Our hope is that sharing the data from the Fowler herbarium via GBIF will foster new collaborations and research projects, and lead to the discovery of new patterns in the plant diversity around QUBS and beyond.

Here is something to contemplate. The Fowler Herbarium has specimens from as early as 1819. This means that we have two centuries worth of plant diversity and distributional  data! Having historical specimens allows us to explore the diversity that was present in decades past; for species that have become locally extinct in some areas, a herbarium specimen might represent the only record of that plant’s original distribution. In some cases, a single herbarium collection might only have one or a few plant specimens from a given species and this might not be particularly useful for scientific study, but combined with data from other herbaria around the world could produce a database of hundreds or thousands of records. These data could potentially translate into snapshots of  a species past distribution but also allow us to predict its future prospects.

The possibilities for addressing ecological, evolutionary and social problems are vast! Just to mention some examples. GBIF data have been used to evaluate changes in wildlife populations (Callcutt et al. 2018), to understand colonization dynamics of invasive species (Park & Potter 2015; Dellinger et al. 2016), to develop novel models to track insect migrations using pollen metabarcoding (Suchan et al. 2018), and to protect species at risk (Meza-Parral & Pineda 2015; Clavero & Hermoso 2015). They have also been used to inform estimates of the risk of vector-borne disease outbreaks (González-Salazar 2017; Deka & Morshed 2018) and to quantify the allergy risk under future climates, as potent aero-allergens species, such as ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) expand their ranges (Rasmussen et al. 2018). We are just starting to explore the uses of data form natural history collections. This is reflected in a statement from Professor Pamela Soltis (University of Florida)

 As the number of digitized natural history specimen records continues to increase, it’s important to see how the data have been used so that we can build on those results and develop new uses for the future

QUBS provides many opportunities for students to gain experience in many fields of research. Aside from ecological or evolutionary studies, for me, assisting in the Fowler Herbarium and working at QUBS during the summer of 2019 allowed me to gain valuable experience in research data management best practices, data manipulation and database management. These skills will be incredible assets in my field of interest, bioinformatics. The Data and Collections Manager, Adriana Lopez, certainly spares no effort in creating and expanding a digital database for the Fowler Herbarium and we hope that even more data will be available soon for people around the world.

Literature Cited

  • Callcutt K., Croft S., and Smith G.C. 2018. Predicting population trends using citizen science data: do subsampling methods produce reliable estimates for mammals? European Journal of Wildlife Research, 64:28.
  • Clavero, M. and Hermoso, V. 2015. Historical data to plan the recovery of the European eel. Journal of Applied Ecology, 52: 960-968.
  • Deka, M.A., Morshed, N. 2018. Mapping Disease Transmission Risk of Nipah Virus in South and Southeast Asia. Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease, 3:57.
  • Dellinger, A. S., Essl, F., Hojsgaard, D., Kirchheimer, B., Klatt, S., Dawson, W., Pergl, J., Pyšek, P., van, Kleunen, M., Weber, E., Winter, M., Hörandl, E. and Dullinger, S. 2016. Niche dynamics of alien species do not differ among sexual and apomictic flowering plants. New Phytologist, 209: 1313-1323.
  • González-Salazar, C., Stephens, C.R., and Sánchez-Cordero, V. 2017. Predicting the Potential Role of Non-human Hosts in Zika Virus Maintenance. EcoHealth, 14:171-177.
  • Meza-Parral Y, Pineda E. 2015. Amphibian Diversity and Threatened Species in a Severely Transformed Neotropical Region in Mexico. PLOS ONE, 10(3): e0121652.
  • Park, D. S. and Potter, D. 2015. Why close relatives make bad neighbours: phylogenetic conservatism in niche preferences and dispersal disproves Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis in the thistle tribe. Molecular Ecology, 24: 3181-3193.
  • Rasmussen K., Thyrring J., Muscarella R., and Borchsenius F. 2017. Climate-change-induced range shifts of three allergenic ragweeds (Ambrosia L.) in Europe and their potential impact on human health. PeerJ, 5: e3104.
  • Suchan, T., Talavera, G., Sáez, L., Ronikier, M., and Vila, R. 2019. Pollen metabarcoding as a tool for tracking long‐distance insect migrations. Molecular Ecology Resources, 19: 149- 162.

Quote from Dr. Pamela Solitis

My experiences as a field intern at QUBS

By Kestrel DeMarco

People often say how important it is to get experience working in one’s field. I’m an environmental science major, and last summer I worked retail and at a restaurant, so not exactly what you’d call ‘relevant work experience’. This year I decided to start looking for jobs early. I asked one of my TAs at Queen’s for ideas on where to apply. She had several suggestions, one of them being SWEP: SWEP stands for Summer Work Experience Program. It is a program at Queen’s where Queen’s faculty and staff create job opportunities for undergraduate students to apply for (the process is competitive and adjudicated by a committee of professors who ensure that the jobs have a good learning plan and impart skills that will help students in future endeavors).

I had never heard of SWEP but I took a look, saw 22 jobs that seemed relevant to environmental science, and applied to all of them. Four of the 22 jobs were located at Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS). I interviewed for three of them and ended up getting one entitled ‘Conservation Research Intern’. Now, my fourteen weeks at QUBS are coming to an end. Most of my time was spent working on the long-term Tree Swallow monitoring project that Raleigh Robertson started in 1975. It was an amazing experience. I’ve always loved wildlife, and I have a particular soft spot for birds, maybe because I’m named after one. I don’t think that I could have found a better summer job. Not only was the work itself very interesting (especially compared to folding shirts and taking ice cream order which is what I was doing last summer), but life outside of work at QUBS is incredible.

I’m from Toronto, and the highlights of my summers have always been going camping and going to the cottage. QUBS is a bit of both. It’s located on Lake Opinicon, about 50km North of Kingston. For someone who loves to swim, spending three months straight living on the lake was a dream come true. We were in the water our first week here (the first week of May) and have been in most days since. By ‘we’ I mean myself and the awesome people who were also lucky enough to get hired here. When we weren’t working, we spent our time swimming, canoeing, eating (a lot of) ice cream from the local restaurant, The Opinicon, playing cards and having movie nights. Every single one of us hit it off right off the bat. Being in an environment like this, surrounded by people with interests similar to my own was more rewarding than I could have imagined. When I was first offered this job, I was ridiculously excited, but also a bit sad that I wouldn’t have much time at home. I promised to go home at least once a month but I didn’t go home once. My family was a bit disappointed but when they came up for the QUBS Open House, they took one look around and understood immediately why I hadn’t wanted to miss a weekend at QUBS.

Arriving at QUBS:
This being my first field season, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I got to QUBS a full 24 hours before any of the four other SWEPs, which was very intimidating. I spent the day exploring the property and reading. Over the next day, the others arrived and began getting to know each other. There was Jen (or Jan, as we now call her), Grace (‘mom’), ‘snack-sized’ Maddy, and our American Girl Kathleen. Working for Paul Martin were Katie and Jacob, who sadly left after only eight weeks. Matt, a master’s student, became known as the ‘snake guy’. Later on, the ‘plant people’ Claire and Jamie would join our numbers to become part of the QUBS family. It didn’t take long for us all to bond.

Working with Tree Swallows
On my second day at QUBS, Fran Bonier and Amelia Cox took me into the field to show me how to monitor the Tree Swallow boxes. Tree Swallows are a migratory bird found in North America. They are part of a declining group of birds called aerial insectivores; birds that feed almost exclusively on insects in flight. Tree Swallow populations have been declining since the 1990s in North America, and we’re hoping to use the data we collect to figure out why.

Air Strip grid.

In total, there are over 200 nest boxes, and every other day I would go out and record what was in each box. Some boxes were empty, and some already had finished nests. Tree Swallows make their nests out of grass, and then line them with feathers. After a few weeks, the Tree Swallows started laying eggs. At that point, Fran and Amelia went out with me again, this time to show me how to capture the adults in the nest boxes. Once we caught them, we would band them and take measurements such as tarsus length.

One of the first Tree Swallows I banded. I’m holding it using photographer’s grip.

It’s best to catch the females while they’re incubating and the males once the eggs have hatched. Once the nestlings are 12 days old, we band and measure them as well.

12 day old nestling.

In total we banded 550 birds this summer.

In addition to working with Tree Swallows, I also got the chance to do some work with ratsnakes.

Grey ratsnake

Snakes are amazing animals to work with. Sometimes they’re a bit defensive when you first catch them, but they calm down a lot once they realize you aren’t going to hurt them.

All in all, it was the best summer I’ve ever had. Working at QUBS helped me realize that I want to do many more seasons of field work. I’m definitely going to miss QUBS and everyone I’ve worked with a lot.

The HydroBall – An aquatic GIS adventure.

Madeline Healey (SWEP 2018)

The Queens University Biological Station (QUBS) strives to be one of the best field stations in North America. To enrich the resources available to researchers, QUBS recently sough to apply a new technology to improve the bathymetric maps of our local lakes. A continually evolving technology, the Hydroball® buoy was obtained for data collection at QUBS over a two week period in the summer of 2018 . The Hydroball system integrates three main components: a GNSS L1/L2 receiver, a miniature inertial motion sensor, and a single beam echosounder. The GNSS receiver measures the buoys real time position including latitude, longitude and ‘ellipsoidal height.’ The inertial sensor measures roll, pitch and heading while the echosounder measures the depth under the buoy using SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) properties. The output data of these components is fed into a controller unit inside the buoy that allows up to ten soundings per second to be referenced to the seabed.

Now, you may be asking “What is a Hydroball?” At first glance it looks like something out of a Star Wars movie (BB8’s aquatic cousin?) – the Hydroball concept is actually quite simple. It is a small autonomous bathymetric buoy developed by CIDCO (The Interdisciplinary Centre for Development of Ocean Mapping; Figure 1). It is designed to map non-traditional areas such as rivers, remote locations and ultra-coastal zones. The robustness of the Hydroball instrument supports bathymetric data acquisition in turbulent waters, allowing hydrographers and companies (and field stations!) to map unknown areas with high precision and accuracy.

Figure 1. The Hydroball. A bathymetric instrument used to map and chart bodies of water in high accuracy.

Bathymetry, the study of underwater topography, is fundamental to the studies of oceans, seas and lakes. Bathymetric data, including information about the depths and shapes of underwater terrain have a range of important uses. As of the year 2000, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that as much as 95% of the world’s oceans and 99% of the ocean floor remained unexplored (NOAA, 2010). The rise of technology including remote sensing and bathymetrical devices such as the Hydroball have opened up opportunities for offshore exploration. By mapping and analyzing the floors of lakes and oceans, scientists can study circulation patterns, marine biology, geophysical properties and sites. In essence, bathymetric data provide valuable information about water depth and topography of lakes and oceans, which are significant for many aspects of marine research, administration, and spatial planning of coastal environments and their resources. Bathymetric maps are increasingly important as scientists learn more about the effects of climate change on our environment.

Figure 2. A previous bathymetric image of Lake Opinicon. Similar to how topographic maps represent three dimensional features of overland terrain, bathymetric maps illustrate the land that lies beneath the water.

The data acquisition was completed during the period of of July 3rd to16th and from July 15th – 22nd thanks to the amazing team efforts of QUBS staff and members from Dr. Stephen Lougheed’s lab (QUBS Director). Many long hours were spent on the water collecting data (Figure 3), as well as in the GIS room ‘cleaning and processing’ the millions of points collected. On the boat, we used ‘Survey’ software to visualize our progress in covering the Lake Opinicon grid that we had created. A Sound Velocity Profiler (SVP) instrument was used to determine the speed sound tab which the boat was moving through the water as we were collecting data. The software, combined with the technology of the Hydroball proved to be a reliable and robust system which yielded high quality of data.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once data collection was completed over the time that we had the instrument, the next step was to process and clean the data. A program called ‘Depthstar’ visualized our collected data on a navigation map platform (Figure 4). From here, we scanned through point clouds of data to remove (clean) obvious anomalies in the data set. Post collection cleaning included adding Precise Point Processing (PPP) data to the raw data to georeference the points, and improving the accuracy and reliability of the data. The processed skeletal data was moved into Arc software to create the Digital Terrain Models (DEM). This process required a lot of patience (and coffee) as we collected over 6 million points over the 14 days of data collection!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this project is the importance of quality data for an effective research data management plan. For data to be maximally relevant, it must be current and up to date. With such contemporary data, research organizations like QUBS are better equipped to provide accurate data for research questions. Another significant lesson learned from this project is the importance of strong organizational and communication skills. Effective communication led to a successful execution of data collection and management. Communicating questions and concerns directly with the team members allowed us to foster collaboration and to innovate and problem-solve, ultimately allowing us to attain the goals of this project.

The Hydroball project was a highlight of our summer here at QUBS. Being a part of every step of the process from data acquisition, processing, management and application was incredibly rewarding. We have definitely gained a new appreciation for sunrises above Lake Opinicon, even though it meant waking up at 4:45am to start collecting data! The final product of our work will be a detailed, high accuracy bathymetric map of a significant portion of Lake Opinicon. This information will be further used for multiple research projects at QUBS for many years to come.

Thank you to Kevin J. Wilson from CIDCO for providing us with the training and guidance to use the Hydroball at QUBS. Also thank you to Lougheed lab members and other QUBS SWEP 2018 staff for assisting in the data collection; this project would not have been possible if it wasn’t for your generous help!


  1. US Department of Commerce, & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2009, January 01). How much of the ocean have we explored? Retrieved from

Citizen Scientists at Work

written by 2017 SWEP intern Dayna Zunder

nesting turtle
Turtle excavating her nest in the gravel.

Doug Fluhrer Park is a 2.85 hectare waterfront park located alongside the Great Cataraqui River, just minutes from the heart of downtown Kingston, Ontario. Aaron Sneep and I (Summer Work Experience Program interns at Queen’s) got our first taste of this newly-renovated park on a gloomy Tuesday morning in June 2018 — damp weather more typical, perhaps, of a frigid and rainy spring month. It was here that we met Mary Farrar and the Friends of Inner Kingston Harbour, a group of individuals — citizen scientists, interested in the Northern Map, Snapping, and Painted turtle species that choose to make Doug Fluhrer Park their home. Mary and her team have been visiting the park twice a day since early May, once in the morning and evening,  seeking to protect turtle nesting sites. Using a small piece of metal mesh, the group has been covering the nests for two-week periods to help prevent egg predation by local wildlife (e.g. racoons). An intricate labelling system has been devised, which makes it easy for Mary and company to determine when the nest was covered, and whether the site may be a decoy nest, perhaps built by the turtles to confuse and deceive predators.

In the bay at the other side of the parking lot, three turtles basking on a log.


Aaron Sneep, QUBS GIS Student stands over a nest at Doug Fluhrer Park recording the coordinates of the sit

Aaron and I met with Mary twice during the summer. The short excursion was made from our base at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS), located on Lake Opinicon. We had our Trimble GPS and mapping equipment in tow. We walked around the entirety of the park and the K&P Trail with Mary and other members of the group locating covered nests in the region. The coordinates of each nest was mapped using our state-of-the art hand-held GPS unit, the Trimble GeoExplorer, with a time-correcting receiver. This additional receiver yields sub-meter accuracy for measured data points. The average accuracy of the coordinates recorded at Doug Fluhrer Park was approximately 77 cm. More than 100 turtle nests of various species were mapped within the area on the two visits made. 

Now, you may be asking yourself what all this GPS and GIS jargon is, and what its significance for this project, for QUBS, and for biology in general is. Let me try and sort a few things out for you—let’s start with the basics. GPS, which most of us are familiar with, stands for ‘Global Positioning System.’ A GPS instrument is used to determine the geographical coordinates in the field, whereas GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is a framework used to process spatial information on the computer—in our case, we use ArcGIS, the industry standard for mapping. Once the turtle nests were mapped in the field, the handheld GPS was plugged into the computer, and the data were retrieved and input into ArcMap. The coordinates were projected, using mathematical calculations to convert the coordinate system used on the curved surface of the geoid to a flat surface—this process was performed for all data recorded. Once the data were projected into the correct spatial frame, the data points were plotted, and the purpose of this project was clear. Mary and her team are determined to conserve critical turtle nesting habitat and stop the construction of the Wellington Street extension, a proposed arterial road that would run through a narrow waterfront park beside the Cataraqui River. The large population of turtles that have made their their nests in Doug Fluhrer Park are at risk, and Mary, along with many others in the community, do not believe that the extension is necessary. The Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour are huge advocates for the turtles and do not want to see them affected by this proposed construction project.

Remote sensing has become a major component in the field of biology—GIS aids researchers and scientists in storing, analyzing and displaying data more effectively and efficiently. GIS and GPS can be used in myriad studies including phytogeography, hydrology, and conservation biology. From mapping on the ground using Trimble equipment, to using the QUBS’ LiDAR data to extract information from high-resolution satellite imagery, GIS is a constantly changing field which the 2017 QUBS SWEP students delved into. We look forward to seeing what the upcoming years of students will produce and what projects they will tackle!

We thank Mary and her team for having us map the turtle nests in the Kingston region. Mary and The Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour are dedicated and passionate conservation advocates. I look forward to their many successes in the years to come.

Mary et al.
Dayna and Aaron pose with Mary Farrar and videographer Dave McCallum

Mapping Culverts at QUBS. A GIS Adventure.

By Aaron Sneep (Summer Work Experience Program – SWEP – intern 2017)

Mapping Culverts at QUBS By Aaron Sneep (Summer Work Experience Program intern 2017) Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) strives to be one of the best field stations in North America. To provide more resources for researchers at the station, QUBS wishes to develop a detailed, fine-scale hydrological map not only its land holdings but also adjacent lands. This summer’s field and data management technicians, Dayna Zunder and myself, have been hard at work collecting data on the locations of culverts in the region to contribute to this hydrological map (Figure 1).

Dayna at culvert
Figure 1. Field and Data Management SWEP intern Dayna Zunder posing alongside a culvert being mapped using a handheld GPS.

The culvert data will be used to complement and correct computer generated terrain models of the region produced from LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data (see Figure 2). The reason we require the locations of culverts to supplement the LIDAR data is rooted in the process of LIDAR data collection. During LIDAR data collection, laser light is emitted from an aircraft flying overhead and each data point collected during the process represents a surface that reflected a laser back to the receiver. LIDAR data is often referred to as a point cloud due to the appearance of the data collected. Figure two shows an example of a LIDAR point cloud.

Figure 2. Side view of a Lidar point cloud for a cluster of trees. Each point in the figure represents a surface that reflected a point of laser light back to the receiver on board a plane flying at low altitudes overhead. (Sneep unpubl. 2017)

Using the point clouds, we can generate terrain models, often referred to as DEMs (Digital elevation model), or DTMs (Digital Terrain Model). With these models, we can simulate how water flows through the region (i.e. imagining how water flows from a high point in the landscape to lower elevations). However, there are concerns and caveats with this approach. The laser used during LIDAR collection cannot penetrate through solid objects such as a bridge or roadway overlying a culvert. In addition, due to limitations in spatial resolution it can be challenging to distinguish the locations of culvert openings using LIDAR data alone. Knowing the locations of culverts and bridges allows us to indicate their locations in the terrain models, and change our flow models that would otherwise appear as impediments to indicate that water is able to flow through these points in the landscape. Therefore, collecting spatial data for bridges and culverts in the region allows us to more accurately represent the flow of water through the watershed. Figure 3 shows a comparison of a DSM with and without culverts indicating where water flow can occur.

Figure 3. Left, digital elevation models (DEM) taken from a section of the Rideau trail running through the Massasauga tract of QUBS property, and on the right the same DEM supplemented with culverts and an outline of the Rideau trail. By looking at the DEM alone, it appears that the Rideau trail is a barrier to water flow. However, by knowing the locations of culverts along the trail, we know that water is able to flow under the trail and allows connectivity between the two water bodies on both sides of the trail. With this information, the DEM could be altered to more accurately model the flow of water in the region.

These models of water flow can be useful in biological research because of the important role connectivity can play in biological systems. For example, connectivity between different areas within the watershed can have implications for nutrient transport, species interactions, and dispersal and gene flow. As such, understanding hydrological connectivity within this watershed we hope will be widely applicable and encourage additional research at QUBS. There is still much work left to complete the hydrological model for this watershed, but future researchers at QUBS can look forward to using an accurate, fine-scale hydrological map to illuminate their research questions.

Fabulous Fall Fungi with a Fun Guy

Post by Art Goldsmith

Richard AaronOn October 1st and 2nd, 2015, I had the unqualified pleasure of joining the inimitable Richard Aaron, who teaches the “Fabulous Fall Fungi” workshops at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS). Right, with a weapon in hand, Richard makes a point to the small class (limited to twelve people). Unlike  previous field courses that I have covered for this blog that are intended for undergraduate university students,  this one is open to anyone who is interested. It is a three-day workshop that was offered three times in 2015.  Several participants have taken the workshop several times, as it provides the ideal blend of learning and invigorating outdoor activity. As extra enticement, no two workshops yield the same set of species. If luck prevails, a carefully selected specimen may be cooked for lunch! Before attempting this on your own (eating a specimen for lunch), take the workshop at least once.

I arrived on the afternoon of the second day of the workshop. Collecting and identifying had occurred the entire day before. Both identified and yet-to-be identified specimens were spread across the tables, with Richard sharing salient tidbits about the various fungi with the class.

The Real Reason for the Knife

Richard had just cut the mushroom shown below in half lengthwise.  As you can see, the yellow flesh almost instantly turned blue when exposed to the air.  This bolete mushroom (a bolete has pores on the underside of its cap rather than gills) is called Boletus subvelutipes, which grows on the ground under hardwoods, especially oak, and conifers, particularly hemlock.

Boletus pulverulentus


Cantharellaceae family

Above is a Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius), the same kind served in fancy restaurants. Those wrinkles look like gills, but they aren’t!

Hexagonal-Pored Polypore

Above is a Hexagonal-Pored Polypore (Favolus alveolaris), which grows on dead branches and is usually seen only after the branches fall to the ground.

Turkey Tail

Above, one of the most common and most recognized polypore mushrooms, Turkey Tail, found on forest floor logs. Unlike many other common names, this one is descriptive. There are other bracket fungi (polypores) which look like Turkey Tail. There’s even a fungus without pores called False Turkey Tail which that bears a striking resemblance.

Richard Aaron 2

Above, Richard explains a central characteristic for identifying gilled mushrooms: how the gills (lamellae) attach or do not attach to the stem. The latter arrangement shown by Richard above, is termed “free gills” because the gills are not attached to the stem. And if the attachment is more narrow, this is called “adnexed”, whereas “decurrent” gills attach at a downward angle along the stem, forming an angular whorl around the stem. The other two gill attachments Richard discussed were “notched” and “sinuate”, both of which are notched along each gill edge close to the stem.

Dryad's Saddle

Above, Polyporus squamosus, a Basidiomycete commonly known as Dryad’s Saddle, which grows on hardwood stumps, logs and trees.  It is an annual bracket fungus, with the characteristic colours, flattened scales and black stem as seen in the photo of this mature specimen (immature specimens lack the black stem). Polypores, as their names suggests, have pores on the underside, which are the openings of tubes. The pores of some species can be seen with the naked eye, whereas other species require the use of a hand lens.


There are an estimated 5,000 macrofungi in Ontario (fungi that can be seen with the naked eye).  Field guides don’t cover most of these. For example, Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada covers just over 600 species. Right, workshop participant Brett, who was a great help to me and others, as he has taken the workshop before, was identifying the following mushroom, with a partial veil, rosy-coloured cap and yellow flesh: a Suillus pictus (sometimes referred to as Suillus spraguei), which is found under White Pine trees.


We’ll get back to Brett later, as he provided a photo of a magical fungal phenomenon from the local woods.

Coprinus lagopus

Above is one of the “inky cap” mushrooms, which belongs to the order Agaricales (gilled mushrooms). It is a decomposer of wood, and can be found on wood chips, sawdust, and other woody debris. As this mushroom ages, the gills liquefy into a black inky mess, and the cap quickly changes from a bell shape to a split flat cap like the one shown above.  This transformation aids in the distribution of spores, although making the species at this stage more difficult to identify. The one above was identified as Coprinus lagopus. Recent DNA studies suggest different evolutionary relationships, and it is now known as Coprinopsis lagopus, but Richard chose to use the name found in field guides in order to avoid confusion.

Panellus stipticus

Above is a very special mushroom, Panellus stipticus, which is also featured below, doing its magical thing, bioluminescence.  Yes, if you are a good mushroom detective, and find a colony of this mushroom during the day, go back at night to see the show. Thanks to Brett for taking this photo, and to Richard for sending it to me.


One peculiar characteristic sometimes used as aid in identifying fungi is odour. It so happens that a small percentage of fungi have distinct odours, reminiscent of coconut, anise, maple syrup, almond extract, coal tar, mouse, radish, cucumber, flour and more. Jennifer is seen below taking a close look at one of these, a Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum), which she had collected. This unique species does indeed smell much like fresh lobster. It also has a different lifestyle, as it feeds on other mushrooms. Technically, this is not a mushroom, but a parasitic ascomycete fungus.

Hypomyces lactifluorum

Fungi grow everywhere.  They are a universal life form, making up a large proportion of the Earth’s living mass.  Below is a gilled mushroom that grows on conifer cones, particularly white pine and Norway spruce, and also on magnolia cones: Baeospora myosura. The convex shaped cap is crowned with a papilla (literally, a nipple), a characteristic shared with many small, gilled mushrooms, particularly in the genus Inocybe.

Baeospora myosura

After supper, we waited until sundown and then gathered in the lab.  Once we were all seated in one corner of the lab, we gathered the sticks that hosted the Panellus stipticus. The lights were then turned off, and our eyes slowly adjusted to the dark. After a few minutes the Panellus stipticus was passed from person to person so we could see the light show (as shown in Brett’s photo above) close up. I must say this was a moving and mystical experience, one of the highlights of a glorious summer.

Afterwards, we went to the seminar room, where Richard played Taylor Lockwood’s tantalizing film, Spirits of the Forest, about his (Taylor’s) global search for as many species of bioluminescent mushrooms as he could find. It capped the perfect day.

You may find more about Taylor Lockwood, his film and his quest here.

The collecting continued the next day.  Richard wrote to me to say that by the end of the workshop, 161 species had been identified. This is just shy of the record 165 species found in one of the 2014 workshops. Of the 161 species, 33 had not been found in any of the previous workshops.

I followed the participants out on Cow Island as they collected.  Here, Karl is seen collecting two mushrooms for his basket. Ekky (short for Ekkehard) joined us to take a look. Their first guess, which proved to be correct, was that these were Boletus edulis, which is a great find (as this species is a choice edible).

Northern Toothed Fungus

As we left the trail, I took the above photo of a most impressive Northern Tooth Fungus, Climacodon septentrionalis. The Latin name translates as “Northern stair tooth”, alluding to the teeth on its underside, its staircase pattern of growth, and occurrence in the northern hemisphere. It forms massive (35 cm. high and 25 cm. wide is not unusual) clusters each year on wounds of standing hardwood trunks, especially maple.

We reached the Raleigh J. Robertson Biodiversity Centre in time for lunch, which included some especially tasty Oyster Mushrooms we had collected, along with several other species (Richard emailed to say that the class sampled five different species over the three days of the workshop). After lunch, I bid my adieus to Richard and his students. Thanks, Richard for an especially illuminating time. We will see you next Fall at QUBS!

Richard Aaron showing two Galerina autumnalis (the current name is Galerina marginata, but only occurs in the most recent field guides) which everyone should get to know. This small gilled mushroom commonly grows individually or in groups on decaying hardwood and conifer stumps and logs, especially in Fall. It is deadly poisonous thus providing its suitable common name, Deadly Galerina.
Richard Aaron showing two Galerina autumnalis (the current name is Galerina marginal, but only occurs in the most recent field guides) which everyone should get to know. This small gilled mushroom commonly grows individually or in groups on decaying hardwood and conifer stumps and logs, especially in Fall. It is deadly poisonous thus providing its suitable common name, Deadly Galerina.

Ecologically Yours

By Art Goldsmith

August 19, 2015

Another fine summer day in August found me in the company of Grégory Bulté and his Ecology Field Course. Grégory is an instructor at Carleton University’s Biology Department, and according to the university’s website, he is:

“…broadly interested in the ecology, evolution and conservation of animals.”

What this does not tell you is that Grégory’s enthusiasm and knowledge about the life around Lake Opinicon and the wetlands bordering the lake, are boundless.

Officially the course is called “Field Ecology & Natural History” and this year was offered to 12 students during the last two weeks of August at QUBS.

Grégory, with his blue t-shirt in the foreground, here supervises the survey of some of the animals that live along the shores of Lake Opinicon, some rarely being seen at all. The purpose of this field study is to learn about the diversity of the lake and surrounding lands.

Grég raises the trap. The mysteries of the lake are revealed

Turtles, fish, frogs and snakes are briefly captured, photographed, identified and then released. Lake Opinicon is home to some less common turtles, like the Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) and the Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus). Note the excellent Latin species names, “geographica” and “odoratus”. They are both so descriptive of the animals. Map Turtles are named for the markings on their shells, which are reminiscent of the lines of a topographical map. Musk Turtles are also called Stinkpots, because they emit a stinky liquid from their musk glands when disturbed.

A Northern Map Turtle swims for the camera. (Photo by Grégory Bulté)
A Northern Map Turtle swims for the camera. (Photo by Grégory Bulté)

Below is a photo by your blogger of a very shy Musk Turtle taken at Lake Opinicon a few years ago. It is rare to see one out of the water. They do, on occasion, emerge onto a snag that angles out of the water, like this one, usually in an area that is well hidden. These are small turtles, usually less than 13 centimetres long. Map Turtles are among our larger turtles. Females in Lake Opinicon have measured up to 26.5 cms long and males up to half of that length. They are often seen basking on larger rocks in our rivers and lakes in Eastern Ontario.

Musk Turtle

This photo of Grég tells us about the joy of the field course. It captures the underlying good feelings from learning in the field. The photos that follow were all taken by or provided by Grég.
This photo of Grég tells us about the joy of the field course. It captures the underlying good feelings from learning in the field. The photos that follow were all taken by or provided by Grég.
The lake, the sky and the clouds dwarf the class as they check a trap. Many fish were in this trap. The majority are sunfish, mainly Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis spp.)
The lake, the sky and the clouds dwarf the class as they check a trap.
Many fish were in this trap. The majority are sunfish, mainly Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis spp.)
Many fish were in this trap. The majority are sunfish, mainly Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis spp.)
Every grade-school kid's first ecology lesson... big fish eat little fish, in this case, a fingerling Bass is swallowing a neighbour not that much smaller than the Bass.
Every grade-school kid’s first ecology lesson… big fish eat little fish, in this case, a fingerling Bass is swallowing a neighbour not that much smaller than the Bass.

Blackchin Shiner

Two of the many representatives of the Cyprinidae family (minnows and carp) in Lake Opinicon. Above is the Blackchin Shiner (Notropis heterodon) and below is the Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas).  The Blackchin Shiner is native to the Great Lakes‒St. Lawrence basin. It is a small fish, rarely exceeding 6 cms.  The Golden Shiner may grow up to 30 cms., although most are in the size range pictured below.  This popular bait fish is native to much of eastern and central North America and has been accidentally introduced well beyond its native range.

Golden Shiner

Frogs abound in and around the lake.  The first two photos, above, feature a frog that rarely leaves the water, the American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus). Our largest frog in Ontario, the Bullfrog is very aggressive with other frogs—and anything else that moves!  The third photo, above right, is a Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). This is also a large, mostly aquatic frog, which is frequently mistaken for the Bullfrog. Note the clearly visible ridges running down the sides of this frog’s back.  These ridges are distinguishing marks of the Green Frog. Below left is a photo of a Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens). Leopard Frogs travel far from the water during the summer months and return to overwinter in lakes and ponds. Below top centre is a Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus), distinguished by facial side masks. Scrunched up on the Milkweed leaf, below right, is a Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor), our loud summer frog. Its call is often mistaken for a bird. As the Latin name suggests, the Grey Tree Frog changes colour to match its surroundings for better camouflage. The Green Frog and Leopard Frog photos were taken by Art Goldsmith. The remaining four photos were taken by  Grégory Bulté.

The other group of common, and usually hidden, amphibians is the salamander (above lower row).  The three species above are best seen in early spring when spring melt waters and warm rains form ponds and pools where many salamanders breed in the evening hours. These salamanders spend most of their time dug into the soil or beneath rocks and fallen tree limbs in moist forests where they hunt for invertebrates. The three of Ontario’s 12 species shown here are, from left, Blue-spotted (Ambystoma laterale), Spotted (Ambystoma maculatum), and the lung-less Eastern Red-back (Plethodon cinereus). The latter is a member of the Plethodontidae family.  The species in this family have no lungs, and therefore are restricted to moist, terrestrial habitats where they breed and lay their eggs.  The other two Ontario members of this family are the Two-Lined and the Dusky Salamanders, neither of which have been recorded at QUBS.

For a slight change of focus, we look at a few reptiles.  Above are two photos of a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) that posed for students.  This common reptile is found in and around ponds, lakes and rivers throughout the southeastern portion of Ontario.  Below is a much rarer species, the Eastern or Grey Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides), an effective predator of rodents and other small animals. The large tracts of conservation lands protected by QUBS are vital to the Ratsnake’s  survival as the population in the Rideau Lakes is threatened; whereas in southern Ontario, it is endangered.

Grey Ratsnake

Of course, the underpinnings of any functioning ecosystem are its wealth of native plants and fungi, both macroscopic and microscopic. Fungi make up a very large percentage of the Earth’s biomass.  Then there are the invertebrates—the huge diversity of arthropods in Eastern Ontario, and the other invertebrate phyla—all forming the base of food and energy production for all of us vertebrates.  The previous blog post featured the entomology field course and just a sample of the insects to be found in the area around QUBS.  Here are a few more insects , other invertebrates and a small sample of the local plants.

Note that fungi will be the subject of my next post, Richard Aaron’s Fabulous Fall Fungi field course.

Widespread throughout North America and ecologically significant in our lakes, ponds and marshes, the Yellow Pond-lily (Nuphar lutea), pictured above left provides shelter, food and stabilization for many animals, including some of the aquatic invertebrates. To the right of the Pond-lily is a typical dragonfly (Order Odonata) nymph. The next photo is a freshwater crustacean (possibly the Waterlouse, a species of the genus Asellus, Order Isopoda). On the far right in this sequence of four photos, one of our Leech (Hirudinea) species is pictured.  Healthy ponds and lakes are teeming with these and many other invertebrates, zooplankton and phytoplankton, which provide the basic food for all larger species.

A Jagged Ambush Bug female (Phymata americana) munches on a fly, while two male Ambush Bugs attempt to mate with her.  All of this is happening amongst tiny Goldenrod (Solidago spp) flowers.  This is a LOT of biology in one photo!
A Jagged Ambush Bug female (Phymata americana) munches on a fly, while two male Ambush Bugs attempt to mate with her.  All of this is happening amongst tiny Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) flowers. This is a LOT of biology in one photo!

Laetiporus sulphureus

We will explore in great detail the world of the fungi in our next post. I didn’t see this fungus (above) during the fungi course though.  The Laetiporus sulphureus, which has a preference for Red Oak,  has several common names, including Sulphur Shelf and Chicken-of-the-Woods.

Above, these are aquatic Leaf Beetles, Donacia sp.,  mating and another common aquatic invertebrate, a Damselfly nymph (Odonata).

Monarch Butterfly caterpillar

We are not seeing as many of these on Milkweed as we have in the past.  In a walk with two other naturalists recently, we thought it would be approrpiate to change the name of the Common Milkweed to Monarch Flower, to honour this plant which hosts the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, like the one shown above.

Hay field

Hay fields, as in the stunning photo above, are an excellent habitat to collect a wide diversity of insects and other Arthropods.  Lastly, the Grégory Bulté Ecology Field Course class of 2015.

Ecology Field Course class of 2015