Community Spotlight: WARM Lab
Sarah Cusack isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in the field. In fact, it’s a regular occurrence for the University of New Brunswick Masters student.
Last year, the team at the UNB Watersheds & Aquatic Research & Monitoring (WARM) Lab dove into a new project, collecting eEDNA above an aboiteau in a tributary in the Petitcodiac River. Cusack climbed down the river banks in Moncton, New Brunswick with ease but it was the route back up that gave her some trouble. “I like to volunteer to be the guinea pig,” she said proudly while recalling the day.
The Petitcodiac River is famously known as the chocolate river because the eye catching water colour resembles the tasty cocoa treat.
She eventually made it up the riverbank with her samples intact. The only difference about the trip going back up, Cusack was covered head to toe in the chocolate river.
The team at the lab knew it would be a story to tell and that’s how the WARM Lab won the 2022 Atlantic Water Network #LaterWaderAWN photo contest.
Since 2015, UNB Professor Michelle Gray has led the WARM team into a variety of projects but right now, they are primarily focusing on freshwater mussels.
Two of the ongoing masters projects involve the Yellow Lampmussel. As a species at risk in New Brunswick, the team is working closely with local governments to increase our understanding of these mussels and their habitats.
When there is a construction project associated with a body of water nearby, the WARM Lab is often called in to help rescue, remove and relocate the local mussel communities safely to ensure there’s no harm from the effects of the nearby projects. The team spends a lot of time researching and developing a framework of evidence, to help predict where the mussels are hiding. There hasn’t been an extensive mussel research project targeted at Yellow Lampmussel in the province since the early 2000’s, so the WARM Lab’s research is eminent for our ever changing waterways.
Dr. Gray wears many hats, including Director of the Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI), and acting Dean of the Forestry and Environmental Management Faculty at UNB. CRI training and Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) training has been built into some of the faculty’s coursework, to ensure students are up to date on these nationally standardized protocols for aquatic biomonitoring.
Although the lab does work across the province of New Brunswick, a noteworthy study now is happening in the Wolastoq (Saint John) river. With over 40 endangered species or Species of Concern in the Wolastoq, the WARM lab in partnership with other research labs and organizations, use the Ecological Limits of Hydrologic Alteration (ELOHA) framework, to monitor and identify a range of hydrologic conditions that support a healthy watershed for years to come.
Find out more about the UNB WARM Lab and their current projects here.
Article by Amanda Doucette
Photos Courtesy of WARM Lab.