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TWU-driven team researches threat of invasive species to Metro Vancouver

A Langley environmentalist will help lead a two-year study into cause, effect, and prevention
TWU grad and environmentalist Emma Nikkel will be part of a research project looking at invasive species to the region and how to potentially end them. (Special to Black Press Media)

A Langley graduate is helping Metro Vancouver tackle invasive plant species through summer research at TWU.

This summer, Emma Nikkel is working with a team of researchers led by Trinity Western University’s Dr. David Clements to better understand how new invasive plants may spread into Metro Vancouver and beyond.

“I love the outdoors and plants in particular!” said Nikkel, who graduated in 2015 from TWU with a bachelor of science in environmental studies.

Species listed as noxious weeds under B.C.’s weed control act pose a risk to the health and safety of people, animals, property, and the environment, she explained.

And, according to the Township of Langley, multiple invasive species exist in the area.

“I am really looking forward to delving into the species we’re focusing on, understanding how these invasive species are spreading, and determining the factors that are contributing to their spread,” Nikkel said about her upcoming research.

Nikkel has worked in several different positions within the environmental field, but a common theme has been “being hands-on and providing practical measures to improve the well-being of an ecosystem as a whole,” and that includes bettering the lives of humans, she said.

“My hope for this research is that it provides meaningful and practical information for local land managers, (helping them) to implement prevention and management strategies that actually make a difference,” said Nikkel.

“I hope to contribute to bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and research, and actual management efforts in the field.”

Clements, a professor of biology, said research will help Metro Vancouver and our other partners to be better prepared.

“As the pandemic has taught us, the more prepared we are for biological threats and the earlier we act on them, the better! There is little doubt that some of the plants we are studying will invade our area in the near future, and that climate change will play a role,” said Clements, a Green Beat columnist for Black Press Media.

According to the prof, climate change is expected to make it easier for invasive plant species to spread, particularly northward into Canada.

The B.C. Lower Mainland is vulnerable to invasive plants due to its favourable climate and diverse landscapes, he added.

The research team from TWU is working to develop the methodology for modelling habitat suitability under climate change for Metro Vancouver, incorporating the unique features of the region’s diverse landscape.

The data they gather will help governments develop tools and best practices for detecting, prioritizing, and managing outbreaks of invasive species, Clements said.

The study aims to model how invasive plants such as Brazilian elodea, European common reed, Dyer’s woad, shiny geranium, mouse ear hawkweed or water hyacinth may take advantage of climate change to establish and spread across the region.

This two-year study is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Metro Vancouver Regional District, and provides scientific data to inform the Metro Vancouver’s land management strategies.

Two other partners will also help shape the project’s approach: the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver.


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