"The entire Island is our lab"

 “UPEI is the ideal location to study the spread of invasive species like green crabs,” says Dr. Pedro Quijon. “I can be in one spot and see a complete infestation, then drive an hour away and find a location where the crabs have yet to migrate.”

Quijon is an Associate Professor of Biology at UPEI. He’s studying a species of crab native to Europe that first crossed the Atlantic over a century ago to the New York / New Jersey area. In the years since, the population of green crabs has slowly migrated north, an was confirmed for the first time in Prince Edward Island in 1997.

“The green crab eats everything,” says Quijon. “It has its favourites, for sure. It starts with soft-shell clams, then moves down to mussels, then harder-to-eat oysters. If none of these are available, it will even eat worms or snails.”

Green Crab feeding in a lab tank: Photo by T. PickeringGreen Crab feeding in a lab tank: Photo by T. Pickering

The green crab’s appetite and lack of predators on this side of the Atlantic make it a devastating foe to the shellfish industry. “Fifty years ago, Maine had a robust soft-shell clam fishery,” says Quijon. “Green crabs moved into the area and within a decade decimated the industry.”

Quijon explains the green crab is also bad news for eelgrass — the long grass that grows along PEI’s shores just under the low tide which provides nursery habitat for countless coastal species.

“Adult crabs will unintentionally uproot eelgrass as they dig for food,” says Quijon. “We have also learned juvenile crabs, who aren’t strong enough to get at the meat inside large clams or other shellfish, will actually eat the tender tissues of eelgrass.”

Green crabs are slowly building their populations from eastern PEI and moving west, mainly along the southern shore. Quijon says high numbers of crabs have established themselves in the Charlottetown area, but Summerside has yet to be measurably affected.

“It is only a matter of time,” says Quijon. “They will also eventually establish themselves in Malpeque Bay. The shellfish industry needs to be ready.”

Quijon says shellfish farmers in places where the crabs are already established have had to adapt.

“Maine, for example, has been able to rebuild its soft-shell clam industry by adapting its aquaculture,” he says. “They need to protect the younger clams, also known as seeds. Each farm has to have a series of nets or fences capable of keeping out crabs to mitigate their impact. It is an extra expense, one that the industry has had to adapt to. But it is part of their new reality if they wish to continue.”

Quijon works with a number of students, including graduate and undergraduates, some through NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Awards — or USRAs.

A former NSERC-USRA student working at a tidal flat.: Photo by P. QuijonA former NSERC-USRA student working at a tidal flat.: Photo by P. Quijon

“It’s a great opportunity for them and a rewarding experience for us as faculty,” he explains. “When I was a student, getting involved in research meant long summers away in the field. These students can do their research at any point on the Island, and still be able to sleep at home in their comfortable beds. It’s a real advantage.”

Watch: Taking kids off the assembly line

Dr. Khym Goslin says we need to change our current model of ecuation. Our current methods move children along from Kindergarten to university like an assembly line.

Dr. Goslin is an Assistant Professor of Education at UPEI. He laid out what he sees as the problems and possible solutions in his recent talk at UPEI's 25th Research Breakfast. Below, watch his presentation: "Instructional Leadership for the 21st Century Changes in Teaching and Schooling."

Fore more background on Dr. Goslin's research, visit this previous ORD Blog post.

The next Research on Tap – Should gifted students receive special attention?

“There’s a common attitude that gifted children don’t need extra help in school,” says Dr. Carla Di Giorgio. “But gifted students get bored easily if their intelligence isn’t being stimulated. Gifted kids may even drop out or turn off of true learning if their needs aren’t met by school.”

 Dr. Di Giorgio is an Associate Professor of Education at UPEI and Director of the Centre for Education Research. She’s leading the discussion at the next Research on Tap event, "Do gifted children really need special attention?  Addressing the high end of the educational spectrum in PEI's school system."    

 “Prince Edward Island has a great reputation in Canada and around the world for inclusion,” says Di Giorgio. “It is community-based education. Students with all types of learning needs are together in regular classrooms and neighbourhood schools. There is the potential for great social diversity and interaction.” 

Di Giorgio says inclusion on the surface can have economic advantages – it can be cheaper to have all students grouped together in one classroom if the appropriate supports for teachers and students are put in place. However, she says it’s not always helpful to students with above or below average learning abilities to be taught the same way as the others. 

“Some students require special services, and a teacher with particular skills,” says Di Giorgio. “Gifted students fit into this category, and they often lose interest if their needs are ignored. The irony is, many unidentified gifted students may not fully explore their potential in post-secondary years because they’ve already been turned off by school.” 

Di Giorgio says it is very easy for smart students to get very high marks in high school without too much effort. 

“They’re not being challenged,” she explains. “Those who go to university can be in for a shock as suddenly the expectations for study skills, organization and critical thinking skills are much higher.” 

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is meant to shake this up. The program, which graduates its first classes of Prince Edward Island high school students this spring, imposes strict international standards and testing for high achieving students. 

“It has evolved through a steep learning curve, but many students and staff are glad they took the initiative and dove in,” says Di Giorgio. “Students are heartened. They feel like they can be smart without being intimidated. Although facing constant demands, they’re engaged, they’re thriving, and they’re becoming global citizens and local leaders.” 

IB isn’t for everyone. The program’s high standards means students have to be very focused and organized to manage school and extra-curricular activities such as clubs or teams. Di Giorgio says the real test of the program comes this summer when the test results of the graduating classes are known. 

Local elementary schools have also tried to implement various enrichment programs in their repertoire. The Western School Board has opted for Advanced Placement (AP) courses for high school students who want a challenge. The notion of these programs being elitist is being questioned by the public and by schools looking to improve their services for students needing more than the regular curriculum can provide. 

Sound interesting? Join us for the next Research on Tap on Tuesday, January 11 at 7 pm. in Mavor’s in the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Dr. Di Giorgio will lead the discussion. 

For more information, contact Dave Atkinson at datkinson@upei.ca, or (902)620-5117.

Photo credit.