Spring hunting in winter

Kyle Knysh pores over a large aerial photo of an area in eastern PEI. Tiny red and yellow stickers mark the location of freshwater springs.

“The springs are easier to find in the winter,” he says, “since the water bubbles up fast enough that it doesn’t freeze.”

Knysh is a master’s student in UPEI’s Biology Department. He’s investigating the insect life found in the springs at the headwaters of eastern PEI rivers through a project called Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices, or WEBs.

“Springs are quite interesting,” says Knysh. “I made a preliminary visit last summer to 12 of the springs I’ll be working on during my research. The temperature changes only a few degrees between summer and winter. That consistency can mean interesting adaptations in the species that live there.”

The first part of Knysh’s project involves finding the springs, which at this time of year involves a lot of snowshoeing with a GPS in hand, searching for open water.

Even in the deep winter, the headwater springs remain open waterEven in the deep winter, the headwater springs remain open water

“I’m taking an inventory of the locations I’ll use in the study. On these first trips, I’m taking measurements of the water for several indicators. I’ll return later to take samples of the insect life in each.”

Over the next two years of the project, Knysh hopes to compare the insect life in the various springs. The goal is to see how the land use around the spring affects insect life and water quality.

“For example,” says Knysh, “does the number and type of insects in a spring surrounded by forest differ from one surrounded by farmland?”

Knysh’s supervisors in this project are Dr. Donna Giberson, professor of Biology at UPEI, and Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, associate professor of Biology and UPEI’s Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity.