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Biology students create first-of-its-kind provincial biodiversity report

Student Life

By Kelly Foss

A group of Memorial students have created a comprehensive biodiversity report of wildlife in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The report was launched at an event on campus on Thursday, April 4.

Modeled after the Living Planet Index created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the report details changing population trends and explanations for why these changes are occurring.

Comprehensive guide

While the WWF has created such reports at a national and global level, the students’ biodiversity report is the first of its kind for the province, providing residents with a comprehensive guide to the species that share the province with them.

“We hope this report will inspire people to get active in conservation,” said Laura Richardson, a biology undergraduate student who was involved in the project. “Our wildlife is in decline, not only in this province, but globally. We need Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to take pride and help restore it, because conservation groups can’t do it on their own. They need the public to get involved.”

Group photo
Members of Dr. Yolanda Wiersma’s class on the St. John’s campus.
Photo: Submitted

Real-world project

Dr. Yolanda Wiersma teaches the conservation biology course, BIO 4651/7944: Conservation and Practice, the class that created the report.

She says for the past 10 years, the fourth-year undergraduate and master’s students who take the course are given a semester-long, real-world group project to complete together.

“When I run this class, it’s more like facilitating a workshop, than actually teaching,” she said. “We meet every Thursday for three hours, which is a great format, and it’s a lot of flipcharts, markers and Post-It notes.

“My philosophy with the course is that it’s not about the end product, it’s about the process. Sometimes they come up with something that’s useful to the partner we’ve chosen to work with, other times they don’t. Either way, they learn a lot by doing it.”

Experiential learning

The students agree with Dr. Wiersma’s thinking and expressed their appreciation for her support and for the design of the course.

“I’d like to thank the biology department for allowing courses like this to exist,” said Tiffany Small, an undergraduate student. “Even though it’s not a field course, I consider it to be oriented in that way because it’s so hands-on. It was cool to see the project manifesting itself throughout this whole journey, from an idea about an experiential learning course, rather than a lecture course, to a physical product that we made together.”

During the 12 weeks they were given to complete the project, the students reviewed similar types of reports which helped them decide the themes they wanted to include in their own.

Along the way they developed their skills in oral, written and visual communications, data analysis, graphic design and outreach, and demonstrated energy and commitment to the project.

Provincial context

“The outreach team created a Twitter feed and Facebook page, developed a news release, poster, brochure and website and organized the launch event,” said Dr. Wiersma.

“When I included these materials as part of the assignment, I didn’t know if any of it would be of a quality that we could do actually outreach with, but clearly it was because we have members of the public here, as well as partners from various community groups that saw some value in their work.”

Sigrid Kuehnemund, vice president of WWF-Canada’s Oceans Program, attended the launch and had praise for the “valuable” report.

She notes that wildlife in Canada is in steep decline and their own reports reveal that half of the monitored vertebrate species – 451 out of the 900 – have shown steep declines between 1970 and 2014.

“Your report drills down a bit deeper into the provincial context and gives me the credibility to speak on a very local level,” said Ms. Kuehnemund. “So, it does have great meaning for me and for WWF-Canada.”

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