Ep. 509 – Science of Ducks Unlimited Canada

00:00 Mike Brasher Everybody, welcome back. We have another episode here for you and we're going to be going, I guess you could say, north of the border into Canada. Well, I guess I should say the person that we have joining us is from north of the border, but he's here in person. Wonderful time to visit Memphis mid-August, 117 degree heat index. So I say that jokingly, obviously. We'd much rather be recording this in Canada, but it is great to have this guest here with us. Last couple of days with him visiting and he's been assisting us with some things related to the breathing population survey results and communication around that. I'm going to let him introduce himself right now.

00:36 Matt Dyson Go right ahead. Thanks, Mike. My name is Matt Dyson. I'm a research scientist at Ducks unlimited Canada's Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl

00:43 Mike Brasher Research. Yeah. Oakhamic Marsh in Manitoba. Stonewall Manitoba. Stonewall Manitoba, north of Winnipeg. It's open to the public.

00:52 Matt Dyson Yep. Public facing kind of display, whole exhibits. There's activities for the kids, lots of trails to go walk on. Observe the marsh. A great time to be there in September.

01:02 Mike Brasher Yeah. This is a pretty neat opportunity to have you, I guess, let me think about this. You might be the first DU Canada employee to be here with us in person. We've had Scott Stevens. We've had Brian Hepworth. Yep. Brian Hepworth. Maybe Pat Kehoe a number of years ago. I can't remember about that. Anyway, we've had a number of folks that joined us remotely. First opportunity to have someone personally, I mean here in person. And I say it's a really cool opportunity because we work with you all as one of our three family, three organizations in our family. DU Canada, DU Inc, and then DU to Mexico. We work together on international conservation planning. We work together on science. We work together in pretty much every way that you can think of. Obviously, they are different organizations and we're structured differently with regard to fundraising and so forth. The programs that we administer are done separately within those countries, but DU Inc sends money to Canada, to DU Canada to do some high priority conservation work there. We work together on a whole host of things. The waterfowl season outlook, which is what you're here for right now, we just did that last night. It's a new collaborative effort between our two organizations designed around helping to communicate the results from the breeding population survey report, getting people fired up for the upcoming hunting season. And so this was just, we're taking advantage of having you here to talk a little about science and conservation in DU, from DU Canada's perspective, there's a little bit of a difference in the way our science staffs are structured and where they're kind of located. We'll talk about that. And then we're going to hear about just kind of what you're working on. So I guess to start with, you work for DU Canada, you're in the Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research. We don't have one of those here in the States. There was a time where we tried to get one of those going, but we found out that our science staff, it's better to have them sort of remotely located, well, in our regional offices because that's where that application of science is most direct to conservation. Tell our audience about the Institute. How long have you been with the Institute?

03:23 Matt Dyson And then kind of give our folks an idea of what that is. Yeah, sure. So I've been with Ducks Unlimited Canada since September of 2021. Still relatively new, still doing lots of learning about the group and about the organization. But the Institute has been around, I believe, since 1990 is when the Institute was founded. And effectively, since its inception has been a group of researchers focused on waterfowl and wetland conservation research. A lot of really traditional waterfowl research happened out of the Institute, the Prairie Assessment, the spatial, the SPATS research program, some of those led by some of our founding members. And then we've evolved over time to include a variety of different researchers that are focused on lots of values that wetlands provide us. So in addition to myself serving as a waterfowl scientist, we have scientists focus on everything from ecosystem services and the values that our restoration and retention of wetlands would provide, as well as biodiversity benefits, things based on, we work in different regions as well. So we have scientists focused on the wetland conservation in the West Canada, boreal forest, scientists focused on different aspects of wetland conservation in those regions.

04:32 Mike Brasher There's a lot to unpack. My familiarity with IWWR is pretty deep. I worked on the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture Assessment that you, well, let me correct that a little bit. My wife worked on the assessment. She was employed on the assessment. I worked alongside the assessment when I was conducting my master's research. So I'm very familiar with the phenomenal study that it was, the information it provided us about mallard nesting ecology, breeding ecology. And so, yeah, my familiarity with IWWR is kind of in that vein. Also a tremendous amount of wetland ecology research, fisheries ecology research there at the Delta Marsh. We've talked about that with Del Rableski on some prior episodes. And so we don't have that here in the States. We are, like I said, more of a diffuse science staff. And there are reasons for that. The thing that you kind of pivoted to there and we're talking about having added staff in these other areas of scientific expertise, you know, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, wetland ecology, I guess. Yeah, a whole bunch of other stuff. That is related to the recognition that all of our organizations have in that the threats to waterfowl habitats are really are accelerating. They're diverse, they're widespread. Our ability to conserve and restore wetlands at a pace necessary to kind of counteract to some extent those other threats. We just can't do it on waterfowl interest alone, interest in the birds themselves. So we got to find ways to demonstrate to broader society the benefits of these wetlands and why they need to care about it, why corporations need to care about it, why state and federal governments need to care about it well beyond just waterfowl and bird habitat. And so y'all are leading the charge among our organizations in kind of that regard. You guys have been ahead of us a few years in trying to quantify some of that. We're catching up, adding staff. But how, I mean, is that you're a waterfowl ecologist by training, right? How much do you work with those, with your other science staff on some of those collaborative

06:49 Matt Dyson projects? Yeah, well, I think that's one of the coolest parts or an attractive part for working for a group like IWWR is opportunity to learn from colleagues that are maybe think about systems from a different light, which provides new insights or new ideas, allows us to incorporate maybe new methods to existing methodologies that we might already use to study wetlands or waterfowl and incorporate some additional values. So we're working on collaborative projects across disciplines right now within our group where we're thinking about, OK, what are the benefits of these wetlands to waterfowl productivity? But in addition to that, can we measure other benefits of these wetlands, such as carbon sequestration or taking gas monitoring, gas exchange at those same wetlands? And so not only now are we measuring the benefit of those wetlands for waterfowl and for broader biodiversity benefits, but we can also start to measure their ability to sequester carbon

07:42 Mike Brasher during the year as well. Coming out soon will be our annual International Science Report. It's produced across all the collaboration across all three organizations. It provides a brief description of all the scientific studies that our organizations are involved in for a given fiscal year. There's a lot of different ways we support those projects. And so when you look at the DU Canada section of that report, I mean, there's dozens, probably 50, 60, 70 different projects that are identified that you all are working on. Give us an example from all of those that you're aware of, because you're a waterfowl research scientist within that larger group of scientists. Dr. Stuart Slattery is what? He's kind of the national manager of IWWR. So he's the one who kind of oversees all that. But you work as a scientist alongside a lot of your colleagues there. Pick a project. Tell our audience about one of the projects that you're working on that you find pretty cool and exciting right now. Oh, well, I mean, we'll do two of them, but you got to pick one first.

08:44 Matt Dyson Well, I was going to say, I find them all pretty exciting that I get an opportunity to work on. But I think the project I'm most excited on, we have a project right now that we call Wetlands and Working Landscapes. It's a new pilot program. We just finished the first field season for and really leveraging some of our traditional work that we've done and trying to understand how productive different wetlands are on the prairies, but also acknowledging that we know and we've talked about this in some of our conversations, Mike, when our Waterfowl Outlook surveys of those wetlands may be different from 20 years ago. And there's different land use change that's driving some of that change. And so really what we're trying to understand right now is how land use change, agricultural land use might be influencing productivity of some of these wetlands of varying hydroperiods to understand how we might be able to influence agricultural practices or develop conservation programs that might benefit ducks or have a greater benefit to ducks. And so we're using, we are out doing pair and brood surveys to monitor productivity. We are also working on monitoring invertebrates, so invertebrate food resources in those wetlands that we know drive use of those wetlands and productivity on those wetlands, using some pilot techniques to develop some genomic approaches. So looking at the use of-

09:56 Mike Brasher Genomic, you got to define that. I think I know what you mean, but-

10:00 Matt Dyson Yeah. So we're using genetic approaches. So DNA, so we're sampling traditionally and those are being identified by some of our partners with the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. So you're collecting water samples, doing some, like it's called eDNA or something like that. Is that right? Yeah. So when we talk about eDNA, we're usually talking about something like a water sample or an air sample we're passively sampling. But then in addition to that eDNA, we're also working with what we call bulk tissue samples. And so we actually take traditional DNET sweeps that a lot of people have done for invertebrates or be familiar with. Those get identified taxonomically, traditionally identified morphologically. And then what we do is we put those up into a blender and we make a bug milkshake and that bug milkshake gets sent through a high throughput DNA sequencing to give us some idea of what's there as well. And usually we can get right down to species level, whereas traditional taxonomy sometimes

10:49 Mike Brasher can only get down to family level. Now is it true that to become, to be initiated as a Ducks Unlimited Canada scientist, you have to take a sip of the bug milkshake? No, that's not true. Scott Stevens told me that he was trying to recruit me to become a D.U. Canada scientist. He told me that's what I would have to do. Maybe we can make that a thing. Scott actually didn't tell me that, but it sounds like something he would do. But yeah, bug milkshake. That's awesome. High end protein, right? Yeah, that's right.

11:15 Matt Dyson Do you get out and do a fair bit of that field work? Yeah. So we got it. I got an opportunity to go out and spend a few weeks in the field this summer helping to get that project off the ground. But for the most part, those are those are programs led by our field technicians or our researchers and our biologists that get to spend a little bit more time in the field than I do in the summertime. But no, it's great to get an opportunity to get out a little bit and do that project and see those landscapes as well. So I know where I studied for most of my career, I worked in Southern Ontario on the North Shore of Lake Erie. And then I also worked in the boreal forest of northern Alberta. And so I haven't spent a lot of time on the prairie landscape to date. And so it's great to get an opportunity to be out seeing the prairies, understanding

11:56 Mike Brasher how they work and really learning that landscape. Help our audience kind of make that connection between the data that you collect in the field, the work that we're talking about, brood surveys, productivity surveys, collecting invertebrate samples and EDNA, all those different technologies. Like, how do we and you and I were kind of talking about that this morning on the drive in, where the science that we conduct, it fills an important information gap. And then it's like, how does that influence our conservation programs, our planning? And there's not always a direct and immediate link. And that's just the way the world works, because there are very few things in this natural world where there's one factor that controls another and that we can address that one factor and then control the thing that we're interested in. There's a lot of different linkages, right? So using that project as an example, where does this, where do the results of that study kind of factor into our planning or prioritization?

12:48 Matt Dyson Help us with that a little bit. Yeah, that's a good question, Mike. And when we have opportunities to design some of these studies or think about these studies, those are things we do have in mind in terms of how they're going to influence conservation programs or how they might have the opportunity to influence conservation programs. That doesn't always manifest at the end of a study in terms of being able to actually put that onto how we deliver conservation. But in this case, the hope is to really understand, you know, we talk about sampling across a gradient of agricultural land cover and really understanding when we have things like buffer strips around a wetland of what benefits those might provide and when we can really quantify the potential benefits that different conservation programs that we might have, whether that's keeping a 10 meter buffer strip, keeping a 20 meter buffer strip around a wetland, you know, those are results that ultimately hopefully we can put into programs or use to justify payments to landowners to keep land in forage or in grassland around some of these wetland habitats to increase productivity and not just productivity of waterfowl, but also increase

13:43 Mike Brasher biodiversity in some of those wetlands too. So is it fair to say that part of this is trying to evaluate what we're getting from various conservation programs? We can design all sorts of practices and approaches that we think we need to put on the landscape. And I guess we can do this in a number of ways. We can design them, implement them, but then it's really important to go back and measure the effects of those, right? To ensure that we're getting what we anticipated that we did. But then there's also the approach where we can conceive the idea of a project, but then implement it kind of experimentally to test it before we roll it out programmatically. Where are we on the type of study that you're doing?

14:22 Matt Dyson Is it a bit of a hybrid? Yeah, a little bit of a hybrid, a little bit more of the latter likely. In this case, we won't be stratifying our sample by any means in terms of our different conservation delivery types that we have. However, when you start to get across that gradient of agriculture from no agriculture to kind of 100% agriculture within that, between 20 to 80%, you're ultimately going to usually end up and arrive at some cases in the prairies where you're going to be working on areas that we have programmed being delivered just out of the nature of that's why it's not

14:49 Mike Brasher 100% agriculture or 0%. What about any research project in the East? Are you involved in anything there? I know you're based out of Oak Hammock. Are you involved in anything or is there a project over there that you'd want to kind

15:01 Matt Dyson of give a shout out to? So we're getting a couple of things in the hopper right now that we're starting to get started up and consider. So nothing, nothing substantially developed right now in Eastern Canada that I'm working on.

15:16 Mike Brasher That you're working on. There is a ton of work that's going on out there.

15:18 Matt Dyson So our Atlantic team and our teams in Quebec and in Ontario doing a lot of work and helping to support some projects. Those vary from projects looking at how invasive species can influence wetland ecology and how we can manage invasive species. There's a lot of work in Ontario team supports related to Phragmites. Our Quebec team works on a lot of questions around GIS and understanding using remote sensing and developing methods in that region. And then in our Atlantic team, my colleague Nick Clellan leads a team of biologists and scientists there where they're working on all kinds of questions related to fish ecology and how our programs can be, can benefit not just waterfowl, but also thinking about how they benefit fish and working with the DFO and a lot of the fish passage structures. Because you have a whole different landscape that requires a lot of engineering and a lot of engineered structures and evaluation in that way.

16:05 Mike Brasher And so they're working on a lot of those programs out there. Learning about those projects related to fish passage and how wetland, our wetland restoration, efforts in those coastal areas affect fisheries ecology has been one of the more interesting things for me because, and I realize it, the coastal systems are great or outstanding nursery systems for fish, right? And they're also incredibly valuable for waterfowl. But gone are the days where we can do kind of single species or single taxonomic group management in those systems. And so if we're going to work effectively to conserve wetland systems, restore wetland systems along those coastal environments, those coastal landscapes for waterfowl in our interest, we have to also be aware of how they support the other fisheries and the

16:57 Matt Dyson other organism that depend on it, right? Absolutely. And developing those partnerships and understanding and having collaborators that have a really strong understanding of those important research questions, but then also legal needs sometimes in terms of working on projects and helping to make conservation work happen is really critical. I mean, we talked last night with our colleague, Virginia Getz, around the Klamath and thinking about important fish species that influence management there. And yeah, having those partnerships help deliver conservation a little bit easier sometimes.

17:26 Mike Brasher Matt, we're going to take a break right now. And then when we come back, I want to talk with you a little bit more about sort of your personal background, some of the things that you're interested in. We've been walking around the halls here at Ducks Unlimited National Headquarters, and you've been fascinated by some of the things that you see hanging on the halls and some of the display cases. And we're going to talk about that and how it connects with some of your upbringing and your passion for Ducks Unlimited and the things that we do as an organization. So stay with us, folks. Hey, everybody. Welcome back. I'm here with Dr. Matt Dyson, Waterfowl Research Scientist with Ducks Unlimited Canada's Institute for Wetlands and Waterfowl Research. We're going to get into your background.

18:23 Matt Dyson Tell us where you grew up, what your upbringing was like, how did you get into this field? Yeah, well, I think maybe a little bit different than some of the traditional folks that come on, but I think that's becoming more common now too in this field. I grew up in southwestern Ontario, just outside of St. Thomas, Ontario, which is kind of near London, North Shore Lake Erie. Spent my whole life there and then came time to make a decision to go to college. I did a couple of years of business school. Didn't really like that too much. I found myself thinking about fishing a lot. I grew up lots of opportunities to go fishing, camping as a kid, a lot of outdoor stuff. So I always enjoyed that and was fortunate to grow up with the opportunity. Family friends had a cottage up on the Bruce Peninsula. Spent a lot of time up there growing up, learning about fish and fishing and kind of was always fascinated with that and decided that one day I learned that that could be a career opportunity to go and study fisheries ecology. And so I went out to the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, BC. That's about 4,000 kilometers away from home. Not sure how to do the mile. That was for your undergraduate? For my undergraduate degree.

19:23 Mike Brasher Okay. You've told me that, but I didn't register. I've had a ton of stuff on my mind in the past couple of days, but now BC. Yeah, I didn't realize that.

19:31 Matt Dyson Yeah. I went to Columbia, so I went out there and did a four year degree program there. I was really interested in studying fish ecology and wanted to get into fisheries work. And my first year as an undergrad, I got an opportunity to go back and work with the Canadian Wildlife Service at Big Creek and Long Point National Wildlife Areas near Port Rowan, Ontario, which is on the North Shore of Lake Erie. So it was near home again. So it was a great opportunity for me. And really there is where I kind of fell in love with wetlands and waterfowl and became really interested in those systems. I studied in Port Rowan's also the headquarters for Bird Studies Canada, now called Birds Canada, who had a subsidiary company or an organization called Long Point Waterfowl. And I got to be friendly with the folks there at the time, Dr. Scott Petrie and Dr. Mike Schumer. I got talking to them. Yeah, I got talking to them and there was a master's opportunity that was coming along and had a conversation with them studying wood ducks there at Long Point. I knew a lot of the landowners and a lot of the marsh managers already from my time with the Canadian Wildlife Service and had the opportunity to pursue my master's degree there studying wood duck female survival and brood ecology at Long Point for spent three

20:36 Mike Brasher summers down there tracking wood ducks around around the marshes of Big Creek. Was that the cavity nesting wood ducks?

20:43 Matt Dyson A nest box population.

20:44 Mike Brasher Okay. Yeah, yeah, I'm sorry. That's what I meant.

20:47 Matt Dyson Nest box. Yeah. Yeah. So nest box population of wood ducks. So a lot of box monitoring. So we had over 300 nest boxes that we monitored every two weeks for the summers I was there and then put transmitters and track hens and broods for 30 to 50 days post hatch. So spend a lot of time in a truck with a right there at no peak radio antenna in it. Get a lot of funny looks around Southern Ontario when you're driving a truck that looks like

21:10 Mike Brasher that. Yeah. It's a lot of people will assume you're a government agency employee trying to do some kind of surveillance or tracking, right? Yeah.

21:19 Matt Dyson Well, people thought we were the internet service a lot. Mobile internet service. Yeah, we got a lot of questions. Not far fetched. Yeah. So I did my field work for my master's there and I went to school in London, Ontario at University of Western Ontario, Western University. That's where I got my master's degree and then kind of was, you know, wanted to continue to do research. I was really, really interested and passionate about continuing to do research, continue to advance some of my skills and statistics. And so I knew that that was a PhD was a potential career opportunity for me and something I wanted to at least pursue at that point in my career and was fortunate enough to kind of get in contact with at the time. I actually was in contact with Dr. Jim DeVries at Ducks Unlimited Canada. I was asking him about what potential PhD opportunities might exist. He shared a couple and I met at the time as well. New professor at the University of Waterloo had come to come to our university to give a seminar, met with him and we had kept in touch and sent me an email and said, hey, we might have an opportunity available for a PhD student collaborating with Ducks Unlimited Canada. And so I said, hey, that sounds sounds like something to write up my alley. And we went and had an interview and had some conversations with Ducks Unlimited Canada folks as well and ended up flying out to Edmonton in 2014, I think maybe 2015 to meet Stuart Slattery, Dr. Stuart Slattery and talked about PhD opportunities doing some nesting ecology work in the boreal forest. So we went up and looked at some of the study sites and yeah, I kind of fell in love with that area.

22:47 Mike Brasher And they… It was the first time you had been to a boreal forest.

22:49 Matt Dyson Yeah. First time I'd ever been to the boreal. So we flew into Edmonton and we drove about five hours north up to Slave Lake, Alberta, and we spent four days there, had some some interesting things go on there. We actually collided with a deer on one of the highways in remote northern Alberta. Welcome to the bush, right? Yeah, I got to find some some interesting ways home and I was, you know, that some… I think Stuart was maybe surprised I stuck around. I was still interested to do a PhD after that. But it was a great experience being up there and got me really excited about the potential of the project. So yeah, I ended up doing my PhD on the nesting ecology of boreal ducks at University of Waterloo for… I spent four, five years there and yeah, it was a lot of fun.

23:27 Mike Brasher Cool. We're going to come back to some of that. I have a few other questions. I'm going to back up in the conversation here a little bit. You started out, you did a lot of work on fisheries. You grew up doing a lot of fishing.

23:37 Matt Dyson Did you grow up doing much duck hunting or any kind of hunting? None, none. And wasn't really exposed to that at all as a kid. I've said some family members that kind of were interested in it and I was always kind of curious or thought that that was pretty interesting, but not something that I was

23:53 Mike Brasher ever exposed to as a kid. All right. So a lot of times I have guests on that are fanatical about waterfowl and I ask them what their favorite duck species is or goose species, waterfowl species. You seem to be more of a fish fanatic. Do you have a favorite fish species? Oh, well…

24:10 Matt Dyson Never asked that question of anybody before. Yeah, yeah. That's a fair question. Smallmouth bass are probably one of my favorites in terms of just going out and fishing. Growing up as a kid, it was all about yellow perch. That's from a catching and eating standpoint. Yeah. Fantastic. That's where everything was at then, but smallies as well. I'm chasing those. But I mean, we know the correct answer to the duck question is wood duck and if it's

24:33 Mike Brasher not, it's incorrect. That's right. So I have moved to the wood duck camp as my favorite duck for a number of reasons. I think I've addressed that in a couple of places before. So yeah, very good. All right. Smallmouth, yellow perch. Are there any kind of fish that you like, I don't know, that you have on your list? I have to go do that, like noodling.

24:54 Matt Dyson You know what that is, I suspect? No experience other than seeing it on TV at the time or two. And I don't think… Like something you'd want to do? I don't think I'm super keen on doing that, but I've tried to avoid in most of my life sticking my hand in dark places.

25:09 Mike Brasher Yeah. All right. Hey, so let's move on. Let's get back to the duck conversation here. Boreal forest. Tell us a little bit about your research on your PhD. And I guess while you're doing that, give people a bit of a mental picture for that landscape. I've never… I mean, outside of some of the periphery there in southern edge of the boreal forest, maybe you get into the parklands. I don't have a whole lot of experience in the boreal forest. So paint that mental image for us.

25:36 Matt Dyson Yeah, it's a lot of trees and water, Mike. Okay. No, it's… That's all I need to know. I mean, it sounds like a bottomland hardwood forest. It's an incredible landscape. Lots of lakes, lots of beaver chain systems between down creeks or down water. The water's moving between… It's a very connected landscape. So the hydrology of the landscape, while you have all these isolated lakes on that landscape, in general, there's a lot of water connectivity between those lakes, whether that be through traditionally might think of as a flowing stream to sometimes there's peatland habitats or different fens or box that the water's actually transporting through those systems at a much slower pace, of course. But so there's a lot of connectivity in a lot of those lake systems. In addition to that, you get a lot of beaver dams and lodges and activity. I mean, I find that fascinating in terms of the ecology of the system, in terms of how beavers do drive that. And certainly an interesting and important piece to habitat maintenance in that region as well and historically as well with trapping and changes to those populations in terms of how that drives duck habitat in the boreal forest. But realistically, it's an area that has been relatively understudied, especially in terms of boots on the ground research, like we've done traditionally in the prairies where we're doing nesting ecology work to understand where ducks are nesting, what nest survival looks like, what predators are important for nests. And so really my PhD work was trying to put together some of the preliminary information so that we could really understand what habitat ducks were nesting in, what was eating them, and were there things we could do from a management perspective to potentially help influence increasing nest success, if that was even a concern.

27:19 Mike Brasher But we didn't have data previously to monitor any of that. So let me ask you a question about the beavers as sort of ecological engineers there. Do you have any information on, I seem to recall reading this somewhere before, but do we have any understanding of any trend in beaver populations or the effect of beavers on number of wetlands, size of wetlands? Is there any change related to beaver populations and their impact on those wetland systems

27:45 Matt Dyson that we know about? Yeah, well, I wouldn't consider myself an expert with beaver ecology, but I know and it seems to me that the interest has really increased in the past decade or so in terms of understanding beavers on that landscape. In particular, there's a few things that we know they do well. I think we know that their populations seemingly have, well, they've at least rebounded significantly from when they were heavily pressured or harvested from trapping. And so they're back on the landscape now. They do a few things on that landscape. So not only do they create ponds, wetlands, in some of the areas where they create their dams, they create deeper wetlands. Sometimes provide escape cover for young broods, potentially also really nutrient rich wetlands sometimes as well based on where they put some of those dams. And because oftentimes they can be kind of basically new habitat. And so, you know, really interesting system. But not only that, there's been work that's more recently been done to to show that how beavers can actually benefit some of those landscapes as refuges for during wildfire because they create more water on the landscape, more resilience on that landscape from burning. So some interesting beaver ecology work and the role that that plays as well, I think, in wildfires, which, of course, is top of mind for a lot of folks right now.

28:55 Mike Brasher It is. And that's a good segue. I wanted us to talk about that a little bit. And we've discussed it here over the past few days relative to its potential impact on waterfowl breeding populations. It feels like this is a question that I've asked you two or three times, probably have, but not in this not in this setting. So what do we know about the likely effects of those wildfires on breeding populations this year? And then just in general, are they how are that their natural part of the system? Kind of talk about that. But then are they things that we need to be concerned about either? And we can discuss that sort of from a historical perspective. But then also, where are we now? And are there things happening that cause us a bit more concern relative to wildfires?

29:37 Matt Dyson Yeah, no, I think so. Fire ecology is another booming field right now in terms of in on the landscape. Are you guys working on any projects related to that now? Nothing, nothing specifically that we were working on. But I can anticipate that there might be some some interest and some needs continuing. And it's an active area of research, though, for especially, you know, landscape ecologists and folks working on peatland systems and things like that. But, you know, that fire is not normal in the Bordeaux Forest landscape. Fire is needed. It's an important part of that system. You know, return intervals from fire can be anywhere between 50 to 100 years. And so you don't get a lot of old trees in those systems. They are burning quite often. The change that's really seen, I think it's safe to say, is that the frequency and the severity of some of those burns is much different. And so fires are occurring more often. They're burning larger areas and they're often more severe in terms of the heat intensity. And so as opposed to maybe just burning through and and not really taking a lot of the ground cover, these are these fires are often burning quite quite a bit into into the ground as well. And so really changing how not only the landscape looks, but also changing how the landscape responds to fire over time. And so traditionally, when we've looked at fire or thought about fire in relation to ducks and we haven't we haven't really done a ton of research on in this field, but that the studies that have looked at it have shown us that ducks are relatively resilient to some of this fire. So there's been work that has looked at those how how fire has occurred on B-pop transects to understand how populations might respond over time. And relatively, you know, those are those responses are relatively flat. So we see the same same number of ducks year after year, regardless of if there's fire and even looking at different lag intervals that they worked on. And so it seems it seems that there's some resilience there. However, there hasn't been a lot of studies, for example, you know, looking at maybe how fire influences nest ecology or survival or how that might influence birds moving around on that landscape. And so I could suspect that there there is some opportunity or maybe some questions that we need to be interested in in terms of understanding how those demographic rates that we know are important to population growth might be influenced by wildfires as they continue to become more common on the landscape over time here, because traditionally you might expect that, you know, there's the landscapes large enough where there's enough habitat on that landscape that can buffer those fire effects where birds can just sort of move around, because a lot of these studies that we've done

31:51 Mike Brasher have been at the transect scale. And so there's opportunities for some of those fine scale responses to maybe get masked. So we were talking earlier this morning about some of the productivity in the wetlands that may change following a fire. Talk about that a little bit and, you know, an anecdotal observation that you shared with me earlier this morning.

32:09 Matt Dyson Yeah, yeah. So one of the one of the things we know about fire ecology or in the boreal landscape in general is, yeah, there's a lot of water there and there's a lot of lakes, but not all those lakes are productive in the sense of, you know, our prairie wetlands that are hyperproductive, lots of invertebrates, lots of food for waterfowl. Some of these some of these wetlands are more oligotrophic in that there's not a lot of nutrients. You got to define that. Not a lot of nutrients and not a lot of food in them. That's probably the best I can do from my memory here on nutrient poor wetlands. However, when we have things like burns, we can we can have these these really nutrient increases in some of those water bodies as that kind of burn gets flushed into those water bodies from the rains.

32:49 Mike Brasher When that vegetation burns, it releases those nutrients that are bound up in the plants and it goes into the water.

32:54 Matt Dyson Yep. And then when we have that really sudden push of regrowth, that early serelo vegetation that returns, a lot of that is dense herbaceous or graminoid cover. That's great for for nesting ducks in terms of cover that they're going to be interested in in the following year. And so, you know, anecdotally, I didn't study in my PhD in terms of, you know, we were really interested in understanding how industrial development influenced ducks. And so we knew that fire and things like harvest are really important on this landscape. However, we were really focused on the oil and gas development. And so we actually didn't study any of the fire or harvest landscapes. But anecdotally, when we would go to some of these burned landscapes, we walked in one time, Stuart and I just kind of got out of the truck because we were curious. We wanted to see what nests searching would be like in these burns. And of course, you know, five steps in and flush a blue winged teal right out of that, right out of, you know, fresh burn burned the year before. So, you know, birds are responding and able to able to take advantage and use these landscapes. And we know how quick they can respond to in the prairie landscape in terms of when the water comes back. And so I think it's a similar, you know, probably some similar things happening where these birds, especially fast lived birds like teal, are ready to take advantage of those landscapes as soon as they're available.

34:01 Mike Brasher Talk about the difficulty of studying waterfowl in the boreal landscape. You kind of stumbled upon this in my mind there whenever you were talking about you just flushed a blue winged teal over as you as you were walking into it. But the boreal landscape is not like the prairies where you can hook up a chain between a couple of ATVs and nest drag, you know, six hundred and forty acres in a couple of hours or something, right? How do you go about searching for nests in that landscape and just talk about some of those differences in the densities of waterfowl and the challenges it presents to researchers as a reason for why it's, as you said, one of the more understudied, highly important systems for waterfowl?

34:37 Matt Dyson Yeah, you're not going to get too far with the chain drag in the boreal forest. There's a lot of trees there that are going to stop you. And, you know, the landscape, there's a lot of bog and fen area as well, but an ATV is not getting too far on as well in terms of that. And it's heterogeneous. You know, you get you get little patches. I often use the term mosaic when I'm describing the landscape of, you know, you're walking for 100 meters in upland forest and then all of a sudden you're back into a bog. And so the habitat changes really quick as well. But essentially, the way that we were finding nests was was really just ground and pound. We were we were walking concentric rings essentially around wetland buffers to try to identify nests, stir them up using willow switches. So trying to cover as much ground as we can, walking a lot of kilometers. Probably a better question to ask some of the technicians that work for me in terms of, you know, you kind of always have that drive as a as a graduate researcher and really want to get those answers. But technicians probably explain some of the grind a little bit better for it. So but I think, you know, there was I think we were fairly effective. You know, we found found over 50 nests a year, which doesn't sound like a lot when you start to think about the prairie sample sizes. But, you know, we were covering pretty good, pretty good ground there and feeling pretty good about some of those sample sizes. But I certainly, you know, you know, looking back, I think there's other other things I would do differently in the future if I redesign a new study.

35:51 Mike Brasher But that's, you know, part of science, too, as we kind of learn to work in these new landscapes and what's possible and what type of strategy we might use. I would imagine that's a landscape that we're pretty excited about trying to use new technologies, drone, you know, unmanned aerial, unoccupied aerial vehicles with thermal sensors, any of that kind of stuff. I mean, that's I realize there are some inherent challenges there when you've got trees and so forth. But I mean, that has to be a landscape where remote type sensing, remote sensing technologies, whatever they may be, is would be hugely valuable.

36:27 Matt Dyson Yeah, we considered using some of that technology. We actually did work with some transmitters and so we did do some transmitter work as well to help us identify nests. So, you know, in addition to knowing that, you know, we're going to do some nests searching, but worried about the potential bias that nests searching might put, are we missing birds? How do we know we're not missing a lot of birds that nest further in the uplands? And so we put some transmitters on mallard hens as well. And for the most part, those hens that we put transmitters on were nesting effectively in the same distances away from from wetland bodies that we were actually searching. So that gave us a little bit of confidence in terms of our nest searching efforts that we were making. But again, you know, putting transmitters on birds and doing that type of work takes a lot of logistics, too. And so sometimes, you know, we found it just as effective to be out there searching. And then from the drone perspective, the main hindrance there from and from conversations that we had with others was the trees we were worried about, especially because some of those some of those species are nesting a little bit later by leaf out.

37:22 Mike Brasher And so there's some challenges with some of that thermal imagery as well for for locating nests. A question I'll ask you is one that I get every now and then, maybe not as often now as I used to, but people were wondering, like, what is what do you do on a daily basis? And so you take a stab at that. Like, how much of your day is dedicated to being a lot of people think that that, oh, you're a waterfowl scientist, you're out in the field all the time. We talked about this a little bit before. And then you do get out in the field a bit. But what are the other things that you're involved in from publications, grant writing, communications, education, any of that type of stuff?

38:02 Matt Dyson Give people an idea of the type of work that you and your other science staff do. We're very fortunate to get to do what we do on a daily basis. I feel really grateful all the time. I get to come down here and do cool things like this. Talk to talk to you, talk to the folks that that are working here, meeting people that really have helped make this organization what it is and driving conservation. That's really exciting. But, you know, from just down to everyday tasks kind of thing, you know, every day is a little bit different. It's not super monotonous in terms of like, you know, I don't really do the same thing every day. But some of those things include, you know, checking your emails and making sure you're keeping up with the admin, making sure you're keeping up and doing the administrative pieces of your job properly in terms of budgeting and all that good stuff and checking in with the folks that work for me, making sure they're getting everything that they need and know what they're supposed to be up to and getting updates from them and checking in that way. So there's some of that that happens. And then there's the science that that that I helped to lead to the science that I'm driving, the projects that I'm kind of the lead on. But then there's lots of projects that I get to be involved with that I help support as well. And so as a collaborator, as as a committee member, and so trying to keep up with those and organized on those projects as well. And so that's kind of the real the science side of things. So that, you know, projects I lead include things like making sure the field data is being collected properly, getting processed properly, getting entered properly, and then ultimately doing some of the analysis on that and blocking that into time and publishing, working on manuscripts for that analysis, drafts, revisions, comments, peer review. It's not the same thing every day. No. So those things. And then and then that's, you know, we're not even getting into then the other aspect of our job that that is, you know, 50 percent really of what I do is also science support within our within our organization within DU Canada, within DU Inc, within DU Mexico, whether we get questions or opportunities to support those groups. We spend a lot of time doing that, too, in terms of helping helping our conservation programs teams or our communications teams and understand science or consider, you know, think about what we should be what we should be up to or working on.

40:01 Mike Brasher So we can't be one trick ponies anymore. Can we? I don't think so. Maybe you can. Maybe you can. Some people are lucky enough to be able to do that. You've got a really good trick. It depends. Yeah. But the positions that you and I have and so many of our other science staff, we just can't do that anymore. The need for us to to share kind of what we know and the importance of what we know to all the different parts of the organization just seems like it's never been more important than it is now. And, you know, there's there things to to appreciate about that. There are other things that you like. Well, I wasn't trained to do that, but let's see what I can do. You've been with DU Canada for a couple of years now.

40:36 Matt Dyson Do you love it as much as you thought you would? The job? Probably more. Well, like I said, you know, get to do some pretty fun stuff. There's there's no shortage of engagement in terms of opportunities to do fun research. And, you know, certainly as a as an early career guy, you got to find your ways to say no on some things, too. And the capacity becomes an issue pretty quickly. If you did said yes to everything or did everything, I don't know if I'd sleep. And so so, yeah, no, it's it's it's very engaging opportunities that people I get to work with every day is a lot of fun. Inspiring organization to work for in terms of the work that we do, the opportunity to do things like getting together with staff outside of the science. That's probably my favorite. One of my favorite things that I've gotten to do within the organization. I mean, that that and meeting people that we work with in terms of delivering conservation on the landscape and so meeting the landowners, the people that that have projects on their on their land and have really bought in and made these commitments.

41:30 Mike Brasher That's inspiring stuff. We're recording this on August 22nd, 2003 hunting season in Canada is right around the corner. You have plans coming up?

41:38 Matt Dyson September 1st. So hopefully Dr. Stevens and I might get out for for some early blue wings and just, yeah, just spending time out in the marsh this year. It's it's kind of try to prioritize that, maybe get out on the Delta marsh this year to chase some cans. And yeah, that's that's that'll be awesome.

41:53 Mike Brasher If you go with Scott, if he if he does take you hunting, make sure that he uses the skinny decoys, you know, the skinny decoys that he's got, you know, the little silhouettes, make sure he uses those. I have a sense that those are the ones that are going to be most effective.

42:07 Matt Dyson So, OK, make sure make sure whenever you're loading up, just make sure you say, hey, Mike wanted to make certain that we've got the skinny decoys. OK, we'll also be hunting over his own custom hand carved decoys. Oh, I know. I know. But I'm a fan.

42:20 Mike Brasher I'm a fan of the skinny decoys. OK, tell us what you're most excited about with DU Canada kind of going forward. Any any new things that it's an it's an interesting time. It's an exciting time to be in either all of our organizations within Ducks Unlimited. We're growing. We are expanding our reach. What are the things on y'all's radar? What are the things that you personally are most excited about that you want to leave us with?

42:46 Matt Dyson Yeah, well, that's a tough one. Hopefully I don't leave anything out.

42:49 Mike Brasher But I don't have to cover it all. I'm just asking for a couple of things.

42:52 Matt Dyson You know, one thing is just like. Yeah, well, I think, you know, one of the things there's there's, you know, an addition. So I've started I'm only two years in, but there's a whole whole bunch of us, a large group of us that are relatively new within the company in the last few years. And so that's kind of an exciting time in terms of, you know, developing new collaborations and partnerships with colleagues and thinking about the future of what that might hold in terms of the science that we do and the students that we engage with and the folks that we get to engage with on that research and kind of the scope at which we are working on some of the questions now within the group in terms of not just thinking about the benefits to these wetlands from just a water power perspective, which still remains our core and what we what we're focusing on, but also all those other benefits and the doors that that opens and collaboration opportunities and the funding opportunities that kind of opens as well. So it's an exciting time to kind of be part of the part of the science team at Ducks Unlimited Canada and thinking about what we can do and how impactful some of that science can be in terms of delivery of conservation on the landscape.

43:43 Mike Brasher Matt, thank you for joining us on the episode here. Thank you for spending a couple of days with us here in Memphis. I'm glad you got to enjoy the dog days of summer. I mean, prime time, probably one of the hottest weeks. You also got to experience the clogged sewer drain that happens, you know, it's going to happen sometimes, right? We got to experience the the we had to shut off the HVAC system last night for our waterfowl season outlook thing. You got a taste of it all. Barbecue. You got some of that. A true Memphis in August experience. Appreciate you being here. It's great to have you on the Ducks Unlimited team. I know this won't be the last time that we connect, but thanks for everything you all are doing up there. Thanks for having me. It's been great, Mike. A special thanks to our guest on today's episode, Dr. Matt Dyson, waterfowl research scientist with Ducks Unlimited Canada's Institute for Wetlands and Waterfowl Research up in Stonewall, Manitoba. We appreciate all that he's doing to help conserve wetlands and sustain waterfowl populations into the future. We thank our producer, Chris Isaac, who does an absolutely wonderful job with everything that he's involved in here at Ducks Unlimited. We thank you, the listener, for joining us today and for your support of wetlands and waterfowl conservation. Join us next time.

Creators and Guests

Mike Brasher
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Science Host
Ep. 509 – Science of Ducks Unlimited Canada