Thompson Rivers University

Biology Research—Q & A with Kate Strangway

June 12, 2014

Kate Strangway, BSc 2014, studied whether goats could control invasive weeds like knapweed and thistle, as an alternative to herbicides.

Meet Kate Strangway, a Bachelor of Science grad who majored in General Biology. The Newsroom asked Kate about the ins and outs of conducting her own research project on using goats to control invasive weeds, through TRU’s Undergraduate Research Experience Award Program (UREAP).

TRU: Your project is titled, “The Effects of Grazing on the Seed Production and Soil Seed Bank Germinability of Invasive Weeds“. Boil it down for us.

KS: Invasive weed infestations are common and result in both economic and environmental losses. Traditional weed control methods usually involve the use of pesticides, however this can cause damage to the environment and to the farmer. Businesses that rent grazing animals to be used as an alternative weed control method are already established in Europe and the US, but this service is not widely available in Canada.

The impacts of grazing on specific life history stages of the targeted plants are little known and increased knowledge would contribute to understanding the long term efficacy of grazing. The purpose of this project was to determine the impact of grazing on vegetation biomass, seed production and seed bank dynamics of plant communities primarily dominated by Carduus acanthoides (plumeless thistle) and Centaurea maculosa (spotted knapweed).

TRU: What attracted you to doing this research?

KS: I was first introduced to the idea of goats grazing invasive weeds in the summer of 2012 when I was working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in the environmental department. The City of Kamloops was implementing the use of goats as a pilot project in a few areas around the city and it was also appealing to the Ministry which maintains multiple gravel pits that are infested with noxious weeds. I was put in charge of completing a literature review on the subject and then later managing various aspects of the project for the department. I spent a lot of time with the goats and the owners of the herd during the summer and the whole experience inspired me to ask more questions about the method and eventually pursue research looking at whether this was an appropriate alternative weed control method to herbicide application.

TRU: How has your UREAP grant helped you get into doing research?

KS: I am very thankful for my UREAP grant, as this research required special equipment such as fencing that I would not have been able to acquire without the funding.

TRU: Will your project lead to a presentation or publishing opportunity?

KS: I presented my research at the TRU Undergraduate Research Conference in March, where I received the Undergraduate Student Regional Award from the Canadian Botanical Association for the project. As well, my report is being given to the Southern Interior Weed Management Committee, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the City of Kamloops and the owners of the goat herd.

“I learned that I was capable of thinking about and applying my classroom knowledge to a real world project, which has substantially boosted my confidence when contemplating my future as a scientist.” —Kate Strangway

TRU: What have you learned from this experience?

KS: I think the biggest lesson I have taken away from this experience is that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. In a classroom setting I might have shied away from some of the types of problems that arose during this experience, but when you are completing your own research that opportunity is simply not an option. In this way, I learned that I was capable of thinking about and applying my classroom knowledge to a real world project, which has substantially boosted my confidence when contemplating my future as a scientist.

TRU: Who in your field do you admire and why?

KS: I truly admire my supervisor, Dr. Lyn Baldwin, who manages to make small organisms, such as weeds, interesting. Her passion for the natural world is contagious and by attending her classes I gained the necessary confidence needed to deepen my understanding of the world around me and to ask questions about it.

TRU: What impact do you hope your research will have?

KS: I am hoping that my research will help land managers such as the Southern Interior Weed Management Committee, the environmental department at the Ministry of Transportation, the City of Kamloops, the owners of the goat herd, and possibly local ranchers to make informed decisions regarding the use of grazing livestock for weed management.

Kate’s research is also featured in a story in the Spring 2014 issue of Bridges Magazine, on campus now.

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