Media releases

  • Brock team researching agriculture’s impact on nearby water sources

    MEDIA RELEASE: 1 December 2022 – R0134

    While farms provide food, employment and tranquil scenery, they can also have the unintended effect of altering the chemistry of local water sources.

    Brock University fourth-year undergraduate chemistry student Adithya Sethumadhavan is aiming to find out how agriculture-related practices impact streams in the Kawartha Lakes and Durham Region.

    Sethumadhavan is testing water samples he collected from 30 sites to look for levels of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the water.

    “We’re comparing what the carbon fingerprint looks like in forested areas to regions that have been heavily disturbed by agriculture,” he says. “We think there will be more fragments from trees and other organic substances in the molecules of water found in undisturbed areas.”

    These tree fragments would include compounds called polyphenols that influence how metals move from land to aquatic environments, says Assistant Professor of Chemistry Vaughn Mangal, Sethumadhavan’s supervisor.

    “We are particularly concerned with how metals are transported to aquatic systems after the use of metal-containing fertilizers in agriculture,” he says.

    Mangal explains that in natural environments, rainfall carries and deposits carbon molecules from leaves and soil into local water sources, giving the water a “brown tea-like” colour.

    But with trees being felled and soils disrupted by constant tilling and crop growth, these and other “human-driven disturbances” transfer organic carbon that was stored on land into the water. Inorganic contaminants from fertilizer use also enter the water.

    “Certain micro-organisms consume organic carbon as their main food source,” says Mangal.

    The more organic carbon they consume, the more these streams emit greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide — those associated with climate change, he says.

    Sethumadhavan hopes the research results, expected early next year, will guide discussions on agricultural and land-use policies.

    Tanner Liang, Water Quality Specialist at Kawartha Conservation, says Sethumadhavan and Mangal’s research will help identify locations at high risk of being contaminated by agricultural sources.

    “With increased urban development and agriculture in the Kawartha and Peterborough regions, understanding the extent of contamination in southern Ontario watersheds can serve as an informative benchmark of how ecosystems may change, and allow for proactive mitigation,” says Liang. 

    Although the research is taking place in the Kawartha Lakes and Durham Region, the findings will be equally applicable to Niagara, a region highly dependent on agriculture, says Mangal.

    Mangal, who is new to Brock, focuses his research on how fertilizers are impacting soil chemistry and plans to work with farmers to implement sustainable, environmentally driven farming practices.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Maryanne St. Denis, Manager, Content and Communications, Brock University or 905-246-0256

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    Categories: Media releases

  • Brock research aims to help parents better track child development

    MEDIA RELEASE: 30 November 2022 – R0133

    A new Brock study will allow parents to monitor their child’s progression through early developmental stages with only the touch of a button.

    Professor Maurice Feldman in the Departments of Applied Disability Studies and Child and Youth Studies aims to provide parents with an innovative way to track their infant’s development using a web-based version of the Parent Observation Checklist (POC) questionnaire.

    The POC is a version of the Parent Observation of Early Markers Scale (POEMS), which detects early child development. Having seen its effectiveness when completed on paper, by phone interview and via email, Feldman and his research team now seek to test it as an online survey.

    The research team includes Associate Professor and co-investigator Tricia Vause and second-year PhD student and research assistant Brianna Anderson in Child and Youth Studies.

    “Parents are skilled at monitoring their child’s development and have told us the POC helps them focus on a range of child behaviours in the first three years of life,” says Feldman. “Using the POC, parents were able to detect which children were at risk for being diagnosed with autism at age three as early as nine months of age.”

    Anderson explains that the POC covers 61 items related to child development, such as feeding and communication, which are scored on a four-point scale. Participating parents also answer questions related to family history. They complete the questionnaire every month until their child turns three, updating only those items that have changed.

    “In addition to validating the POC, we hope the experience will also empower and enlighten parents by informing them about how their infant is developing and helping them identify specific aspects about their child’s development — mainly strengths, but for a few, concerns — that they otherwise may not notice,” says Anderson.

    The research team is now recruiting parents of children between one and 24 months to complete the questionnaire, using their personal computers or smartphones, updating it on a monthly basis until their child reaches 36 months of age. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete each time. There is no cost to take part in the study, but there are many potential benefits.

    Anderson says the questionnaire can help families understand their infant’s development and even flag any early developmental concerns that arise.

    “Parents may feel empowered being able to track their child’s development in a systematic way,” says Anderson. “They will also receive regular feedback on their children’s scores and be advised to seek guidance from a pediatrician in the few cases it may be needed.”

    Anyone interested in signing up for the study or finding more information can visit the Feldman Lab website or email the research team.

    For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

    * Maryanne St. Denis, Manager, Content and Communications, Brock University or 905-246-0256

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    Categories: Media releases