We know more about wildlife this week, thanks to research by Telkwa’s Kiri Daust.
Daust published his research in this week’s issue of a scientific journal, The Canadian Field-Naturalist.
His research reveals that a little-known fungus is hurting Highbush Cranberries. His research article was subject to the same peer-review process and met the same scientific standards as articles authored by professors and other professional scientists.
Daust’s research on plant disease started the same way many biologists’ projects start: with a walk in the woods.
“I go walking in the woods with my family pretty much every day,” explained Daust. “We collect Highbush Cranberries to make jelly.”
In 2012, Daust noticed a weird disease on the plants.
Rather than shrug off the finding, Daust followed his curiosity.
He sent pictures of the disease to an expert who identified the culprit as a rare kind of rust fungus about which experts know little. The fungus was known to infect Highbush Cranberry, but nobody knew what effect it had on the plant. Daust, 15 years old at the time, decided he would answer that question.
Daust photographed the leaves of plants with different levels of infection, and checked back on the plants as the season progressed. He found that plants with higher levels of infection produced berries that were infected, undeveloped and had less sugar than uninfected plants’ berries.
He dug deep into historical records and found an interesting pattern: the fungus may attack Highbush Cranberry the most after wet spring weather. Wet springs are predicted to become more common in Daust’s region of B.C., which does not bode well for local berry pickers or wildlife.
“This year, there is tons of rust on the plants and there are hardly any berries,” Daust said.
To find a scientific mentor, Daust had to look no farther than his own house.
Dr. Karen Price is an ecologist and Daust’s mom and homeschool teacher.
“My role is simply to encourage Kiri’s curiosity,” said Price.
Daust first presented his research at science fairs, where he won many awards.
Local scientists recommended Daust publish his research in The Canadian Field-Naturalist, to share his findings with the scientific community.
“Sharing knowledge of the world, that’s kind of the purpose of science,” Daust said.
The Canadian Field-Naturalist is a scientific journal published by the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club since 1879.
It publishes original research on natural history, which is the study of wildlife ecology, behaviour, taxonomy, and diversity.
They publish research on species that live in Canada, though the research itself can take place anywhere.