MABRRI Research Projects

MABRRI's research and community engagement coordinators, project coordinators, VIU students, and faculty associates work with community partners to create and conduct research projects that advance our understanding of people and nature, and the interaction between these, within the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region and across Vancouver Island. Listed below are some of the projects that MABRRI is currently working on.

Current projects

In partnership with the Ministry of Forests, BC Parks, and Milner Gardens & Woodland, MABRRI is working to assess and monitor climate change effects on local plant phenology – the timing of seasonally reoccurring events such as bud break, leaf size, flower development, and ripe fruit. By monitoring the growing seasons of different coastal plants, and by comparing these growing seasons to microclimate data, we can work to identify any potential changing trends in the growing seasons of Vancouver Island’s ecosystems.

This project is monitoring phenological changes in native plant species at seven research sites: Milner Gardens & Woodland, Thetis Lake Regional Park, Mount Arrowsmith Massif Regional Park, Bowser Ecological Reserve, Koksilah River Provincial Park, North Cowichan, and VIU Woodlot. Microclimate stations and a series of trail cameras have been installed at all sites to link phenological records to local climate. MABRRI, student researchers, and citizen scientists also collect in-person data weekly during the summer and biweekly during the spring and fall at Milner Gardens & Woodland. Data collection will continue for a number of years in order to see how growing seasons may be shifting with changing climate patterns.

We depend on our volunteers to help with in-person data collection throughout the growing season. If you are interested in joining us in the field to observe and record phenological changes in our species, please contact Jessica Pyett, MABRRI’s Research & Community Engagement Coordinator at

The Ecological Accounting Process (EAP) is a methodology and a set of metrics that uses BC Assessment data and GIS analysis to calculate a baseline financial value of land underlying stream corridor systems. EAP was formulated with the intention of offering a standardized approach to provide local governments with a starting figure in budgeting for natural asset management.

In partnership with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia (PWSBC), MABRRI has been involved in six of nine EAP trial studies in BC from 2016-2022. Some of these studies included Bowker Creek in Victoria, the Millstone River in Nanaimo, and Bings Creek in the District of North Cowichan. In 2023, MABRRI and VIU began a three-year transition strategy with PWSBC, the Regional District of Nanaimo, the Municipality of North Cowichan, and the City of Nanaimo, to integrate the EAP methodology into MABRRI and VIU. During this transition strategy, one study is to occur per local government partner per year, totaling nine studies by the end of the three-year period. This strategy is strengthened by student involvement, and offers Master’s students relevant work experience sponsored by Mitacs internships.

At this time, the EAP Partnership has completed Year 1 of the three-year transition. Reports have been produced on Richards Creek in the Municipality of North Cowichan, Departure Creek in the City of Nanaimo, and French Creek in the Regional District of Nanaimo. These studies have primarily explored the initial steps of EAP, which calculates a baseline financial valuation of worth based on land parcels. A percentage of this worth can be taken and allocated towards budgeting to maintain and manage the riparian corridor. As these natural assets are areas shared by the community, they are viewed as a ‘natural commons’. The reports also detail the ‘riparian deficit’, which states the level of impact on the environment due to human development. The intent of providing a baseline financial valuation of worth of stream corridors is to begin to remediate impacts associated with the riparian deficit, through budgeting towards natural asset management.

Photo showing the stream named Departure Creek flowing through a forest.

The Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) developed the Permanent Forest Plot Project (PFPP), which involves universities throughout North America; students and faculty from different institutions are given a strict protocol to follow when they are establishing their forest plots. The goal of the PFPP is to establish permanent forest plots in a range of different ecosystems, which will allow students and faculty to observe and compare different aspects, such as biomass, carbon sequestering abilities, species diversity and presence or absence of invasive species, in varying ecosystems.

In 1999, Dr. Glen Jamieson and the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Foundation (MABF) established a 100m x 100m forest plot at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The MABF collected the location, size and type of each tree in the plot but never returned to continue monitoring the sites after their establishment. In 2016, MABRRI established two interior, 20m x 20m forest plots, using the EREN protocol, within the MABF plot and two edge plots outside the MABF plot. In addition to the sites at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, the MABRRI student researchers established two new plots at Milner Gardens & Woodland in February 2017; there was one interior and one edge plot established. The MABRRI team will continue to monitor each of these sites every five years, documenting the species, size, location and status (alive or dead) of each of the trees within each plot. All collected data is uploaded on the EREN database; therefore, along with Vancouver Island University, other institution’s faculty and students can use our data to calculate different parameters, including biomass, carbon sequestering abilities, and species richness and make comparisons between the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR) and the region they live in. The MABRRI student researchers will be able to recognize how these regions of the MABR are changing and how they may be effected differently by climate change.

The Forage Fish Spawning Habitat Monitoring Project, for which MABRRI is seeking to identify where and when Pacific sand lance and surf smelt are spawning along the mid-Vancouver Island and Gulf Island coastlines, began in October 2017. Forage fish are one of the most critical linkages between the lower trophic levels and upper trophic level species, such as Pacific salmon and killer whales. MABRRI is following similar methods to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, whom have undertaken these spawning habitat surveys for decades.

This project, which is part of an ongoing initiative to involve citizen scientists in forage fish spawning habitat monitoring, is minimizing existing data gaps by positively identifying active forage fish spawning habitat through the collection of sediment samples from locations with known favourable habitat characteristics. In order to recruit volunteers and maintain their involvement in the program, forage fish sampling training sessions are frequently hosted along the coast. MABRRI collects the samples from the citizen scientists and analyzes them for presence of embryos. After analysis, all results are passed on to the respective groups, ensuring that citizen scientists are engaged throughout the entire process. 

Currently, MABRRI is working with 9 citizen science groups to sample the 107 beach stations spanning from Qualicum Beach to Saturna Island off Victoria and a few individual volunteers. Along with the collected sediment samples, beach characteristics are recorded and photos are taken in order to gain a more holistic idea of how the beaches change throughout the year and aid in identifying long-term trends. All results that are collected by MABRRI and our citizen scientists are input into the Strait of Georgia Data Centre, ensuring that all data collected is transparent and available to be used to inform habitat preservation and conservation. Once this network has generated a multi-year data set, it will then be possible for our partners to propose evidence-based modifications to policy and management practices pertaining to Pacific sand lance and surf smelt spawning habitat in the Salish Sea. 

If you or your stewardship group are interested in contributing to this continuously growing project, please contact Alanna Vivani, MABRRI's Environmental Project Coordinator, at for more details.

In the summer of 2016 MABRRI partnered with Kristina Swerhun, to continue long-term alpine monitoring on four summits of Mount Arrowsmith. The aim of the project is to develop long-term, world-wide databased of standardized observations of alpine biodiversity, vegetation patterns and mountain-top temperatures. Monitoring and data collection takes place every five years to assess any visible changes. Information aims to capture the effects of climate change on these unique alpine ecosystems.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) approved 24 projects to receive funding under the Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative (IHII). MABBRI is leading IHII’s impact measurement project with support from the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO) and IHII Secretariat. 

The MABBRI team is working on meeting the objectives of the impact measurement project by examining whether IHII has led to desired outcomes and impacts. MABBRI supports the project Innovators to show their project’s social impact to potential investors and share findings with Impact Canada to support broader impact measurement of all ‘challenges’ and ‘initiatives’.

Starting in 2021, MABRRI is conducting marine debris surveys along beaches within the MABR. The survey approach follows the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) methods for marine debris surveys, as part of their Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project. Through NOAA’s survey methods, rather than solely making sure the MABR’s beaches are clean, we are providing data to an international database that amalgamates data collection from local beaches into a larger context. The goal of NOAA’s initiative is to utilize data collected from beaches around the world to develop more effective mitigation strategies to prevent the impacts of marine debris. MABRRI will be conducting a debris survey 4 times per year, once each season, starting with two sites in the MABR (French Creek and Qualicum Beach), and hopefully expanding to a few more beaches in the near future.

The MABR is one of the 19 biosphere reserves/regions across Canada to receive funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada to bolster biodiversity conservation efforts in support of Global Biodiversity Framework Target (GBF) 3: Ensure that by 2030 at least 30% of lands and waters, especially of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed. In the MABR, we are working closely with regional partners and stakeholders to contribute to this target by enabling some of the buffer and transition zones within the region to meet criteria needed to qualify them as Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs) and/or Protected Areas (PAs). Areas recognized as OECMs and PAs are reported in the Canadian Protected and Conserved Areas database, to provide an area-based understanding of protected and conserved areas in order to inform efforts that will enable achievement of GBF Target 3. OECMs and PAs both contribute to GBF Target 3 with effective means to control activities likely to adversely impact biodiversity and protection to biodiversity year-round that is long-term and difficult to reverse. OECMs differ from PAs in that the primary objective for PAs is biodiversity conservation, whereas OECMs are effective at delivering in-situ conservation of biodiversity, regardless of primacy of objectives  

To support and enhance overall biodiversity conservation in the region, project activities within the MABR include: workshops with key partners on the significance of biodiversity conservation; collaboration and supporting capacity-building for landowners and municipalities for conservation planning and OECM/PA recognition, including site assessments and management plan development; increased knowledge dissemination and storytelling to raise the profile of biodiversity conservation efforts within the MABR; and supporting partner organizations with ongoing restoration, stewardship, and monitoring efforts, with a focus on sensitive ecosystems and species at risk.  

For more information, individuals can contact the project coordinators Alanna Vivani ( and Jenica Ng-Cornish ( 

MABRRI and the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Drinking Water and Watershed Protection (DWWP) Program just finished up our 5 year agreement that had been established in order to conduct the Wetland Mapping and Monitoring project. The project began in 2015 and was developed from recognition that there was a lack of baseline data on wetlands in the region. Through the five years of work, MABRRI mapped multiple wetlands in order to determine where they are situated and how they are classified. Additionally, in the 4th and 5th years of the project, the team installed instrumentation to begin to understand what connection they have to groundwater recharge. This information is important for informing land use decisions in the region. Overall, research aims to inform policy and planning around wetlands in the region in order to better protect these important hydrologic features and ecosystems.

Following the final year of the 5-year agreement, it was decided that longer-term monitoring of the instrumented wetlands would be important to carry forward – allowing for important data to be gathered from the equipment that was installed. Moving forward, in collaboration with two volunteer groups, the Quennell Lake Watershed Stewardship Society (QLWSS) and the Arrowsmith Groundwater Alliance (AGWA), the 6 priority sites will be revisited each quarter (April, July, November, January) to continue identifying seasonal variations at the sites. Additionally, the volunteers from the AGWA will be assisting the MABRRI team with downloading the data at the three instrumented sites in the French Creek and Big Qualicum Water Regions. During each site visit, the data from the piezometers and rain gauge, as well as the photos from the trail cameras will be downloaded.

The MABRRI team continues to work with Alan Gilchrist, VIU Geography professor, to analyze and interpret the data collected. All of the data collected in 2021 will be compiled and shared with the RDN. Additionally, an overview of the data collected will be summarized and shared with the public and volunteers.

All previously written reports can be found on Research Reports and Resources. Also, the MABRRI team regularly updates RDN Get Involved for wetlands.

Other MABR Initiatives

To learn more about other initiatives talking place in the MABR, please visit the MABR's website.

Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region