Our Scientists – From Coast to Coast to Coast – Kimberly Howland

Meet Kimberly Howland, a research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Freshwater Institute. Discover how her investigations into invasive species are helping us to understand current and potential threats to the Arctic aquatic ecosystems.


My name is Kim Howland.

I'm a researcher with the arctic research division here in Winnipeg. My main interests are invasive species in relation to shipping and climate change.

An invasive species is a non-indigenous species, so something that hasn't previously been found somewhere and wouldn't naturally occur there. It's a term that's reserved for ones that cause damage to the ecosystem where their numbers tend to explode or get out of control. Right now in the arctic, we're starting to see a trend in increased shipping, and ships of course can bring a whole host of species with them. So my studies revolve around what has the potential of coming to the Arctic and also trying to do surveys to look at what's currently existing.

So we have traditional methods that we use. Things like benthic trawling, that's a method that allows us to collect things that live on top of the sea floor and then we also use something that we call a Van Veen Grab to dig down into the sediments and grab a sample of the species that live in the sediments themselves. And then we also use plankton nets to look at the organisms that live in the water column.

Pretty early on, when we started this work it became clear to me that when you're trying to monitor for new things that are coming in, you want to pick those up as soon as possible if you do want to have some sort intervention or try to adapt. So environmental DNA is something that we've been exploring as a method that could allow for more frequent monitoring and that could be easily done by people in the communities. Environmental DNA is a term that's used for DNA that's found in the environment, so animals can shed cells or you can actually have DNA that's come out of the cell.  You can also have smaller organisms that are picked up when you take a water sample.

We did some initial training and had a workshop up there and had several youth that came out to the field with us for two weeks while we were doing our main project and then they've continued to do collection for us over the past four months.

It think being out, out in the environment, you start to ask more questions when you actually see what's going on. And when you look at the data later, you have a different perspective than if you're not up there.