How to Target the Marmot

 

The Vancouver island marmot, as it’s name indicates, naturally occurs only in the high mountains of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They are one of the largest marmot species and are easily identified by their unique appearance. However, this endemic Vancouver Island animal is one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world (All About Marmots, 2008).

marmot

In the mid-1980’s, the marmot population on the island was estimated to be over 300 individuals. Sadly, by 2001, their numbers had declined to less than 75 animals (Government of Canada, 2008). This decline is due to a multitude of factors, including human activities, disease, and climate change (affecting where they live and reproduce since they typically live in high-elevation environments); unlike many other cases of endangered species, habitat loss and destruction does not appear to have been a factor (Bryant and Blood, 1999). The major threat to the marmot is predation – at least 80% of mortality is attributable to predation, especially by wolves, cougars, and golden eagles (Bryant and Blood, 1999). The cougar and wold numbers on Vancouver Island have increased dramatically since the 1980’s, which doesn’t help the situation.

There has been many previous actions that groups and organizations have taken in order to help the marmot populations increase, including re-introductions.A study by Aaltonen and colleagues focus on the success rate of captive-born marmots into natural habitats in order to determine whether and to what extent survival and mortality rates of captive-born marmots differ from those of their wild-born counterparts (Aaltonen at el. 2009). By using radio-telemetry and mark-resighting methods, they estimated seasonal and annual survival rates of the marmot to compare the survival and mortality rates of captive-born marmots versus wild-born marmots. They also focused on the effect of age-at-release on survival (Aaltonen et al. 2009).

Their results indicated that annual survival of captive-born marmots released into the wild was low compared to wild-born marmots; marmots released as 2-year-old or older survived more successfully than those released as yearlings (Aaltonen et al. 2009). They found that annual survival rate was lowest for pups and highest for yearlings and adults. Forensic evidence suggested that predation was the most important cause of mortality. What their results indicated was that by delaying the release of captive-born marmots until 2 years of age, their probability of survival in the wild was increased, and thus will improve the success of the release program (Aaltonen et al. 2009).

The Vancouver Island marmot is still listed as endangered today, and their only chance for survival is ultimately up to us. By taking the results of the discussed study and re-introducing marmots at a later age, we might see marmot populations dramatically increase, making the cost associated with rearing marmots for an extra year well worth it.

 

Word count: 446

Aaltonen, K., Bryant, A., Hostetler, J., Oli, M. 2009. Reintroducing endangered Vancouver Island marmots: Survival and cause-specific mortality rates of captive-born versus wild-born individuals. Biol Cons, 142(10): 2181-2190. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2009.04.019

All About Marmots. [Internet]. The Vancouver Island Marmot [cited March 23 2016]. Available from https://www.islandnet.com/~marmot/

Bryant, A. and Blood, D. 1999. Vancouver island marmot: Ministry of Environment. Available from http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/marmot.pdf

Government of Canada. [Internet]. Species at risk public registry: Vancouver island marmot [cited March 23 2016]. Available from http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=136

image: http://www.hinzie.com/writer/media/image/52135.jpg

Industry vs. Family: A Tale of Two Farms

Pollan, M. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A natural history of four meals. Penguin Group Inc., New York, NY. pg. 185-273.

 

What does one think of when they think “soufflé”? Undoubtedly, they think of the immediate taste they’re experiencing; perhaps they’re thinking of the ingredients that have come together to produce the flavors. Certainly, they aren’t thinking about where those ingredients that produce those flavors and form the dish come from, nor where they have been and the experiences they have underwent.

Once again, I am smitten by Pollan’s writing. He is so obviously passionate about his topics, and how we produce, market, and agonize over what we eat. One thing he really gets into depth about is grass. Within the first couple of pages, he regards grass as a keystone species, “the nexus between the solar energy that powers every food chain and the animals we eat” (pg.188). This is interesting, as it’s something I never really thought of: grass is ultimately a way in which we harvest energy from the sun, whether directly (eating a vegetable from the garden) or indirectly (eating an animal which has eaten grass). I never truly realized how accurate it is to call ourselves ‘sun farmers’ – well, true farmers, anyway.

One thing I very much enjoy about Pollan is his writing style, as I’ve mentioned a few times before. He draws us in by telling us his own stories and experiences, which in my opinion, is much better than reading plain facts. Pollan expertly and tactically writes so that his readers can imagine everything he experienced, and immerses them in his own story.

That, to me, is a wonderful thing.

For example, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is an ongoing story he writes about. He mentions previous experiences that he’s already discussed, like when he was watching the herd of cattle: “The last time I stood watching a herd of cattle eat their supper I was standing up to my ankles in cow manure in Poky Feeders pen number 43 in Garden City, Kansas” (pg. 194). This triggered my memory, recalling how disgusted I was in learning how industrial cows are raised. Their food chain reaches all the way back to cornfields in Iowa, to the Gulf of Mexico, and further still; cows that eat grasses eat the sun, so to say. It is obvious quite early that Pollan is pro-grass-eating animals, and I think his intention is to convince the reader the same via his own experiences and facts, and he does an excellent job in doing so.

He also does a wonderful job in explaining and describing how many elements of a pasture work together in order to function. Grass is eaten by cows, who spread and fertilize seed with their manure; cows keep the grass at it’s optimal growing length; chickens root through cow patties to eat the fly larvae within; pigs aerate the cows decomposition into a good compost; compost will feed the grasses, so the grasses can feed the cows, the cows the chicken, and so on. It’s beautifully interconnected, and the farm is “more like an organism than a machine” (pg. 213) – it needs separate structures for it to function optimally. Again, I’ve never thought about it this way before, and it has become more clear to me how farm-grown animals is a more natural choice.

One thing that bothered me throughout this reading is all of the sad truths Pollan points out. First of all, he grudgingly notes that “our civilization and…food system are strictly organized on industrial lines” (pg. 201). That is, they prize consistency, mechanization, and economics, and for those reasons, they use corn to feed livestock. Instead of going for a more natural, ultimately safer and higher quality method of feeding livestock grass, industries go the cheap and efficient route – it’s quite disgusting. Another thing Pollan mentions is how people “put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food” (pg. 240). This is so true. I, for one, put much more thought into that kind of thing than over where the food I eat comes from, and I’m sure most other people do as well. I think we need to become more aware of this, not just because farm-grown food is higher quality, but because we would also be supporting local farms. This can be summed up nicely by the quote, “instead of mad cow disease, we’ve got glad cows at ease” (pg. 247).

Overall, Pollan really attempts to turn the reader off of industrial-based food and instead focus on farm-grown or local food. After all, “we can still decide, every day, what we’re going to put into our bodies, what sort of food chain we want to participate in” (pg. 257). Instead of going for a bland industrial meal, why not try a tastier, more rich local meal? It’s definitely something I am increasingly considering after reading Pollan’s explanations.

So, thinking about that soufflé again. Next time I’m eating a dish, I will concentrate on the ingredients and where exactly they come from, so I can focus on “where this sublime bite began” (pg. 273).

The Desire of Intoxication

Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, NY. pg. 113-180.

 

When I first read the subject of the chapter, marijuana, I thought to myself, “great, we get to read all about the high experiences when using the plant”, but boy was I wrong. Pollan takes the subject and expands it into everything we need and want to know. Almost everyone knows that marijuana can give rise to a pleasant high, but I can guarantee that few people really know about the history and mechanisms of the plant.

Pollan starts his chapter off nicely by drawing attention away from the plants that are grown to sustain life, and introducing us to plants that do other, more curious things: “some heal, others rouse or calm or quiet the body’s pain…there are plants that manufacture molecules with the power to change the subjective experience of reality we call consciousness” (pg. 114). Right there. Right there is where I got hooked on the reading, when my interest increased immensely. When Pollan uses great sentences like that, I no longer question why I find his writing to be such a joy to read.

Not only do I like the sentence structure Pollan uses, but he also seems to have quite the sense of humor, which makes reading his content even better. For example, I had quite the time reading his personal experience of growing his own marijuana plants. I found myself literally laughing aloud when I came across the sentence “there they were, a couple of jolly green giants lurking behind the barn” (pg. 122). I also found good humor in the way he described doing any measure to keep the chief of police from discovering his plants. His comical aspect is another reason why I really enjoy Pollan as an author.

Pollan also brings up many interesting points about the marijuana plant and drugs plants in general. He writes that “many drug plants do confer advantages on the creatures that consume them – fiddling with one’s brain chemistry can be very useful indeed” (pg. 142). When I think drug plants, I generally think about the high that one can get; however, they have so much more purpose than that, including relieving pain, increasing concentration, enhancing endurance, and of course relieving stress and helping people sleep. I think the media has conditioned us to believe that drugs and drug plants are all bad, though in reality the truth is that their purposes serve us many benefits – people are just too brainwashed to really recognize this.

Drug plants, in that sense, really are a beautiful thing.

One concept I definitely wasn’t familiar with was the history of marijuana, and Pollan does an extraordinary job of walking readers through it. “The moment humans discovered what these molecules could do for them…the plants that made them suddenly had a brilliant new way to prosper” (pg. 145). I love how Pollan constantly questions who really controls who, plants or people. It always has my mind thoroughly thinking about it, and I can never truly answer it. In the case of marijuana, people recognized its potential, and both humans and plant prospered from such a discovery.

Something I found to be especially interesting is the mechanism behind the compound THC within marijuana works within the body. The human brain was discovered to have its own specific receptor for THC, “a type of nerve cell that THC binds to like a molecular key in a lock, causing it to activate” (pg. 153). This activation can trigger cognitive, behavioral, or physiological changes. It’s almost like we were built to interact with THC, and that to me is fascinating.

Overall, it was both fun and interesting chapter to read. Like I mentioned before, I had no idea about the history or mechanism of marijuana, just knowledge about what it does to the body. However, after reading Pollan’s chapter on the desire of intoxication, it’s much more clear to me why we crave the forbidden plant and its temptations.

 

Owl They Need is Love

 

Burrowing owls have got to be one of the most adorable avians, being small, ground-dwelling owls with long legs, brown bodies speckled with white, and no ear tufts (Parks Canada, 2014). If you live in Kamloops, the probability of coming across one is quite high; they prefer flat, open, and sparsely vegetated terrain (Government of Canada, 2016), which Kamloops is notorious for. As the name suggests, burrowing owls tend to live underground in burrows that have been dug out by other small animals like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, or badgers.

burrowing owls

Once, burrowing owls were abundant and a common sight on the grasslands. However, their populations have been steadily declining since the 1930’s – in 1979, they were first labelled as a threatened species, and in 1995, the status decline from threatened to endangered, facing possible extirpation and extinction (Parks Canada, 2014). The main cause of the burrowing owls decline is habitat loss via fragmentation and degradation of remaining grasslands. Grasslands are favorable for agriculture, and thus are disappearing at a frighteningly fast pace. Road kills, pesticides, food shortage, fewer burrow providers, and mortality on migration and wintering areas are other major factors contributing to the species’ decline (Parks Canada, 2014).

A study conducted by Clayton and Schmutz (2010) examined population and ecosystem patterns of burrowing owls in Alberta and Saskatchewan – including dispersal and survival – in hopes of informing conservation strategies in Canada (Clayton and Schmutz, 2010). By radio-tagging the owls, they found that they did not disperse nearly as much as expected for the populations. Limited dispersal was related to the highly fragmented agricultural landscape, increasing search time for both nesting sites and mates and also reducing dispersal success. In addition, where grassland patches were isolated in 90% cultivation, owls dispersed later, for shorter distances and less often (Clayton and Schmutz, 2010). During the study, mortality rate was high, which may have contributed to local declines in the areas. Mortality occurred during migration, winter, and with high predation rates. In this study, they found that ecosystem changes (plant succession, owl dispersion, and predation) was the major contributing factor to the high mortality rates in the burrowing owls (Clayton and Schmutz, 2010).

Both these dispersal and mortality rates are likely to be irreversible, and although the burrowing owl is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act, the species may face extinction in Canada. The public and industries need to become much more informed and involved. Otherwise, the burrowing owls may face an unfortunate fate which could have been potentially avoided.

 

 

Word Count: 408

 

Clayton, K. & Schmutz, J. 2010. Is the decline of Burrowing Owls Speotyto cunicularia in prairie Canada linked to changes in Great Plains ecosystems?. Bird Conservation International, 9(2): pg 163-185.  doi:10.1017/S0959270900002288

Government of Canada. [Internet]. Species at Risk Public Registry: Burrowing Owl [cited 2016 March 9]. Available from  http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=20

Parks Canada. [Internet]. Grasslands National Park of Canada: Burrowing Owls [cited 2016 March 9]. Available from http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/sk/grasslands/edu/edu1/b.aspx

Image: http://www.alive.com/lifestyle/wildlife-wednesday-burrowing-owl/

 

 

 

Seeds That Kill

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. Perseus Books Group, Basic Books, New York, NY. pg. 161-175

 

“Death by Umbrella”. Well that definitely sounds interesting. I thought this book was about seeds? After gaining knowledge about the more innocent, wholesome seeds in the earlier chapters (like beans and spices), it was an abrupt change to read about seeds that have the potential to kill.

Right away, readers are thrown into a dark and disturbing story about Georgi Markov, and how he got assassinated by a seed toxin. Not a classic weapon we expect to see in assassinations, such as guns or explosives, but a tiny amount of product that came from a seed. It’s truly amazing to think about how a seed can produce such a thing, and the author does an amazing job at capturing the attention of the reader right at the beginning of the chapter by introducing such a troubling story of murder.

Hanson definitely focuses a lot on Markov and his death within this chapter, but it is very suitable, especially when he explains just how much (or little, I should say) of an amount it takes to kill a person. He described that the pellet removed from Markov’s body that contained the poison measured less than 1.5 millimeters in diameter and had a capacity of 450 micrograms. Although I wasn’t sure how much this was, Hanson did an excellent job in comparing it to a pen: “press a ballpoint pen lightly onto a piece of paper. The tiny ink-speck it leaves behind  is the size of the pellet” (pg. 164). That is TINY! I would never have expected that little of an amount to harm someone, never mind killing a man.

I’ll be honest, when I first started the read, I knew absolutely nothing about any toxic seed. What they were, how much toxin they contained, how they worked to kill a living organism, nothing; but again, Hanson does an incredible job in taking the reader through all of these, so we get a clear understanding of the concept as well as keeping it interesting at the same time. As a biology major, I found it awesome that he described how ricin works. By describing it’s “double-chain structure” and how it uses both chains, with “one chain piercing the surface while the other detaching inside and wreaking havoc on the ribosomes” (pg. 165), I understand how toxins work to a degree.

That is something I find phenomenal: how such a tiny seed can wreak so much havoc.

Hanson also made me realize how many seeds actually contain toxins, like apple seeds and cherry pits, which are both common fruit. I knew apple seeds contained cyanide, but I never realized people were using it in high quantities to actually kill people. It’s almost scary to think about. However, at the same time, Hanson reminds us that the toxins can also serve as a medicine for many species. For example, primates “shop around the apothecary of the rainforest to help rid themselves of parasites, or relieve the pain of injury and disease” (pg. 169). Seeds are like a double-whammy, possessing the ability to both kill and heal.

Personally, this has been my favorite read so far. Maybe it was because I find the fact that seeds can contain so little yet do so much, or maybe it was because I love a murder mystery story; either way, Hanson captivated me yet again by the simple yet breathtaking triumph of seeds.

Keep Calm and Caribou On

Caribou in Canada play an important role in both economic and ecological value. Not only do they have a role in the northern tourist industry, attracting naturalists, photographers, and recreational hunters, but they are also a staple food for many northern carnivores such as the wolf (Fobert, 2015). Without caribou, wolves would have to find another major food source to prey upon. As well, the caribou is important in terms of being a source of natural pride – they are historically and spiritually significant to Canada (Fobert, 2015), and losing them would be tragic.

The sad truth is that caribou, especially the prominent woodland caribou, are experiencing a rapid population decline throughout Canada. There are a couple main factors that are to blame here. Climate change is a big one, changing the landscape and affecting their migration patterns, as well as making food sources more difficult to reach through the tougher conditions (warming has caused an increase in precipitation, adding a thicker blanket of snow that the animals need to dig through to reach food) (Woods, 2015). Another factor is, of course, human influence. With expanding infrastructure and the construction of roads, caribou are experiencing immense habitat loss through deforestation, and fragmentation is limiting their movement (Woods, 2015).

Banff National Park in Alberta once had a population of woodland caribou; in 2009, however, an avalanche occurred, killing the last five individuals that remained in that herd (Parks Canada). Thus, the woodland caribou were extirpated from the national park.

As tragic as this is, there are conservation efforts being heavily considered. Translocation (the capture, transport, and release of species from one location to another) to Banff and other neighboring parks are being examined. In a study done by Decesare and colleagues, they assessed the relative need and benefits from the translocation of individuals among caribou populations. By using population viability analysis, they measured stochastic growth rates and the probability of extinction of four woodland caribou populations with and without translocation (Decesare et al, 2010). They looked at two things: mean adult survival and mean number of calves per breeding-age female. Through simulated re-introductions of caribou into Banff, they found that it resulted in a 53-98% probability of more than 8 females remaining after 20 years; this suggests that translocation may in fact be an effective recovery tool for the caribou populations in Banff National Park (Decesare et al, 2010).

The most significant cause of decline leading to the extirpation of caribou in Banff is the increased number of predators in response to the increased elk population (Parks Canada). If translocation was to happen, ongoing conservation efforts would need to be put in place to ensure the caribou’s success. Monitoring of elk and wolf populations and movements would increase the probability of success in bringing caribou back to the wilderness of Banff National Park.

 

Word Count: 448
Emily Fobert. 2015. Caribou in Canada: People Affected. Canadian Geographic Magazine. Retrieved from  http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/nd07/indepth/people_affected.asp
Parks Canada. [Internet]. Species at Risk: Woodland Caribou [cited 2016 Feb 25]. Available from http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/nature/eep-sar/itm3/eep-sar3caribou.aspx
Stephanie Woods. 2015. Caribou in Canada: Decline of the Caribou. Canadian Geographic Magazine. Retrieved from  http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/nd07/indepth/decline.asp
Decesare, N., Whittington, J., Hebblewhite, M., Robinson, H., Bradley, M., Neufeld, L, Musiani, M. 2010. The Role of Translocation in Recovery of Woodland Caribou Populations. Conservation Biology, 25(2): 365-373. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01609.x

An Apple A Day…

Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, NY. pg. 3-58.

 

I chose to read the first chapter of Pollan’s book because I was interested to see what he had to say about apples. I love reading Pollan’s work, and I wasn’t disappointed when I read the chapter.

One thing that he gets into right off the bat is John Chapman, or “Johnny Appleseed”. He essentially describes his legend and contributions to the domestication and rise of the many different apple varieties, and does so by laying out his life and his story for us to read. Pollan states that “John Chapman’s millions of seeds and thousands of miles changed the apple, and the apple changed America” (pg. 43). It was intriguing to read how apples made their way to our land with the help of humans, again bringing up the profound relationship between plants and people.

Pollan goes on to describe Chapman as “the American Dionysus” (pg. 36). I really liked how he did this; he explained who Dionysus was and his contributions, and compared him to Chapman. By comparing Chapman to a Greek god, the god of wine and winemaking at that, gave a much better sense of who Chapman was and how influential he was in the domestication and utilization of apples.

Another thing I enjoyed reading was the history of apples, and Pollan did an excellent job at doing so. I discovered many things I was not aware of previously, such as “every seed in an apple…contains the genetic instructions for a completely new and different apple tree” (pg. 10) and that “wherever the apple tree goes, its offspring propose so many different variations on what it means to be an apple that a couple of these novelties are almost bound to have whatever qualities it takes to prosper in the tree’s adopted home” (pg. 11). This is an amazing thing, how a plant can contain so many different genes for variation in its seeds that the chance of it surviving in a new habitat is pretty high. Of course, this is a result of sexual reproduction and hybridization with other apple trees. However, I still find that absolutely breathtaking – evolution at its finest. Pollan also points out how universal apples are: “cultures vary enormously in their liking for bitter, sour, and salty flavors, but taste for sweetness appears to be universal” (pg. 19). This is just another thing I did not think about previously, and now that I think more about it, he is absolutely true.

If I hadn’t read this chapter about the history of the apple, I never would have known that apples were first used as a source of alcohol. In fact, the flesh of apples weren’t eaten for the longest time. Pollan mentions how “every homestead in America had an orchard from which literally thousands of gallons of cider were made every year” (pg. 22). It’s insane to think how popular apples as alcohol were back then, and how much it has changed. These days, apples are mainly eaten for their flesh, and rarely made for cider. I would also have never known that the domestication of the apple has gone too far, to the point that their fitness in nature has been compromised; because we wanted a ‘perfect’ apple for ourselves, we have basically messed around with their genes so much that they may not have a chance of surviving on their own in the wild. Definitely sad to think that we’re having that much of an impact by domesticating them.

Of course, Pollan’s main concept throughout this chapter once again is who is really domesticating who? Sure, the apples depend on us for a lot of what they need, but we also depend on them for what we need as well, and we have been domesticating them to satisfy these needs. Like always, Pollan is changing my perspective on plants, and I thank him for that. Without him and his writing, I would never really truly understand the marriage between plants and people.

 

We Are What We Eat

Pollan, M. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A natural history of four meals. Penguin Group Inc., New York, NY. pg. 15-119.

 

My initial thought when reflecting on Pollan’s book is: wow. Reading everything in the first half of his book was eye-opening, and it had my attention the entire time. Quite outstanding.

Even in the very first chapter I was engrossed in the book. Pollan brings up so many facts and things about food that normally, we wouldn’t even think of. For example, we often think of a supermarket simply as a place where we can pick up our necessities, but “in the eyes of a naturalist, your impression is apt to be of its astounding biodiversity” (pg. 16). Supermarkets have such a wide range of plants and animals within such a small area, something I’ve never thought of before.

One thing that Pollan really gets into quickly is corn. Right away, he states that corn is everything: coffee whitener, Cheez Whiz, frozen yogurt, waffles, syrups, sauces, hot dogs, vitamins, toothpaste, trash bags -the list goes on and on. I’m willing to bet that no one really knows how many things contain corn, or started from the plant.

“You are what you eat, it’s often said, and if this is true, then what we mostly are is corn – or, more precisely, processed corn” (pg. 20).

I found it very intriguing how corn, over the years, have become more and more dependent on humans. As Pollan put it, “corn, with the help of its Native American allies, evolved whatever traits it needed to survive and flourish” (pg. 25). I’m a fan of this statement, not only because he talks about corn as if it is a person with allies, but also because it reminds me of the argument from his other book, ‘The Botany of Desire’, which raises the question of who’s really in control – plants or people? We depend on corn for a ridiculous amount of things, but corn also depends on us.

Kind of interesting, don’t you think?

Something I especially liked about Pollan’s writing is that he gives us a background and history about where food comes from, but he provides us with that information as he’s travelling to various places and talking to various people in the book. When he goes to George Naylor’s farm, he talks about the farming background of food; when he goes to the ranch, he talks about the industrial background of producing food. It’s a story crammed with facts. Learning about the history and background of corn was actually very interesting, yet sad. Pollan mentions how farmers planted more and more of it, at first causing chickens and cattle to disappear from farms, then pushing out the people (corn doesn’t require as much labor as the old, diversified farms).

However, the most engrossing part of this book by far was discovering the relationship between corn and livestock. These days, livestock are fed with corn-based everything, which I was not aware of. Being fed a rich diet of corn, cows reach slaughter weight much faster than cows raised on grass – in industry, it is all about efficiency. “Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories [for livestock] on the market” (pg. 75). Although this may be true, a diet of corn can cause the cows many health problems, including ulcers, rumenitis, liver disease, and a weak immune system, which is turn can lead to other problems. Yet we continue to consume the meat on a regular basis – you wouldn’t eat a sick animal, so why would you eat one of these cows?

Utterly appalling.

I think Pollan definitely makes it clear that corn is the most efficient ways to get calories, whether it be in the form of an animal fat, a sugar, or a starch. As I mentioned before, most people probably don’t even know how much of our food is corn-based. Not only that, but most people probably don’t have a clue about the role corn plays in today’s food industry. I loved reading Pollan’s work, and he is undoubtedly changing my thoughts about food products. We really are living in a world where the food industry could be accurately described as “the omnivore’s dilemma”.

Restoring the Watersheds

 

A watershed is an area of land that catches rain, snow, and other sources of water and drains into a body of water (Connors, 2008). They can combine with other watersheds to form a network of rivers and streams that drain into even larger bodies of water. What most people don’t know, however, is how important watersheds really are. Watersheds gather everything from rain and snow to run-off from drains in cities; since the collected water ultimately drains into other oceans, it is important to consider the downstream impacts. Of course, everything upstream ends up downstream, and we have been affecting the water quality of multiple watersheds in British Columbia by contributing to pollutants in our water run-offs (Connors, 2008). In turn, this can affect many organisms living in the watershed’s streams and rivers.

waaaatershed.jpg

In many cases, there are things we can do in order to minimize this impact. By managing a watershed, we would be protecting the lake, river, or stream that the watershed runs in to (Journey with Nature), increasing the survival chance of animals living in these locations.

A study done by Ogston and colleagues focused on habitat restoration in the Chilliwak River watershed floodplain habitats in British Columbia. Floodplain habitats are habitats in the watershed area such as sloughs, side channels, beaver ponds, and other permanently/seasonally flooded areas, and are important for many species of fish and amphibians (Ogston et al, 2014). In particular, floodplain habitats are important for juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) because they use it for both rearing and overwintering. However, extensive logging in the Chilliwak area has resulted in extensive loss of floodplain habitat and salmon numbers were negatively impacted as a result. Habitat restoration in watersheds was thought to help bring their numbers back up.

By constructing and reconnecting floodplain habitat to the main stem of the watershed, they found that the juvenile coho salmon out-migration to a larger body of water increased from 27% to 34%, indicating that by restoring the habitat, we can effectively enhance the number of juvenile salmon migration (Ogston et al, 2014). This is important to ensure that the salmon can migrate to the ocean and return once they are ready to spawn.

Overall, restoring habitat in watersheds is very important when it comes to the survival of species such as the coho salmon. Of course, successful watersheds depend on an informed public to make the right decisions when it comes to the environment.

 

Word count: 408

 

Ogston, L., Gidora, S., Foy, M., Rosenfeld, J. 2014. Watershed-scale effectiveness of foodplain habitat restoration for juvenile coho salmon in the Chilliwak River, British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 72(4): 479-490. doi: 10.1139/cjfas-2014-0189

Connors, T. 2008. [Internet]. How watersheds work. Science: How Stuff Works. [cited 2016 Feb 03]. Available from: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/conservation/issues/watershed1.htm

Journey with Nature. [Internet]. The Nature Conservancy [cited 2016 Feb 03]. Available from: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/indiana/journeywithnature/watersheds-101.xm

Laying a Foundation of History

The first thing I’d like to mention is that never in my life have I been more forced to read a book than the chapters assigned in Diamond’s. Having read it laying on the couch Monday morning, it was not the best way to start my morning off. I found Diamond’s writing to be drab and dense, and keeping my head focused on his writing was difficult. He really obviously likes to use sophisticated words to explain his concepts, and that makes the readings more difficult to comprehend. However, with that being said, there were definitely a few subjects he brought up that caught my attention more than others parts of his book.

Diamond, throughout the chapters, ultimately lays down a foundation for understanding human history. He describes how the earliest people depended on hunting and gathering food, rather than farming and agriculture. An early statement he had was how “today, most people on Earth consume food that they produced themselves or that someone else produced for them” (pg. 86), bringing up the question of how the hunter and gatherer lifestyle gradually faded out, and agriculture took over. One way Diamond explains this is by explaining the indirect and direct values of early crops and livestock as food. By selecting the best crops to grow, the total calories obtained are far more than those acquired just by hunting/gathering. Livestock help the crops by creating manure and pulling plows; they also aided people by supplying milk, meat, and fur. The livestock and selected crops, in turn, led to denser human populations because it was an easier lifestyle to live, and allowed mothers to have and support more children.

Diamond goes on the further explain why hunters and gatherers got phased out – the arrival of foreign crops and animals supplied a richer food source, and the hunters/gatherers remaining might have gotten driven out or killed by other coming in to grow their own crops. Quite sad to think about, but it was almost revolutionary. Anything that made life easier was thought highly of.

A good section of the book that caught my attention was the competition between hunting/gathering and food production. Overall, Diamond explains five factors that led to the phasing out of hunting and gathering: “The decline in the availability of wild foods…increased availability of domesticable wild plants made steps leading to plant domestication more rewarding…the cumulative development of technologies in which food production would eventually depend…the link between the rise in human population density and the rise in food production…and geographic boundaries between hunter-gatherer and food producers” (pg. 110-112). Reading this gave me an understanding in why plant domestication came to rule, and was actually interesting.

As a result of this, hunters and gatherers were either taken over by neighboring food producers, or survived only by adopting food production themselves.

Although this book was rather quite boring to read (even more than, say, my molecular genetics textbook), I did enjoy some interesting parts, like why and how the hunting-gathering lifestyle gradually faded out, and the lifestyle with domesticated plants and animals took over. Diamond gives us an informative and somewhat insightful history of the world’s agriculture and humans, but I will say again that it was very dense and hard to read at some, or most, parts.

Overall, I have a much better insight to how the world developed plant production. Of course, there are still many cultures in the world that depend on hunting and gathering there food. However, most cultures and societies today depend completely on food that they produced or others have produced, and it was definitely interesting to read about the history that led to where we are today