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
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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