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.

 

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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

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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.

 

 

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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/

 

 

 

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.

 

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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

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.

 

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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

Why Wildlife Corridors?

In the wild, migrating or moving to suitable habitats is a very important aspect. Without this, gene flow would be diminished, and the transfer or alleles/genes from one population to another would not happen. Multiple consequences could happen as a result, including inbreeding within a population, geographic isolation, and speciation, all of which have consequences of their own. As well, animals need to travel in order to find mates and/or den sites, expand home ranges, and to take advantage of seasonal changes in food and weather (Parks Canada, 2015). Roads and other developed areas can fragment habitat, eventually resulting in a decrease of gene flow and genetic diversity. However, wildlife corridors help prevent this; they provide a protected route to allow animals to move safely between areas of suitable habitat.

Banff National Park is especially focusing on corridors to help the animals in and around the area move around. Typically, they are narrow funnel-shaped tracts of land between developed areas (roads, neighbourhoods, etc.) and steep mountain slopes. Of course, these corridors need to be attractive to the animals in which would be using them; this includes size, terrain type, vegetation cover, topography, and absence of human presence (Richard, 2011).

In Banff, the large carnivores have the greatest need for movement, because if their requirements are met, then so are the requirements of smaller species via predator-prey relationships. Sawaya and his colleagues conducted a three-year project in Banff to evaluate the effectiveness of wildlife corridors on genetic diversity. They focused on gene flow in grizzly and black bears. By monitoring their movement and reproduction patterns, they found that the wildlife crossings did indeed allow gene flow to happen, preventing genetic isolation (Sawaya et al,2014).

A few more studies have been done in order to assess the effect of the wildlife corridors, and all of them have suggested that they provide ways of gene flow, preventing a lack of genetic diversity. Corridors also allow wildlife to travel in order to meet their needs and requirements. Overall, wildlife corridors, regardless of whether they are natural or man-made, are critical in environments where humans have made an impact. The Banff wildlife corridors are doing an astounding job in providing wildlife with opportunities to travel.

 

 

Parks Canada. [Internet]. 2015. Wildlife Corridors – A ‘Moving’ Story. Available from: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/plan/faune-wildlife/corridors.aspx (accessed 18 Jan 2016)

Sawaya, M., Kalinowksi, S., Clevenger, A. 2014. Genetic connectivity for two bear species at wildlife corssing structures in Banff National Park. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 281(1780). pg 1-10. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1705  http://rspb.royalocietypublishing.org/content/royprsb/281/1780/20131705.full.pdf

Richard, M. [Internet] 2011. 5 Things You Need to Know About Wildlife Corridors. Natural Sciences/Treehugger. Available from: http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/five-things-you-need-to-know-about-wildlife-corridors.html (accessed 18 Jan 2016)