Saving Private Garry

Ecological restoration is the recovery of habitats and ecosystems back to their original states. Restoring plant communities can increase biodiversity. Currently, biodiversity is rapidly decreasing throughout the world due to many factors such as climate change, pollution and loss of habitats. In Canada, some natural areas are protected by the government, but these ecosystems can still be vulnerable to degradation. Thus, a 3-step guide was created in an effort to restore protected areas as effectually as possible.

Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site is located in Colwood, British Columbia. It was used as a coastal artillery in the late 19th century. Fort Rodd Hill houses one of the last remaining Garry oak ecosystems. This ecosystem does not only comprise of Garry oaks, but many plant, animal and insect species, as well. Fort Rodd Hill also contains 7 plant species that are at risk of extinction, which makes protecting this site a priority.

Garry Oak ecosystem

Years ago, fire was used to control the ecosystem by the Aboriginal people. Now, fire is being used less, which is bad news for the Garry oaks. With fire being restricted, it makes it easier for species like the Douglas fir to quickly grow to big heights. Slow-growing trees like the Garry oaks suffer as a result when the Douglas firs block sunlight.

The first step in the guide to recover ecosystems is the “effective restoring and maintaining of ecological integrity”.  In the Garry oak ecosystem’s case, over 12 tonnes of Douglas fir trees were removed by 2004. Also, 10,000 native plant seeds were collected and grown in protected sites with Garry oaks surrounded by a fence to prevent animal grazing. The second step in the guide is “efficiently using practical economic methods to achieve success”. Invasive species control methods were created by collaborating staff members and an ecosystem recovery team. The last step is to “engage through implementing inclusive processes by embracing interrelationships between culture and nature”. After removing the invasive Douglas firs and helping the Garry oaks, the volunteers and staff were proud that their hard work led to an ecosystem being saved. Their efforts will encourage future generations to continue restoring endangered ecosystems.  

If you want to learn more about Canada’s effort to conserve and restore ecosystems, check out: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/nature/science/conservation

Restoration and the future of ecology

As the human population begins to surpass the 7 billion mark, the requirements and thereby, stressors, on the natural environment are continuing to grow [1]. We are beginning to see increased threats on plant continuity and their ecological capacities, goods and services. Ecosystems are progressively worsening, to the point where they will be incapable of sustaining life on earth [1]. Thus, ecological restorationefforts are critical now, more than ever. Ecological restoration is the practice of recovering and renewing damaged, destroyed and/or degraded ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human mediation efforts [1].

An example of such efforts is well depicted in 1969 – at what is now recognized as being the Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve in Texas. At the time, the land was in terrible condition; the ground was barren, there was a plethora of Ashe juniper trees –prohibiting sufficient water distribution all through the territory, hindering the growth of other plants and grasses [2]. Further reducing the abundance of animal life in the area. Nevertheless, decades of hard work to eradicate the Ashe juniper, introducing native grasses/plant life, and performing land restoration work has aided in a remarkable transformation of the once barren land [2]. Now, not only is the land home to an array of plant and animal species, but a running stream has been able to establish across the land – providing a necessary water source to sustain this diversity. This just shows what impeccable transformations can be made through dedicated restoration efforts [2]!

References:

[1] Ecological Restoration. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bgci.org/plant-conservation/restoration/

[2] 2 Examples of Ecological Restoration to Inspire Students at Environmental School. (2017, June 20). Retrieved from https://online.unity.edu/2-examples-ecological-restoration-inspire-students-environmental-school/

The Future of Ecological Restoration

Ecosystems are being used unsustainably worldwide, and many are at risk of being lost forever. In many parts of the world, ecosystems are no longer providing essential services, such as food and water production, climate regulation, carbon storage, crop pollination, and wildlife habitat. But something can be done. Ecological restoration is known as the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. However, this definition does not incorporate social aspects and public inquiry of ecosystems. Not only should restoration restore environments and ecosystems that have been destroyed by restoring certain targets, ecological restoration should also be improving social and life sciences. Currently ecological restoration includes recovering biodiversity, species composition, community structure, and ecosystem resilience, but it should also include social goals such as empowerment of local communities, and improving conservation strategies.

In order to do include both social and scientific aspects of ecological restoration and new definition is needed. In 2017 David Martin redefined what ecological restoration is, stating Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of a degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystem to reflect values regarded as inherent in the ecosystem and to provide goods and services that people value. This shifts Decision‐makers, scientists, and other restoration professionals to follow a structured goal setting process in which they can design their restoration policies and/or practices. This new structure forces restoration professionals to think based on values the ecosystem has, both biological and social (human). Using this approach, restoration professionals are encouraged to decide what they cared about first, the “why”, and then later going about doing it. By using this structured method, restoration professionals could allow their work to directly connect appeal with promise, and we may discover a more robust goal‐setting structure for ecological restoration.

Hierarchical Structure of Ecological Restoration. Professionals should begin at the “why” (top) and work their way down to the “what” (bottom). The “why” is what they want to restore and the “what” is how to go about doing so.

Above is the hierarchal structure of how professionals should approach restoration goals. Breaking the goal‐setting process down into parts has advantages: (1) it allows the process to be more transparent and documentable, which could control for unintended costs or restoration failures, (2) it allows for roles to be clearly defined, which could control for scientists inserting normative preferences into the process and (3) it allows for multiple potential goals and objectives, including associated ecosystem and social attributes. The future of restoration is strong, especially if we include every community and many different factors in saving ecosystems. Although biology and science are the leading reason for restoration, every community can be involved with this new structure. This allows even more promise for saving ecosystems, biodiversity and natural landscapes as everyone will want to take part to save what they love.

References:
Martin, David M. “Ecological Restoration Should Be Redefined for the Twenty-First Century.” Restoration Ecology, vol. 25, no. 5, 2017, pp. 668–673., doi:10.1111/rec.12554.
“What Is Ecological Restoration.” Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanical Gardens, 2019, http://www.erabg.org/what-is-ecological-restoration/.

Farmland to Forest… or Maybe Not?

When farmland is abandoned it’s a new start for wildlife; it creates a new landscape for secondary succession to occur. But, how does the activities that took place on the land before abandonment effect the future growth and biodiversity of the land? The actions on the land when it was being managed, such as herbicides, pesticides, plowing and many more, has many effects on the unmanaged abandoned land.

To begin I will do a quick overview of what succession is. Ecological succession is the process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time. There are two types of succession: primary and secondary. Primary succession occurs when there is no seed bank present and second succession results from a seed bank. in order for succession to take place, the soil in which the plants will grow must be healthy. Farmland usually does have a long-term persistent seed bank present in the soil, both from agricultural practices as well as previous wild growth from before the land was farmland. however, farmland is not known to have healthy soil for natural wildlife due to the agricultural activities that take place.

Secondary Succession

Agricultural practices causes soil to be changed or negatively affected, causing secondary succession to develop more slowly. Agricultural activities can include: tilling (plowing), herbicides and pesticides, fertilizers, and livestock. Each of these actions are detrimental to the growth of wild plant species. Plowing is usually linked to disruptions in the habitat space for soil organisms, such as earthworms. Earthworms, along with many soil organism, play an important in soil health which in turn affects the health of plants trying to germinate there. Herbicides and pesticides have various non-target effects on an ecosystem, such as soil destruction and harmful effects on animals and plants. The highest proportion of negative non-target effects are seen for macrofauna – earthworms and beetles. The chemicals used to enhance plant growth can actually destroy the soil system, killing or causing mutation pressure on the soil microbes that all other organisms in the ecosystem need to survive. Also, Persistent herbicides can remain active in the environment for long periods of time and potentially cause soil and water contamination, along with inhibition of certain plant species growth for many years to come.

Fertilizers also have many negative effects on non-target species. Fertilizers can change the chemical makeup and pH levels of soil, creating difficulty for many species to grow. Livestock can also change the course of growth for many species, and this is due to their waste, grazing, and veterinarian interventions. Grazing limits the types of natural wildlife to grow because a limit in certain vegetation will limit the types of animals that can now be sustained by this land. Livestock excretion can change the balance of soil, creating it harder for certain micro soil organisms or plant species to live. Livestock animals are also detrimental to soil and ecosystem health due to their veterinary intervention, such as medicine. Direct application of anti-microbials and nematicides usually used as veterinary medicines to soil has been shown to have a negative impact on soil organisms.

Effects of Agricultural Practices on Soil Health

Agricultural practices, such as the ones mentioned, create a barrier for natural wildlife to develop. However, although it may take longer and organisms may have to overcome more barriers, abandoned farmland is a great place for secondary succession to happen. Abandoning farmland may be worrisome at first, but the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. Benefits include passive revegetation and active reforestation, water regulation, soil recovery, nutrient cycling and increased biodiversity and wilderness, while the biggest downside to abandoning farmland is reduced agricultural security. It is time to put the environment and other species above our own needs, and time to stop practicing harmful activities. We have a chance to reinvent the landscape of abandoned farmlands, and instead of developing on these lands, we should let nature take its course and redevelop into the natural beauty it can be, even if it takes a couple of decades to be what it once was.

References:

  1. Tu M, Hurd C, Randall JM. 2001. Weed Control Methods Handbook: Tools & Techniques for Use in Natural Areas. The Nature Conservancy Wildland Invasive Species Team. <http://tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/handbook.html>.
  2. Ericson, Jenny. “Managing Invasive Plants.” Official Web Page of the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, Feb. 2009, www.fws.gov/invasives/stafftrainingmodule/methods/chemical/review.html.
  3. “HOW FARMING AFFECTS SOIL LIFE.” Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board, 2019, dairy.ahdb.org.uk/technical-information/grassland-management/healthy-grassland-soils/life-beneath-your-land/impact-of-farming-on-soil-quality/how-farming-affects-soil-life/.

Invasive Species

Kudzu, also known as Japanese arrowroot, is an invasive plant species originating from East and Southeast Asia.  In its native environment kudzu is a useful plant, it helps the ecosystem by resisting erosion and increasing nutrient content in the soil.  Kudzu can also be used for animal feed, its long vines used to weave baskets, and the plant fibers used for making paper.  Kudzu is edible, in parts of East Asia the roots are ground up and used as starch to make mochi, and the flowers are also used to make jelly.  Kudzu has also been used in traditional medicine, producing tea from the roots that contains isoflavones. 

However, since the intentional introduction of Kudzu to the US for the purposes to stop soil erosion in the 1930s, the plant has become an invasive species.  Kudzu vines spread rapidly and covers the area around them, killing other plants by blocking their access to the Sun.  Since then, the plant has been found in most areas in the South Eastern US and has been found on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie in 2009.  Kudzu has also been found in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and Switzerland.  

In order to clear Kudzu completely, the root crown of the plant has to be removed otherwise the plant can regrow.  This can be done by hand or mechanically, or by using chemical herbicides.  An experimental fungal herbicide also appears to be effective in removing Kudzu without harming other plants.  Although burning is not advised, repeated consistent harvesting to replete the nutrients is also effective.  Kudzu is invasive in the wild, but in its natural habitat the plant provides many useful functions for the ecosystem and for human uses. 

Climate Change

Climate change has caused numerous observable impacts on the environment.  The increased temperatures have had the greatest effect on areas that are generally cold, such as the tundra biome.  In Antarctica, the rate of the loss of ice mass from 1992 to 2006 has increased by 59% in West Antarctica, and increased by 140% in the Antarctic Peninsula (Rignot et al., 2008).  General impacts in tundra biomes include the decrease in height and size of deciduous shrubs and graminoids, a decrease in moss and lichen cover, and decreased species diversity.  This was caused by a 1-3°C increase in air temperatures, and the effects could be observed after only two years.

These changes in temperatures cannot be attributed to the Earth’s natural climate fluctuations alone.  Climate change has been primary caused by humans releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which trap more heat from the Sun, raising temperatures through a process called the greenhouse effect.  Other anthropomorphic impacts that have also contributed to climate change include pollution, urban expansion into natural areas, poor management practices, and rapid increases in human populations. 

If temperatures continue to rise, irreversible damage will be done to various ecosystems around the world.  Many species will be forced to relocate to more suitable conditions or face the risk of extinction, and biomes such as the tundra will lose more of their biodiversity.

Something I Remembered from Plant Bio

Pollen grains are produced by seed bearing plants:  angiosperms and gymnosperms.  They are microgametophytes that contain the genetic material of male plants from the sporophyte generation.  The pollen grains are encased in two layers; the extine is the outer later and is composed of sporopollenin, a complex polymer, and the inner layer called the intine.  The walls of the pollen grain protect it from drying out and are able to resist chemical degradation so the pollen can successfully be transported to the stigma of female plants.  Pollination can be mediated by animal pollinators which include bees, ants, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds, and other small vertebrates; pollination can also be conducted by abiotic factors such as wind or water.

Pollen identification allows the reconstruction of past plant abundances from pollen fossils due to their resilience.  In addition, identification of pollen on their animal pollinators could help ecologists determine the distribution and dispersal ability of the plant species.  Furthermore, identifying pollen would be helpful to those with pollen allergies.  Pollen can be indentified in labs by using safranin to dye the pollen, followed with microscopy. 

            The pollen lab in BIOL2010 was interesting but very tedious.  It was very difficult to see the pores and furrows on the outer layer of the pollen grains under the microscope.  It would often be hard to distinguish the features described on the guide, and identification would eventually devolve into a guessing game rather than a scientific method.  The material on the pollen lab ended up not being on the lab exam, so in the end the whole thing felt somewhat useless.  It ended up being memorable, however.