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

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Do Not Burn After Reading

When tropical forest farmers wish to cultivate land, they often use a technique called “slash and burn”, where they cut and set fire to natural vegetation and then use the freshly cleared land for planting crops. This method yields good results for about 2 years before the increase of weeds and loss of fertility forces the farmers to move onto a new plot.

A forest that has been slashed and burned

Plots that have lost fertility take around 20 years to gain back their strength. But sometimes, the plots are reused too soon which could lead to permanent damage to the soil’s chemical and biological processes.  Simply put, slash and burn is an unsustainable, harmful method. When the vegetation is first cut, the topsoil is exposed to rain which could result in soil erosion. The upper layer of soil contains organic and nutrient-rich materials, and with the loss of that, future growth and development of plants become impossible. Furthermore, burning forests contributes to the increase of carbon dioxide in the environment.

While agriculture is one of the leading causes of the loss of biodiversity, we still need it because it provides a large amount of food and employment. Instead of using methods like slash and burn, excessive herbicide use or flood irrigation, we can implement good agriculture practices instead. This can include: applying fertilizers at appropriate times and doses, practicing schedule irrigation and rotating crop.  

Invasion of the Soil Snatchers

Invasive plants are plants that are introduced (unintentionally or on purpose) to areas that are foreign to them. Most of the time, these new arrivals can cause harmful effects to native species by crowding and interfering with their growth. Invasive plants can also cause negative effects to the environment, economy and even our health.  

The white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is Ontario’s official flower. It is easily recognizable for its three broad white petals. This flower is featured on health cards, government offices, driver’s licenses, and many official documents. It is symbolic and cherished.

Enter the garlic mustard.

For every hero there is a villain. In the white trillium’s case, that enemy is the garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). This plant was brought from Europe to Canada in the early 19th century as an edible herb. Today, it is one of the most hostile invasive species in Ontario (talk about character development!).

This plant tends to invade places the white trillium is native to, like shaded forest areas. Once the garlic mustard sets its roots, it competes with neighboring plants for space. Against the white trillium, the garlic mustard alters the chemistry of the soil and makes it harder for the native plant to grow. The white trillium loses nutrients and further development because of this invasive species, hindering its survival. But that’s not all! This nasty weed can even release toxins in the soil to kill nearby plants.

Garlic mustards are hard to identify as they look like other native plants in Ontario. However, as their name suggests, they release a garlic scent from their leaves when crushed, so this is a key way to recognize them. Removing them is a different story. This plant can produce over 5,000 seeds and can take up to years to permanently eliminate. All is not lost, however. These weeds can still be defeated through pulling, burning or spraying them with herbicides.   

The Future of Forests and Flowers

Climate change is the slow but constant increase of the Earth’s temperature due to factors such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation and volcanic eruptions.

In places like the tropical rainforest, climate change can be particularly brutal. Did you know that more than half of the world’s species reside in this biome? These species require different characteristics of the rainforest to survive. However, as the globe warms, it changes the temperature and the amount of rainfall the rainforest receives – which could lead to extinction of these species.

The amazon, a tropical rainforest, contains approximately 12% of the world’s flowering species. What would climate change do to these species over time? Would they perish or survive? A team of scientists set out to try to find the answer. Using a general circulation model (GCM), the stimulation used 69 angiosperm species to observe the effects of climate change between 1990-2095.   

The Western Amazon

From the model, it was discovered that 43% of all species would become nonviable by 2095 (Miles et al., 2004). This staggering number was due to species potential distribution changes. For example, in the paper, it states that by 2095, 29 species would either have moved so far away that further dispersal would be impossible or have no distribution at all.

Finally, climate change was shown to have altered the vegetation least in the Western Amazonia. In fact, many species were observed to have made new distribution spots in the western part of the model. Thus, it was concluded that Western reserves in the Amazon should be protected and expanded to increase the survival and ensure the future of the flowers in the tropical rainforest.  

References

Miles, Lera, Grainger, Alan, Oliver Phillips. “The Impact of Global Climate Change on Tropical Forest Biodiversity in Amazonia.” Global Ecology and Biogeography, vol. 13, no. 6, 2004, pp. 553–565., doi:10.1111/j.1466-822x.2004.00105.x.

To Love (or Hate) Thy Neighbour

There are many different types of connections that exist between species in nature. These relationships can either be negative, positive or have no effect at all to the species involved. In Ecology, we learned that this is called symbiosis. I liked learning about this topic because you can find symbiosis everywhere you look.

One category of symbiosis is mutualism. This is a relationship between organisms where both parties benefit. The hippo and oxpecker bird are an example of a mutualistic relationship. This occurs when the oxpecker eats the ticks on the hippo. These animals both benefit as the oxpecker gets food and the hippo gets rid of the annoying pests. We can find mutualistic relationships in our own lives, as well. For example, two neighbours with a shared driveway sharing shovel duty. Both neighbours benefit from this partnership because they divide the workload which saves them both time and energy.

Another type of symbiosis is parasitism. This is a negative relationship shared between species where one benefits and the other suffers. One common parasitic example is fleas and their effects on dogs. Fleas gain food by sucking on a dog’s blood, while the dog gains an uncomfortable and painful experience. Parasitic relationships can occur between humans too. For example, a neighbour who constantly asks to borrow items from another neighbour but then never returns it or pretends to have no knowledge of said item when confronted. In the end, one neighbour gains, while the other loses. Friendship = over.  

All in all, I thought symbiosis was an interesting topic to learn about in Ecology, because there are ways to relate this concept to our real life which makes it easier for everyone to understand.