On the ground and in the air
Honey bee (Photo from Bees Matter)
Every summer, as the bees, dragonflies and woodpeckers emerge into the sunshine, so too do researchers bust out of their labs and flock to the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) conservation areas across BC.
“Between five and 10 external researchers use our lands per year,” says Hillary Page, director of science and stewardship for NCC's BC Region.
Many are students completing their master's or doctorate's degree, but there is also a solid group of provincial and independent researchers. Though it spans a wide variety of ecosystems and topics, all of the work provides invaluable insight into the species inhabiting NCC lands.
Abuzz with activity
“We’re a pretty small staff and most of our time is taken up with property stewardship,” Page says. “We don’t have the time or the expertise, necessarily, to monitor all the species at risk.”
Allowing researchers access to these precious and threatened ecosystems is a mutually beneficial solution. It not only gives researchers a chance to contribute to the larger body of knowledge on biodiversity, but also signals to NCC what needs to be done in order to best steward the land and support the species and ecosystems present.
As an example, Page points to Michael Proctor’s past research on grizzly bears in the South Selkirks. His work collaring some of the bears with GPS units that continually transmit data on their habits and whereabouts allowed him to track their movements over a period of a couple of years. Thanks to his mapping of their movement corridors, NCC was able to identify and secure land in the valley bottom that is known to be frequented by bears. This project has helped to ensure their habitat remains intact, and seeks to prevent populations of grizzlies from getting isolated through habitat fragmentation.
“To me that’s such a perfect example of using science to do our work,” Page says. “If we didn’t have the science to back it up, our securement wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is.”
In the field
This year, research projects on NCC lands include breeding surveys on Williamson’s sapsuckers by the Canadian Wildlife Service. This Okanagan-dwelling woodpecker is endangered not just locally, but across the nation, making it an important species to focus on.
Sage thrasher (Photo by Dick Cannings)
Drones will be hovering over Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area as the Canadian Wildlife Service attempts to improve habitat mapping for sage thrashers. The bird, endangered both provincially and nationally, is native to the sagebrush and grassland ecosystems. The drones, however, are new. “Drones are an emerging tool in conservation,” Page says. "There is definitely increasing interest in seeing how this technology could change the field."
Meanwhile, the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve (CGOP) on Vancouver Island remains a hotbed of scientific activity, with researchers from both Simon Fraser University (SFU) and New York's Binghamton University (BU) partaking in projects on-site. Led by professor and SFU's chair of Biological Sciences Elizabeth Elle, researchers from SFU will be evaluating the resilience of plant-pollinator communities, while those from BU examine an outbreak of jumping gall wasp. As one of the best remaining examples of the endangered Garry oak ecosystem, the preserve is a key area for research, conservation and volunteering.
A symbiotic relationship
“We have an ongoing relationship with a lot of these researchers — the relationship evolves and the project evolves,” Page says. Elle is among the many researchers, for instance, who have been diligently working at CGOP over the past decade.
“With changes in the primary threat to biodiversity, globally, it’s important more than ever that we’re tracking species so that we can improve the resilience of ecosystems and so we’re not losing species,” Page says. Although the work will look different across the province, one thing is clear: supporting research is key to the future of these vital ecosystems.