Monday, June 14, 2010

Lions and Tigers and ... Eelgrass??

Oh hello there, community ecology enthusiasts

I believe an introduction is in order. My name is Kyle and I am a recent addition to the Cottenie Lab. I will be undertaking an undergraduate research project under the guidance of Karl and the rest of the gang at CottenieLab beginning this fall (you may have seen my mug in a recent post on this blog in daphnia/stormtrooper attire!). First, a little bit about me... my passions include diving, the outdoors and marine science (not necessarily in that order) and I have been fascinated with aquatic systems since spending my childhood summers sifting through tide pools on Canada’s east coast.

Since arriving in Guelph back in 2006, I’ve spent my fair share of time wading in swamps and falling into streams in South-western Ontario, however in recent years I have managed to finagle a few research positions on the West coast. My work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Pacific Fisheries Resource and Conservation Council in 2008/09, centred on pacific salmon populations in the Canadian Western Arctic. Working at the Pacific Biological Station in British Columbia allowed me the opportunity to explore, analyse and write on fisheries records dating back to the mid 19th century (synopsis: a species of pacific salmon not usually known to migrate very far up-river to spawn has been found to not only migrate over 2000 km up the Mackenzie and Liard rivers (to here), but has also found a way to survive in water that is considered to be colder than their lower tolerance level. It is likely that these fish were separated from their southern, pacific kin during the last ice age, ~10 000 years ago).

Since early 2009 I have had the good fortune to work on various ecological monitoring initiatives with Parks Canada at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR) in South-western British Columbia. At GINPR, our various monitoring projects are designed to take the “pulse” of the park. Whether it be hiding in the bushes at the crack of dawn, recording equipment in hand, ready to “spy” on songbirds, or count clams buried in the sand, or count deer turds, the goal at the end of the day is to make sure that the ecological health of the park is being maintained. Which brings me to my undergraduate project... Using a data set collected over the past 7 years in the park, I will be performing an analysis on food web dynamics and attempting to determine the influence of various biotic and abiotic factors in Southern Gulf Island eelgrass beds.

My office

But Kyle, what does that have to do with zooplankton metacommunity structure, diversity and dynamics? I’m glad you asked. While fish community trophic structure may initially seem like a far cry from zooplankton community dynamics, many of the underlying ecological mechanisms are very similar. For example, the influence of the outflow of the Fraser River into the southern gulf of Georgia creates both a salinity and nutrient gradient across the islands (look Karl! Spatial heterogeneity!). This gradient, along with other abiotic factors such as PDO and El Nino/La Nina cycles creates a complex array of conditions which may influence species composition, trophic dynamics, and species dispersal in the eelgrass beds. What kinds of controls (i.e. top down or bottom up?) are acting on the system and how can that information be translated into ecosystem management decisions? As I explore these questions I hope to broaden my knowledge of both theoretical and practical ecology as well as strengthen my statistical abilities.

With the aid of a ROV we discover a large bed of sea pens, a type of octocoral. Photo taken aboard the Pacific Legacy, off of Sidney Island, BC.

Being exposed to such a wide array of monitoring projects, I am struck by how interconnected the various communities are, and I often get a shiver down my spine when I think of the glut of unanswered research questions that are pertinent to ecology in the park.

Sending the ROV down to investigate the drop-off at Dock Islet. We find a rather sassy Lingcod and a Copper Rockfish

I invite you to join me for the next few months as I tackle anything and everything eelgrass! Tune in next time as I discuss ecosystem management, shifting baselines, and the trials and tribulations of learning “R”. But until then, I will be away on Pender and Saturna Islands counting birds and then it will be off to the interior of BC for a bit. Expect an update mid-July!

Our songbird recording equipment at dawn on Sidney Island

Sunrise over the gulf islands

A snail I met one day out in the field

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