Welcome to MASIT Communications (Medical and Science Information Technology), the science blog for Jacqueline – a Vancouver technical writer and web content specialist. Please read my blog postings below, or check out my services and skills listed here. For further information, please contact me by email: admin @ masit.ca or find me on Twitter: @masitblog and @jacbird. Enjoy!
It is often easy to ignore the effects of climate change when those effects don’t have a direct impact on your immediate surroundings. However, if you take a closer look at the more northern habitats, you will see how climate change is affecting both the local tundra ecosystems and the animals who call that area home. One such animal is the collared pika – a mammal that resembles a small bunny and is part of the same order as rabbits (Lagomorpha). The effect that climate change is having on this mammal is currently being studied by University of Alberta researchers David Hik and Scott Williamson.
David Hik’s research emphasizes plant-herbivore-climate interactions in northern alpine and tundra ecosystems, while Scott Williamson is involved in research on elevation dependent warming (4). Scott Williamson’s research contributions on elevation-dependent warming were published in the journal Nature Climate Change in April, 2015
The collared pika is a species of pika that lives in the more extreme northern climates. They have adapted to this colder climate through a combination of different behavoiurs. They burrow under thick snow packs in the winter, which allows them to survive these colder months since they don’t hibernate (2). Collared pikas also gather food in the summer months and store it in a separate pantry or “cache” over the winter (2). In the summer, they hide from predators and shield themselves from the heat in rock “talus” sites at the base of landslides (3).
The food that they gather and store, mostly consists of green grasses and the leaves of alpine meadow plants (2). However, a combination of lower temperatures and other global warming trends is negatively affecting their food supply and ability to shelter themselves from the cold in snow packs. This is a concern considering that their populations are already dropping by 90% over the winter months, as observed by David Hik (2).
Northern habitats are currently being affected by the global warming trend of “shrubification,” which is having an impact on the survival of collared pikas. Shrubification is the colloquial term that describes the process of shrub expansion into more northern areas and at higher altitudes. These shrubs are able to expand farther north due to factors such as lower temperatures, soil disturbances and herbivory (1). For example, reduced temperatures allow for enhanced soil nutrient uptake. Landscape and soil disturbances also contribute to increased shrub abundance and distribution. Grazing herbivores have an impact on shrub distribution by altering seed production and seedbed size, transport of seeds and soil fertilization (1).
This process of shrubification is causing the already endangered collared pika populations to dwindle further due to decreasing their food sources and reducing the snow pack cover.
The advancement and canopy thickening of shrubs is causing a reduction in albedo (or, sun reflectance off snow), which contributes to warmer temperatures. It also takes longer for the snow to melt under shrubs, which then covers the meadow plant seedlings for a longer time and delays the growing season (2).
In combination with this, the lower temperatures are also causing more rain and ice and less snow. This then leads to reduced snow pack thickness, and when the rain freezes, it covers any winter vegetation with an impenetrable shell of ice (2). Therefore, the collared pikas face many challenges in their alpine habitats.
To help these creatures, make sure that you are doing all that you can, such as driving less, recycling, drinking water from reusable bottles and reducing your overall energy consumption. These fluffly little bunny-like creatures will surely thank you!
1. Myers-Smith, I. H., Forbes, B. C., Wilmking, M., & Hik, D. S. (2011, December 20). Shrub expansion in tundra ecosystems: Dynamics, impacts and research priorities. Environ. Res. Lett., 6. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/045509/meta
2. Pratt, S. (2016, Spring). Swim or Sink. New Trail (University of Alberta Alumni Magazine), 16-28.
Find me on Twitter: @jacbird and @masitblog
Tofino is known for its great surfing beaches and community, but there are also some fabulous places to hike. One such place is the Big Tree Trail located on Meares Island about half a kilometre across the water from Tofino. This trail features some of the largest and oldest Western red cedar trees in the world with widths up to 20 feet.
Meares island is a tribal park of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations and got its name in 1862 from George Henry Richards, captain of the HMS Hecate, in honor of John Meares. This island was blockaded to prevent logging by the MacMillan Bloedel company in 1984. As a result of this protest, the Big Tree trail was created with a board walk for the first 1.2 km of the trail. Continue reading…
I enjoy spreading the word about interesting science, and I’m hoping to delve into some subjects that I’m not as familiar with this year, such as physics and astronomy. Here is your opportunity to give me some of your own ideas for science-based blog posts! Write to me at admin @ masit.ca if you have anything you’d like to see me write about on here in the coming months.
- Northern Mountain Ecosystems in a Warming Climate
- Earth’s Moon – Interesting Facts
- Plastics Recycling – How energy efficient is the plastics recycling process?
- Early Scientist Overview – Female
- Coyotes – Behaviour and interaction with humans
There are very many different types of wildflowers along the west coast of British Columbia (also including farther north and south). Some are just interesting to look at because they are unique and beautiful. Others have medicinal properties and/or are edible. They have long-standing uses by the native aboriginal peoples, and it is estimated that literally thousands of traditional medicines are derived from plants present along the west coast region. This is why the pristine beauty and hidden treasures of this area are definitely worth conserving, and should be left as undisturbed as possible.
Below is a sampling of some of my favourite kinds, just because they are beautiful, intriguing, interesting and/or unique.
Star-flowered False Solomon’s Seal
Perennial with star-like flowers. The fruit is a round, greenish-yellow berry with 3 or 6 blue-purple stripes, changing to dark blue or reddish-black at maturity. Berries are edible but not especially tasty.
Perennial with greenish-white, bell-shaped flowers that have flaring tips. The fruit is an oval-oblong berry (yellow to red, sometimes turning dark purple). According to Pojar and MacKinnon, most aboriginal people regard the plants and berries as poisonous. Continue reading…