TWENTY-SECOND ANNUAL REPORT
TO FRIENDS OF THE
TAIGA BIOLOGICAL STATION

Material presented herein is for information only
and is not to be cited or considered as publication.

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1995 Taiga Activity Photo Mosaic #1

1995 Taiga Activity Photo Mosaic #2

 

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GENERAL

With sorrow we must report the death of Nellye Conley, sister of Bill Conley. Nell was a great Friend of TBS and an advisor and confidante of all the students who have stayed at the Station. We miss her and we offer our condolences to Bill and the family.

In February the Discovery Channel showed a special programme on snow; Pruitt talked about adaptations to snow. Discovery also loaned us a very expensive video camera and I recorded Boreal Ecology students using the snow instruments. Discovery has informed me that the footage was good and they plan to incorporate it into another special on snow.

On the night of 10-11 April, Ian Gilchrist, Richard Puttenham and Pruitt participated in the Annual Owl Survey on the north shore of Wallace Lake and along Highway 304 from the Wallace Lake turnoff to Wadhope. Again, this year there was a spectacular aurora.

The Mammalogy field trip had unseasonably warm weather and frequent snowfalls. These prevented our usual study of hare food habits, although we did record a total of 5 hares on the study plot.

Boyan Tracz won the Mammalogists' Biathlon in the time of 1:41:00. It was a close race; second place was a time of 1:41:15!

For some time we have cooperated with Ed Drotar of the Science Shop at Lakehead University on revising the snow instruments. The present set is actually the result of earlier modifications by the Science Shop. The two hardness gauges did not allow measurement of very soft snow and the 100 cm2 disc did not allow measurement of layers thinner than about 10 cm. The Science Shop has now perfected an Extra-Low Range hardness gauge that can measure hardnesses of 0 to 2 gm cm-2. They also have perfected an elongated "disc" or a flat beam that can measure a layer about 3 cm thick. The new instruments mean that one can now measure hardness of, for example, six layers in an api profile rather than only four layers and vertical hardness of light, fluffy snow. We are happy to have been able to participate in these advances in snow instrumentation. They will permit studies in more detail than have been possible heretofore.

Again, we submitted blood samples from the small mammals from our six study plots to the Laboratory Centre for Disease Control in Ottawa. And again, all samples tested negative for Hantavirus.

 


 

RESEARCH

The following are progress reports on various research activities.

 

SUBNIVEAN CO2 AND SMALL MAMMALS

BY IAN G. GILCHRIST

The current study being undertaken at TBS is an analysis of the effect of CO2 accumulation under the snow cover on the range and habitat utilization of microtine rodents. A further aspect of the study is the behaviour of CO2 under the snow cover, its seepage rate in particular. Work on this project has proceeded smoothly at times or not at all at others.

In late August a group of Voyageur Outward Bound participants assisted in carrying approximately 250kg of polyethylene plastic to the study sites for use in the CO2 seepage study. Their assistance was greatly appreciated since it made short work of what looked to be a monumental task. Over the course of the next month this plastic was transformed into four 4m diameter enclosures. There are two enclosures at each study site situated directly adjacent to the plots.

Following the construction of the enclosures it was time to build 54 trap chimneys for live-trapping the microtine rodents under the snow cover. During freeze-up a total of 1728 holes were drilled in 216 pieces of plywood for assembly into the chimneys. Following freeze-up and establishment of snowmobile trails to the plots the trap chimney components were transported to the study sites, assembled and put in place, 25 on each plot and one per enclosure.

As is usually the case it took longer than was anticipated for equipment to arrive from the manufacturers. As a result it was not until the middle of January that field work could commence. The CO2 concentration beneath the snow cover is being measured with an electronic infrared CO2 analyzer. This enables samples to be taken at any position and at any time. The initial period of data collection was progressing well with only a few minor problems (dead batteries). Then it got cold, really cold, and it did not warm up for three weeks. The long cold snap resulted in very little data being collected during that period; the analyzer was not able to function in such low temperatures, even though it was carried in a styrofoam box containing several hand-warmers.

Once it warmed up, the CO2 concentrations were again being recorded until some strange readings were reported by the analyzer. For some unknown reason, even the technicians at the company where it was purchased do not know, it does not work any more. Hopefully the manufacturer will be able to solve the problem. In terms of progress, there really has not been much beyond the initial setup of the field equipment. There has not been enough data collected to be able to get any idea as to the level of CO2 under the snow cover and no animals have been fitted with radio transmitters. All in all it has been a fairly unsuccessful field season so far, but hope springs eternal that it will somehow get better (it can't get much worse).

 

MINK ECOLOGY

BY RICHARD PUTTENHAM

My research into mink ecology is still experiencing the same problem as last year; THERE ARE NO MINK!! As I reported last year, there is still a noticeable scarcity in the mink population around the Wallace Lake area. Last winter, I only found two sets of mink tracks early in the season, then nothing until late March, when a lone, probably male, mink criss-crossed the Twin Bays area several times before moving on. No other mink tracks were observed by me or by Bill Conley for the rest of the season.

My stay at the station came to an end in early May when I returned to Winnipeg to take over duties as Assistant Curator of Mammalogy and Ornithology at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. This is only a half-time term position, as I am filling in for Jack Dubois who has been seconded to the Riding Mountain National Park Project as an environmental advisor/consultant. As this position is only 2.5 days a week, it allows plenty of time to continue my research. Since my return, I have been pursuing information from the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR Fur Branch has fur/trapper return records on computer showing the breakdown of the number of animals caught per trap area. From the few records that I have seen, there appears to be a declining number of mink caught in the eastern region in the past few years. I have also spread the word throughout the eastern region, both with the DNR and the Manitoba Trappers Association, to ask the local trappers to save all of their mink carcasses. Unfortunately, things don't look so good. I have been in contact with several CO's throughout the area and they have all stated that there are no mink. The CO at Bissett has not seen a track of a mink all winter. Hopefully, trappers are finding mink and saving the carcasses, or else this will be a very short Thesis.

In regards to the qalimeter experiment I was running last winter, the data have been tabulated and graphed, and the results are quite remarkable. The new bottlebrush design collected a phenomenal amount of snow and mimicked the collection of snow on conifers. Jim Bahr's dowel design worked very well at mimicking the snow that accumulates on deciduous plants. Both designs should be used together in future tests. There was much discussion as to creating a qalimeter "tree" which could measure the amount of snow on many levels/planes and examine the effect that qali accumulation on higher branches has on lower branches.

 

RESEARCH ACTIVITIES OF THE MANITOBA MUSEUM OF MAN AND NATURE AUGUST 25 THROUGH SEPTEMBER 1, 1995

BY
DR. KAREN L. JOHNSON, CURATOR OF BOTANY, MMMN;
JANIS KLAPECKI, TECHNICIAN, MMMN;
DANIELLE DEWAR, SUMMER FIELD ASSISTANT, MMMN;
DAVID WRIGHT, VOLUNTEER, MMMN

Karen spoke to Outward Bound Staff in Bissett on her way into station regarding possible Cabin Lake trail clearing assistance next summer. Outward Bound tries to build one day of community service into each session and they felt that such a concrete project would fit their needs very well. We hiked into Cabin Lake on August 26th; trail clear and good to Little Caribou Lake, thanks to David's earlier trail-clearing trip. Trail was much drier than last year and the beaver dam on the Blind River at Little Caribou Lake is now overgrown with grass and other plants and looks abandoned. We observed a few small old bear scats, fewer and smaller than normal, and one old wolf scat near Little Caribou. Practically no blueberry or other berry crops at all this year; only the odd rose hip, currant, and lingonberry. Also a very few bearberries and trailing wintergreen berries. We found Bill Conley's cabin at Cabin Lake in good shape, except for a chipmunk in the inside wood pile. We heard no sandhill cranes there for the first time in many years. Much less bird and mammal sign and sightings than usual.

We found, sampled and photographed the double burn control plot and 3 triple burn plots on the way into Cabin Lake and then did 4 of the 6 1976 fire research plots at Cabin Lake on August 26. We sampled and photographed the remaining 2 1976 fire plots the next morning and returned to the Station that day. All plots were much drier than the last two years with the mosses, including Polytrichum spp., mostly dead or aestivating. Umbilicaria sp. and other crustose rock lichens are continuing to expand in size and percent cover. The jack pines now average 5 to 6 metres in height on the 1976 burn.

We sampled and photographed the 1980 fire plots in the black spruce bog (x4), jack pine sand plain (x4) and jack pine ridge (x4) communities over the next two days. Again, all plots are much drier than the past two years and a lot of moss and other ground cover plants have died. Good chantarelle mushroom crop again this year. Then Karen helped Heidi Wiebe identify the plants on her study area and Janis and Danielle helped her do her plant sampling on the area.

 

FOREST UPLAND ARACHNID (ARANEAE, OPILIONES) COMMUNITIES FROM THE TAIGA IN MANITOBA

BY CASSIE W. AITCHISON-BENELL AND
GLENN D. SUTHERLAND

Taiga upland arachnids, mainly collected in pitfall or pan traps, are compared for two Manitoba regions, one southern and one northern. In the south, where collections were taken both in summer and winter the dominant spider families were Erigonidae, Linyphiidae, Lycosidae, and Gnaphosidae. In the north with summer collecting only, dominant families were Lycosidae, Gnaphosidae and Erigonidae. The southern taiga uplands had 99 species of spiders, northern uplands 49 species with 19 species common to both regions. Three opilionid species occur in the south and one species, Odiellus pictus Wood, occurs in both regions.

During the summer TBS was the site of two field studies by Fourth Year undergraduates for their B.Sc. Honours Theses. Their reports follow:

 

THE SCAVENGER FOOD CHAIN IN THE TAIGA

BY RYAN BROOK

I came to T.B.S. in early May to begin my study of the scavenger food chain in the area. My arrival was a day late due to a slight directional error which turned a short midnight paddle into a frosty overnight camp near Snake Island. I ended up staying until the very end of July. My goal was to use the fish carcasses that I had collected to attract the various scavenger species that reside in the Wallace Lake region, ranging from bears to beetles. I marked several long transects near Evergreen Island, Salt Lick Creek, Big Island, and Second Island. The fish were randomly given one of three different treatments: unprotected, protected by a wire mesh cage, or protected by a fine screen cage. In this way I hoped to compare the rate of decay when different scavenging species were excluded. As it turned out, the large scavengers were more adept at locating carcasses than was anticipated. Within five days, all of the cages were torn up and all 90 of the carcasses were gone.

The next step was to put out another 90 carcasses along different transects with no protection in order to get a better idea of exactly how efficient the large scavengers are at finding carcasses. I also wanted to see if any of the carcasses would last long enough for insects to reproduce on them. Again they were removed very quickly by the vertebrate scavengers. Most carcasses were removed within 5 days of placement. Interestingly, fly eggs were seen on the majority of the carcasses but maggots were almost never observed. Blow flies are generally considered to be the first insects to colonize a carcass. That is why they are used in forensic entomology to determine time of death. Despite the lack of maggots, there were still many adults flying around the area at all times, so obviously they are reproducing somehow.

To test if the flies would reproduce on a carcass if given more time, two trials were run using consecutively smaller pieces of fish. Generally, even the very small pieces were located and eaten by large scavengers very quickly. Maggots were seen on only three carcasses and even they were eventually consumed. However, on several occasions maggots were seen on small discarded scraps of skin or bone that were left at a vertebrate scavenger butcher site.

Due to the variable activity patterns of the various scavenger species, it would have been very difficult to compile a complete list of all scavengers present in the area. Some species are more visible and more tolerant of humans than others. The vertebrate scavengers that were seen during the course of the study include turkey vulture, crow, grey jay, masked shrew, and black bear. Ravens were noticeably absent. The most common invertebrate scavengers include blow flies, carrion beetles and ants. Other scavenging insect groups were very rare or completely absent.

I began this study with the impression that a carcass would stay on the ground for long periods of time. During this period one of three things would happen (1) the carcass would slowly dry and shrivel up, or (2) the carcass would be slowly colonized by insects and it would pass through the normal successional stages that are well described in many journal publications, or (3) the carcass would be consumed by a vertebrate scavenger. It appears from my research that in most cases the carcasses are located and consumed by vertebrate scavengers. Insects probably survive by feeding on the scraps that are left over. This raises an interesting point because most studies of insect succession use cages to protect the carcasses. It may be that much of the observed succession would not normally occur in nature, but is created by protecting the carcass from large scavengers.

Despite the sometimes disgusting aspects of the research, I found it very interesting and I learned a lot about the scavengers in the area. There has been very little research on this topic so my results can not be compared to other studies. It is unfortunate, because the scavenger food chain is so important to the functioning of the boreal forest, yet we know so little about it.

 

THE TERRITORIAL BEHAVIOUR OF THE NORTH AMERICAN RED SQUIRREL (TAMIASCIURUS HUDSONICUS)

BY HEIDI WIEBE

Field work for an honours thesis was conducted at TBS from May 28th to August 31st, 1995. The study area extended in all directions from the lab/bunkhouse region, encompassing an area of over 16,000 m2. The objectives of the study were, first, to map the home ranges of the population in 3 dimensions (length, width and height), and, second, to calculate the amount of time spent on the ground and in the trees, documenting the activities associated with each. The hypothesis being tested is that red squirrels spend equal amounts of time in both.

June and July were spent trapping and marking red squirrels, and gridding out the study area for mapping. Observations began in early July and continued until small mammal trapping began in August. Vegetation surveys were completed in the last week of August when Dr. Karen Johnson and her staff were present to offer assistance in the form of species identification and abundance estimates.

Observations included mapping squirrel movements, measuring the heights at which those occurred and describing the activities associated with them. These were later analysed to determine the relative amounts of time spent in the trees and on the ground and to construct 3-D home ranges where enough data were available. Preliminary analysis shows that this population does indeed spend equal amounts of time in trees and on the ground, contrary to what was expected. This is believed to be a result of the distribution of spruce trees, especially white spruce (Picea glauca), over the study area. This species is used extensively for food, travel, resting spots and shelter. Of the seven squirrels observed throughout the summer, 3 showed a marked preference for trees and were located in areas of high spruce density. The 3 who made greater use of the ground were found in areas where spruce was scarce. The seventh squirrel was only rarely seen and I lacked enough observations to make a valid statement.

Home range maps are currently being transformed into 3-D plots for further analysis. Total volumes will be calculated and compared with respect to vegetation and potential food sources within their boundaries. Following this, the use of tree heights will be analysed for correlations with various activities, weather, sex and age of individuals.

Over the course of the summer, both dispersal and territorial behaviour were observed. At the end of July to early August, 3 juvenile males dispersed from their nesting site in opposite directions, though one was only rarely seen again. The other two established and defended territories for the remainder of the summer. One of these bordered the territory of a female and caused frequent territorial conflict in the form of calls and chasing at the shared boundary. The next step, then, is to review these interactions for data such as the distance between individuals when calls or chasing began, the heights at which they were sitting, and any other factors of importance to territorial behaviour.

The thesis will be completed by April 1, 1996 and defended on April 13. The results will also be presented at PUBS (Prairie Universities Biology Symposium) in Lethbridge, Alberta at the end of February.

I would like to thank Dr. Pruitt for the use of the station, resources, time and advice; Dr. Gee for funding to make this summer possible; Dr. Karen Johnson, Danielle Dewar and Janis Klapecki for their assistance; fellow students Ryan Brook and Ian Gilchrist for their support and encouragement in the field; and Bill and Nell Conley who were always friendly, helpful and full of good advice.

 


 

VISITORS

In mid-March we were visited by a group from St. John's Ravenscourt school. The following report by teacher Dean McLeod tells their story.

"Though the winter may have seemed long, it was not quite long enough to include the Lower School's second winter camping trip. We began with 9 boys, 2 teachers, and +12°C outside! The weather was unbelievably warm and would have been spectacular for some activities - water skiing anyone? - but the instant thaw made outdoor living a challenge!

We drove to Wallace Lake early Sunday, March 12, and met Mr. Richard Puttenham, the resident biologist at the U of M's Taiga Biological Station. Issued with personal pulkas, we began the 5 km ski across Wallace Lake and up the Blind River. Though the ice remained bomb-proof throughout the trip, the melt-water sitting on top was a tad unnerving. We soon developed a new respect for slush. Cosy (read cramped) and warm cabins awaited all except those who chose to camp out on night one.

Though the idea was to spend 24 hours outdoors, both Mr. Williams and I chose to spend the whole time camping.

On Monday we cooked outdoors, learned about the local flora and fauna, and met the local trapper, Mr. Bill Conley, for lunch over an open campfire. He showed us some of his beaver trapping sites and methods, including an ingenious way of electronically checking his under-ice traps. Mr. Conley invited us back to his shop where humane traps, beaver pelts, rifles, and a wicked snowball fight kept things very interesting.

The warm weather held, and by the time we left it seemed the only snow left was under our tents! Needless to say we had wet feet when we got to the vans, but our spirits were anything but damp! Next year, boys? You bet!"

We also were visited by an "Outward Bound" crew; they had been 27 days on a wilderness canoe trip and were fit and husky. They contributed to Ian's research by hoisting the four heavy rolls of H-D polyethylene for his enclosures and taking off up the pitkospuut at a trot. Great people! We thank them and hope they visit again.

 


 

DONATIONS

St. John's Ravenscourt School, Drs. Brian and Margaret Wheatley, Mrs. M.J. Campbell, Mr. & Mrs. A.C. Cranstone, Dr. Michelle Wheatley, Mr. Chim Wong, Denali National Park Wilderness Centre and University of Alaska Bookstore all made financial donations, for which we are grateful. As always, Wolf Heck made the photo plates. Erna Pruitt and Bill Conley kept us all sane.

 


 

PUBLICATIONS

Pruitt, W.O., Jr. 1995. Entries entitled "Habitat Loss in North America" (pp. 339-342) and "Snow as Habitat" (pp. 593-594) in: Paehlke, R. (Editor): Conservation and Environmentalism, An Encyclopaedia. Garland Publ. Co., New York and London: 771 pp.
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Villard, Pascal. 1994. Foraging behavior of Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers during spring and summer in a Canadian boreal forest. Canadian Journal of Zoology 72 (11):1957-1959.
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