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

March, 1999

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

The following links are Photo Mosaics of activities
which were included in this report.
They are JPEG images larger than 100 kilobytes each.
Use your browser's BACK button to return to this page.

1998 Taiga Activity Photo Mosaic #1

1998 Taiga Activity Photo Mosaic #2

 

BACK to TBS ANNUAL REPORTS PAGE

 


 

GENERAL

The fact that Taiga Biological Station has survived twenty-five years indicates that we must be doing something right. In order to survive another comparable period we must ensure that our gains be guarded and certainly not diluted. We must also be alert to adopt new ideas and techniques that will facilitate our ability to "learn about the animals and plants of the taiga (boreal forest) in undisturbed, natural conditions."

The following statements from some of our graduates and volunteers will, I hope, point out some of our strengths that must be continued.

******************************

"During various career capacities, I have made recommendations on land and habitat use by humans and wildlife and assessed biological productivity of many mammal species in various habitats. TBS resides in a portion of Manitoba that typifies or relates closely to a large segment of the province, so having had the opportunity to become intimate with the TBS landscape allowed me to provide knowledgeable and appropriate responses in many ecological situations. This was assisted by my firm belief, reinforced by field operations in the TBS area, that to know the land one must walk the land. While working in the TBS area, I soon recognized that while snow machines and aircraft allowed for covering more ground for data gathering, one still had to slow down and study the details of the earth functioning around you. In my work, this is important. The occasionally-harsh conditions under which the data were gathered gave some appreciation of the parameters which directed the evolution of those species with which I shared space in the study area and why they do what they do. This has been invaluable in most of the work in which I have been involved, independent of whether it was with furbearers, endangered species, urban wildlife or big game. Doing field research in a relatively intact ecosystem leads to an understanding of ecological principles that would be difficult to acquire elsewhere but extremely important in almost any field of natural resources.

"Looking back over the past 25 years, I feel that the field time I spent at Taiga was one of the most important and happiest periods of my life and that those fortunate enough to be exposed to the same opportunity can only be enriched by the experience."

R. R. P. Stardom, MSc
Big Game Biologist,
Wildlife Branch,
Manitoba DNR

******************************

"Just a quick note to support the validity of field studies such as I was involved with during my subnivean research at Taiga. I worked for approximately two and a half years in the field to accumulate enough valid data upon which to base my master's thesis. The value of that time was significant; it grounded my understanding of how ecosystems function through first-hand involvement in all the seasons; it allowed me to garner insight into natural history and it emphasized the value of a well-planned and executed research project. All these have stood me in good stead throughout my career and have been a critical part in setting the values that drive my approach to life."

Cheryl Penny, MSc.
Frontcountry Manager,
Parks Canada,
Riding Mountain National Park.

******************************

"I have greatly appreciated the knowledge and experience I gained during my Master's work on woodland caribou at Taiga. I acquired important project management skills and learned how to maximize efficiency and return on investment in field projects. I learned how to interpret and apply principles of theoretical ecology and experimental design. I also gained a deep understanding and practical feel for animal behaviour, complete ecological relationships and ecosystem function.

"I have applied these skills throughout my career in natural resource management. I have worked as a biologist in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Ontario, and I have been a manager with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources since 1986.

"I strongly encourage the Friends of TBS, and the University of Manitoba to continue supporting field and graduate studies at TBS. The Station and its associated study area represent a unique opportunity to expand our understanding of boreal ecology and the influence of humans upon the boreal forest ecosystem."

William R. Darby, PhD District Manager, Fort Frances District Ontario MNR.

******************************

"My appreciation of the time I spent at TBS comes mostly from my experiencing the seasonal cycles (times two) as a direct participant. Not being cocooned by modern conveniences was instrumental in this education. Being intimately aware of the seasonal changes in snow and ice, weather patterns and animal behaviour allowed me to develop a clear understanding of boreal ecology that has stayed with me to this day, 17 years later. This knowledge has stood me in good stead in designing field programs and interpreting the results."

Michael Raine, MSc, P. Biol Terrestrial Ecologist Golder Associates Calgary, Alberta

******************************

"It seems a very short time ago I was struggling through academic courses at the University of Manitoba, wondering how the concepts and methods I was being taught could possibly relate to my desire to work towards the conservation of wildlife and their habitat. It was only through the participation in rigorous field courses that I, and many of my fellow students, were able to conceptualize what was being taught in the classroom and laboratory. This kind of direct, hands-on experience provided me with a fundamental and realistic understanding of the scientific method. Field courses, particularly those taught at Taiga Biological Station, clearly demonstrated not only how to formulate hypotheses, but what it would actually take in terms of time, money and logistic support to address these hypotheses in a precise and timely manner. This kind of experience, not taught in the classroom or laboratory, was the kind of experience my employers were demanding and, in turn, will be the kind of experience I will be searching for when hiring new employees. I would finally ask those charged with the preparation of students for a career in wildlife biology how responsible would I be if I were to send a newly-hired biologist into the Arctic back country with no practical field skills? And could I trust that same biologist to solve budgetary and logistic problems of a research project requiring the extraction of scientific information from such a harsh environment? Neither my colleagues nor I would be able to say we could."

Mitch Campbell, MSc Regional Wildlife Biologist Keewatin Region, Arviat, TN

******************************

"There is no substitute for field work in ecology, because, without it, we are sure to remain awash in a sea of untested theories and models. At TBS my introduction to field research established the foundation for all my subsequent undertakings in biology. I discovered, for example, that field work is the vital source of both creative and critical thinking in science. While in the field, I made some unexpected observations that led me to new hypotheses; my direct observations of real systems allowed for rigorous testing of these hypotheses. This is Natural History. We are now returning to the realization that Natural History is essential to ecology (See Futuyma, 1998, American Naturalist, 151:1). TBS has played a significant role in this development, as well as in my own professional and personal development."

James Schaefer, PhD Assistant Professor, Dept of Biology, Trent University

******************************

"I spent 5 years living year-round at Taiga Biological Station. Living alone in such a setting made me self-reliant and forced me to develop skills and abilities that I would otherwise never have had the chance to recognize. By working in a remote field station, I learnt to make my own decisions about my research, I learnt to adapt my research and myself to changing conditions and I learnt to appreciate the power of nature and to respect the environment in which I lived and worked. The confidence, independence and skills I developed were essential to my success during my post-doctoral research in northern Finland. Without the extensive field experience at TBS and the subsequent experience in Finland, I would not have achieved my current position in the new Territory of Nunavut. In this new territory there are many wildlife management issues that must be addressed. The information to address these issues can only be gathered by dedicated field work. Computer models and laboratory experiments will never be able to truly address the issues that I must deal with on a day to day basis. The type of training in field work that I received at Taiga Biological Station is exactly the background that is needed by biologists who seek to tackle the real life management issues facing us in the future."

Michelle Wheatley, PhD Director of Wildlife Management Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Iqaluit, TN


 

CORRECTION

I regret that when I was assembling the 24th Annual Report I was given erroneous information regarding the reduction of one course. The following should clarify the situation: Because the "academic year" consists of two 15-week semesters, for a total of 30 weeks, then, in actual fact, Ornithology was reduced from 15 weeks per academic year to the equivalent of 7 1/2 weeks per academic year (i.e.- 15 weeks in alternate academic years); Mammalogy was reduced from 30 weeks per academic year to 15 weeks and then to zero (completely eliminated).


 

RESEARCH

Our yearly sampling of small mammal populations showed that they continue quite low, as they have been for the past 3 or 4 years. In contrast, several rare or uncommon species occurred again (Sorex arcticus, Sorex (Microsorex) hoyi, Phenacomys intermedius). The results of the 21-year data set have been assembled and graphed. Much work will be required to complete and analyze the data from the 2,111 specimens, taken in 37,800 trap/nights, but some interesting relations have already appeared.

 

Aaron Zuccolin is in the second winter of his study of the ecology of the Least Chipmunk. His progress report follows:

ECOLOGY OF THE LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus)
by Aaron Zuccolin

This past year has been very busy and rewarding. Live-trapping chipmunks continued in the spring and summer, bringing the total number of resident individuals captured on all four plots to 39. The vegetation and habitat-variable survey conducted by Pam Vust last summer allowed me to classify the four study plots and surrounding areas using a ranked scale for each variable. This will allow an analysis of habitat usage by T. minimus since each location of a chipmunk includes these habitat data as well as behavioural data. Chipmunks were located by direct observation and by use of radio-telemetry. The use of radio collars assisted in the location of burrows of the study animals.

To supplement the habitat classification scheme, I collected soil samples of the four study plots to determine the soil types in each habitat. I also sampled the soil adjacent to the burrow sites located in 1997 and 1998. I hope to determine if soil type is a factor in the location of the chipmunk's burrow.

In the fall, I collared ten chipmunks with temperature-sensitive radio collars. This has allowed me to monitor the timing and duration of the animals' bouts of torpor and changes in these factors throughout the late fall and winter season. To date only one collar has gone dead. Because continuous monitoring of these collars is not possible, the exact commencement and termination of each bout of torpor usually remains unknown. Still, I will be able to record the patterns, if any, of duration of torpor bouts under natural conditions.

In addition to the study of chipmunks, I am continuing my project on techniques of marking small mammals. I am comparing the efficacy of toe-clipping and implanted microchips. As with the chipmunk study, sample size is low but sufficient for statistical analysis. This study will aid the University Animal Care Committee, and other groups, to set protocols for techniques of marking small mammals.

Many people have lent a hand throughout this year and to all of you I am grateful.

 

Summary of MSc thesis:

FOOD HABITS AND NIGHTLY EMERGENCE ACTIVITY
IN A FAMILY OF BEAVERS (Castor canadensis)
IN THE TAIGA OF SOUTHEASTERN MANITOBA
by Danette Sahulka

The yearly food habits and nightly emergence activity of a family of Beavers (Castor canadensis) were studied from spring 1992 to fall 1993 in the taiga of southeastern Manitoba. In 1992 the adult female, the two yearling males and the yearling female were equipped with radio transmitters. In 1993 the adult female, one of the two-year-old males and the two-year-old female were re-equipped with radio transmitters. Detailed daily observations were made on the food selection, feeding site selection and time of nightly emergence for these beavers.

The beaver family was observed to feed on nine plant species: Alnus rugosa, Populus tremuloides, Betula papyrifera, Cornus stolonifera, Pinus banksiana, Amelanchier alnifolia, Salix spp., Nuphar variegatum and Zizania aquatica. Preferences for certain species and plant parts varied over the years and seasons, suggesting that beaver may be opportunistic herbivores when the food supply is diverse. Pinus banksiana buds and bark were consumed primarily in the spring during the growing-leaf stage, and, when available, leaves were selected over bark. The two aquatic species (Nuphar variegatum and Zizania aquatica) were also observed to be utilized when available.

Most of the species and plant parts had adequate levels of nutrients for beavers. Potassium levels in the bark of some species did not meet minimum requirements and leaves of deciduous species had adequate phosphorus levels only in the growing-leaf stage.

There were noticeable differences in potassium, sodium, copper and iron levels and the potassium:sodium ratio between tree species and aquatic plants. The aquatic species had much higher levels of these nutrients and much lower potassium:sodium ratios. Leaves of these species had more potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and copper than did the bark while the bark had a much lower potassium: sodium ratio. Pinus buds had very high levels of crude protein and sodium.

The density and diameter of trunks at 20 cm above ground level influenced feeding site selection. Beavers cut trees 11 to 30 m from the lake shore and old cut stumps were found 21 to 30 m from the shore, in control (no present beaver use) sites. Food availability, topography and site history were factors that influenced distances traveled from the lake shore for food harvesting. For example, control sites had more Pinus and Picea than did beaver feeding sites. This was associated with the fact that Picea was never consumed and Pinus was generally used only in the spring.

No significant difference in food choice between male and female beavers was found in this study. The beaver in this study also did not appear to be constrained by nutrient availability in the food they consumed.

I found no correlation in this study between beaver emergence time from the lodge and weather conditions, including air temperature, wind speed, wind direction, percent cloud cover and precipitation. A relationship was revealed between emergence time and time of sunset. As well, observed differences in nightly emergence time by the beaver family members were not found to be statistically significant.

 

RESEARCH ACTIVITIES

Research Activities of the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature at TBS, 22 through 26 August 1998

Participants:Dr. Karen Johnson, Curator of Botany, MMMN
Ms. Janice Klopecki, Collections Manager, MMMN
Ms. Wendy Jo Mosby, Summer Assistant, MMMN
Ms. Liza McClintok, MMMN Volunteer
Mr. David Wright, MMMN Volunteer
Mr. Aaron Zuccolin, TBS Researcher

A hardy crew and relatively good weather allowed us to finish all of our sampling in a near-record 4 days in 1998. Thanks to Aaron, our invaluable summer assistant Wendy Jo and the 2 volunteers, all of the necessary research and other tasks were accomplished during that time.

With the help of the 2 McGill University geology students, Christien and Nicole, all of the Museum crew were installed at the Station by late afternoon on the 22nd. We than had a plant identification and sampling lesson and got organized for the trip into Cabin Lake. Light rain the next day kept us from Cabin Lake so we got soaked sampling the Black Spruce Bog plot instead.

Better weather the next day allowed 4 people, Aaron, David, Liza and Wendy Jo, to make it into Cabin Lake while Karen and Janis followed behind to Little Caribou Lake. Trails cut through the amazing tangle of young jack pines left after the 1996-97 winter were still mostly intact so travel was relatively easy. Karen and Janis carried life jackets and paddles into Little Caribou Lake and used the canoe stashed there to bypass successfully the very wet leatherleaf bog. They sampled the triple burn and burned control plots. Karen and Janis sampled the Jack Pine Sand Plain plots on the way back from Little Caribou.

We saw fresh wolf, bear and moose scats along the trail but encountered no animals. There were no blueberries this year, because of the late summer drought but we saw a few lingonberries in bog areas, All seedlings, saplings and young trees are doing very well on all plots after 3 wet to relatively-wet growing seasons. Some of the herbaceous plants on drier sites (Sand Plain and Ridges) were stunted or had died off early because of the late summer drought. Otherwise, ground cover and tree and shrub size continue to increase steadily on all sites.

David and Liza left on 24 August and the remaining museum people finished sampling the Jack Pine Ridge plot that day. Wendy Jo (a geology major) said that the wavy dark green rock on Plot 4, which we had wondered about for years, is basalt. This would support Christien's thesis that the area might have been an ancient rift zone. We observed a thicker than usual growth of aquatic plants along the Blind River near the Station, including species of Potamogeton and Sparganium, along with abundant Calla palustris and Utricularia vulgaris.

 


 

WEATHER OBSERVATIONS

For 25 years we have recorded twice-daily observations of current weather conditions. This summer we became the "Wallace Lake Observer" for Environment Canada Atmospheric Environment Service. They outfitted TBS with their high-quality max-min thermometers, rain gauge and a new Stevenson Screen. We still take the observations at 0700 and 1900 hours; in addition to our regular observations we now record theirs, in their somewhat-different format.

 


 

VISITORS

Outward Bound groups visited twice (29 June and 16 July). They contributed some heavy lifting for us and Aaron Zuccolin gave them demonstrations of his chipmunk radio collars, radio tracking and the snow instruments. Sheila Jones (University publicity writer) and Allan Webb visited us and Sheila had an extensive article in the University Bulletin. Monica Reid-Wong, Alan Benoit, Dan Benoit, Peter Dowd, Shayne Finley, C. R. Pruitt, C. A. Pruitt, E. Pruitt, José Ortiz, Julio Ortiz put in several days of hard work installing the new steel roof panels. They carefully took the sod from the roofs, cleaned the roofs, screwed down the steel panels, replaced the sod and planted grass seed.

David Wright visited several times and worked his mechanical magic on snowmobiles, chain saws and outboard motors. The Winter Field Trip included David and Laura Duncan, Evan Richardson, Alan Benoit as well as Erna and me. There was much talk, laughter and great food donated and prepared by Laura Duncan and Evan Richardson. The visitors were exposed to use of the snow instruments, how to determine hare food habits and use of the qalimeters.


 

DONATIONS

Chim Wong and Helen Steinkopf made financial donations; Ray Chenier donated lumber, tools, tarp, perspex, kitchen equipment and a skidoo gear puller. John Cranstone donated a bed and mattress. C. R. Pruitt hauled the steel roofing panels from Winnipeg.

Bill Conley has told us he has willed his cabin at Cabin Lake to Taiga Biological Station. We have named it the "Conley Field Laboratory."

When I retired on 30 June 1996, I received a "golden handshake" from the Dean of Science, Dr. James Jameson, consisting of support for TBS for three years. This magnificent gesture has enabled us to support Aaron Zuccolin and Pam Vust (through Careerstart), to get the Tundra and Elan snowmobile engines completely overhauled, an outboard motor overhauled, purchase of a small propane fridge (new!), plywood for trap chimneys, radio collars for small mammals and chipmunks, log oil and turps, etc., as well as purchase of the steel roof panels. We also invested in a large solar panel, heavy-duty batteries and an inverter, so that we now can recharge computer (and other) batteries.


 

INTERNET HOME PAGE

Thanks to the generosity and electronic skills of D Kurt, TBS now has an Internet Home Page. You can access it at: http://www.wilds.mb.ca/taiga . I would appreciate your comments and suggestions on how to improve it and what to add (or subtract).

 


 

PUBLICATIONS

Jones, Sheila. 1998. Neither fires nor funding... University Bulletin 32 (8):4-5.

Sahulka, Danette. 1998. Food Habits and Nightly Emergence Activity in a Family of Beavers (Castor canadensis) in the Taiga of Southeastern Manitoba. MSc Thesis, University of Manitoba: 142 pp.

 


 

Erna Pruitt and Bill Conley kept us all sane. As always, Wolf Heck made the photo plates. Thanks to all Friends for your support. Come and visit sometime. You know we have no reservations about putting you to work on one of our projects.

 


 

BACK to TBS ANNUAL REPORTS PAGE

 

Copyright © 1999 Taiga Biological Station