TWENTY-SIXTH ANNUAL REPORT
TO FRIENDS OF THE
TAIGA BIOLOGICAL STATION
Material presented herein is for information only
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1999 Taiga Activity Photo Mosaic #1
1999 Taiga Activity Photo Mosaic #2
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Termination of academic support for TBS by the loss of my Mammalogy course has had predicted results. For the first time in its 25 year history, Taiga Biological Station has been without student research and is unoccupied this winter. This has meant the interruption of our twice-a-day weather observations and reports of animal activity and tracks.
Quite likely, climate change is upon us. Freeze-up this fall was protracted with extended periods of slush. In fact, "dry" ice cover did not occur until after the end of December. It is quite a sensation to ride the loaded sled behind the snowmobile with actual bow waves spraying out from both vehicles.
So far, I have had no success in obtaining financial support to endow a Chair in the Natural History of the Boreal Forest. I would welcome any suggestions you might have.
TBS, and all Manitoba, lost a great friend and an important environmental activist when Alice Chambers died in mid-December. We feel honoured to have been remembered in her will.
Aaron Zuccolin, Monica Reid-Wong and W. Pruitt participated in the annual Nocturnal Owl survey the night of 20-21 March. Monica also recorded the observations of the frog-call survey in spring and early summer.
Former TBS student Jim Schaefer is now on the biology faculty at Trent University. We ar putting together a proposal for research on flying squirrels. The project began this summer with Ms. Holly Simpson (from Trent) working on a IV Year Honours thesis. Her progress report follows.
Habitat Relationships of Sciurids
in the Mid-Continental Taiga
by Holly Simpson
The summer of 1999 was my first real experience with field research, and it proved to be a very challenging and valuable experience. I was sent by my Honours thesis advisor (and TBS Alumnus), James Schaefer, to document resource selection and comparative abundance of Northern Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) in relation the structure and composition of different aged stands, disturbed by fire. My plans were modified slightly when I caught only 6 Flying Squirrels. Worried that I would not have enough information for my thesis, I widened my scope to include all of the species of Sciuridae in the study area. Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and Least Chipmunks (Tamias minimus) were also considered.
The new purpose of this study was to compare the habitat use of the three species of Sciurids and elucidate the responses of the squirrels to changes in their natural habitats caused by fire. Fire-initiated changes were documented, at several spatial scales, by the structural characteristics of the vegetation at four strata, and the the species compositions of th eplant communities. Fifteen bog and upland habitats, of varying "age" in relation to the extensive 1980 burn were sampled with equal trapping effort and identical suvery techniques at each site. In 1136 trap nights/days, 13 Red Squirrels and 6 Least Chipmunks were live-trapped, in addition to the 6 Flying Squirrels.
Preliminary results of Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) suggest that there may be a relationship between G. sabrinus and canopy cover, sub-canopy cover and snags with a dbh >30 cm; Tamias minimus with immature (<10 cm dbh) black spruce (Picea mariana) and snags; while Tamiasciurus hudsonicus show a strong association with jack pine trees (10-30 cm dbh). Further analyses must be performed to confirm these associations.
I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity. I have learnt a lot about ecology, field biology and its applications, "politics", and about myself. I have also made many important associations both in Manitoba and here at home which have not only enhanced my experience, but made my project possible.
Aaron Zucculin completed field work on his MSc project and returned to Vancouver to reduce and analyze the data. His progress report follows.
Ecology of the Least Chipmunk, Tamias minimus
by Aaron Zuccolin
I am currently writing my thesis and hope to bring my work to a conclusion in the near future. I have focused on three aspects of Chipmunk ecology in this study; home range, habitat utilization and winter torpor.
I have used direct observation of Chipmunks with and without the aid of radio telemetry to gather a large amount of location data on each study animal. I am analyzing the change in size and location of the home range as a function of the time of year, age class, sex, and change in burrow location.
Habitat analysis in my study involves two levels; selection of habitat type, and selection of microhabitat within the home range. For each level I have divided the analysis to reflect habitat use before and after the vegetation growth season, (early spring and fall) and during the growth season. The presence or absence of leaves and flowers on trees, shrub and under-story vegetation affects many of the microhabitat variables that were collected at each animal location. For example; canopy cover, visual obscurity, and ground cover for the same point locality may be very different in April than they are in August depending on the type of vegetation present.
Temperature sensitive radio-collars were used to monitor ten animals in the winter of 1998-99. These collars respond to changes in the skin temperature of the animal. Soil temperatures were taken at depths that Chipmunk burrows usually occur. The soil temperatures were used to ensure temperature changes monitored by the collar were caused by the change in body temperature of the Chipmunks and not by fluctuations in the ambient temperature. This allowed me to monitor the duration and frequency of torpor bouts.
In addition, I also conducted a field experiment which compared the effect on Red-backed and Meadow Voles and Deer Mice of two permanent markers, passive integrated transponders (PITs) and toe clipping. The only significant differences were the amount of discomfort exhibited by the animals and the handling times of the two procedures. Toe clipped animals showed more signs of pain and discomfort than the animals that received PITs. The time taken to implant PIT depended on the presence of an assistant. Handling times for PITs with an assistant were not significantly different than the time required to toe-clip an animal (no assistance). Handling time for PIT implantation increased significantly if performed alone. This increase is probably not important in the warm summer months. In the winter, however, long handling times expose small mammals to very cold supranivean temperatures they do not experience in the subnivean layer. I found it very difficult to perform the procedure quickly and I had to keep all of the equipment close to my body to ensure it was warm before the procedure was performed. This made the process slow and awkward. I recommend that PITs be used for small mammal research when possible and should only be used in the winter if the researcher is assisted in order to reduce the time animals are exposed to the cold.
Monica Reid-Wong completed the second summer of fieldwork on her MSc project. She also made several trips in winter to analyze the snow cover on her study plots. Her progress report follows.
Post-fire influences on the vegetation
and small mammal populations at TBS
by Monica Reid-Wong
During the past spring, I, my son Brian, and dog Sasha, headed to TBS to spend spring breakup at camp. With this time, I prepared my six study plots with m2 quadrat markers in order to survey in detail the vegetation surrounding each of the trap markers on the plots. Over the summer months I collected and identified some of the vascular plants, mosses, and fungi on each of the plots that may potentially influence the behaviour and abundance of the small mammals. During the early part of August, the small mammal populations were sampled as usual, with Museum Specials and Schuylers.
The intent of my study is to record and quantify the changes that have occurred in small mammal populations and vegetation communities over the past two decades, following the 1980 fire. Also, I would like to identify many of the parameters that may affect the distribution, abundance, and species composition of the small mammal populations within the six particular habitat types that contribute to the Taiga landscape. Part of my time this year has been spent measuring and ranking "coarse woody debris" on the plots, which is becoming more evident as fire-killed trees are now being recruited by the forest floor. This I hope will add information to a dimension in small mammal habitat that has not been looked at in detail at Taiga. Small mammals use the fallen logs as runways and escape cover and shelter. Some of my time was spent confirming and identifying my plant collection at the herbarium in the Botany Department, and in organizing the small mammal data to place onto spreadsheets.
Soon I will analyze our data and hope to learn of its possible significance in the lives of the small mammals. Thank you to all of the volunteers that lent me a hand during these past seasons.
As usual, Dr. Karen Johnson and a crew of volunteers from the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature visited in late August. Here is their progress report.
Research Activities of the
Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature
at Taiga Biological Station
August 16 through August 20, 1999, Participants: Dr. Karen L. Johnson, Curator of Botany, MMMN; Janis Klapecki, Collections Manager, MMMN; Christine Lambert, Summer Assistant, MMMN; David Wright, MMMN Volunteer, Les Peltier, Volunteer, Denis Sinclair, Volunteer, Monica Reid-Wong, TBS Researcher.
We had a large and enthusiastic crew this time, which compensated for several days of rainy weather. The four museum people arrived in rain and mist on the 16th, after observing a pair of otters in the small bay to the east of the Blind River entrance. They dived and watched us quite unconcernedly. Les and Denis arrived that evening from the cottage area where Les has a cabin. All hands went over to the Jack Pine Ridge and had a sampling and plant identification lesson on the first plot there that evening.
Forecast of rain and cool cloudy weather kept us from trying for Cabin Lake next day. We sampled Black Spruce Bog plots in the morning and the remaining 3 Jack Pine Ridge plots in the afternoon. Found a rare moss, Splachnum luteum, which has tiny yellow umbrella-like fruiting bodies, on old moose dung there. Heard wolves howling for about 30 minutes (between 2:30-3:00 p.m.) towards the lake from the ridge. Ridge plots have much more fruticose, crustose and foliose lichens than even two years ago.
All except Karen and Monica went off to Cabin Lake the next day which was sunny and up to 26C degrees. They sampled Sand Plain plots in the morning. Fruiticose lichens and feathermosses up in percentage cover on this set of plots, good numbers of chanterelle and other mushrooms present along with lots of fresh and old wolf scat. Cabin Lake crew back about 8 p.m. after a slow but safe trip. Trail found in fairly good shape and they used the canoe on Little Caribou Lake to avoid the long leatherleaf 'bog' area. Cabin on Cabin Lake in good shape but crew suspects a skunk in residence underneath from the smell. Les and Denis cleaned cabin while others found, sampled and photographed all plots in area.
Next day Les and Denis did chores around station, Monica worked on her sampling and museum crew went back to Sand Plain to get photos, samples of lichens and mosses and to work on plant species list for TBS area. Visited the Natural Resources camp in the afternoon, saw Manitoba Naturalists Society group in canoes and two bald eagles along shore on the way over. Stopped at iron rock outcrop between Blind River entrance and Huck Bay on way back and collected rock and plant samples. Crew packed up and we left the next morning (Aug. 20). Karen would like especially to thank all hands for their help during this 'bad knee' time for her.
Since 1994 on some of the study plots, since 1996 on others, the small mammal populations have continued very low. Peromyscus and Sorex cinereus are the only species that showed even modest increases in numbers. As for the past several years we again have submitted blood samples from all the animals to the Federal Virus Lab in Winnipeg for testing for presence of hantavirus antibodies. All continue to test negative.
Two groups of Outward Bound students spent time with us. We introduced them to the elements of taiga ecology, showed specimens and discussed the biology of various mammals. They reciprocated by hauling a number of canoe-loads of firewood for us.
In late spring the Manitoba Naturalists Society cabin at Mantario Lake burned down. This occurred after the Society had completed arrangements for the summer teaching program. Luckily, the Society was able to rent the buildings and facilities of the Department of Natural Resources Camp on the southeast shore of Conley Bay on Wallace Lake.
Because the Resources camp has easy access by canoe or walking the summer program attracted a different group of people: more seniors and others with broader interests (as well as instructors with larger and/or more fragile instruments such as telescopes and cameras) than has been the case with the more "tri-athlete" types characteristic of the usual Mantario trippers.
Most of the weekly groups spent part of a day with us at TBS. We gave them our regular "Natural History Day" offering. We found that because the groups consisted of more older folks with more varied knowledge and interests that we could get some free-wheeling discussions going regarding land use policies (or lack thereof!) clear-cutting, biodiversity, parks and wildlife management.
Brian Wong and Erica Doyon also spent time with us.
If you have visited the TBS Home Page and followed the Links to Boreal Wilderness Guides you know that we were visited in mid-September by two groups of 10 each German eco-tourists. The ages ranged from 20's to over 65; knowledge of English ranged from zero to complete. All seemed interested and ready for anything we offered them. A village of blue and grey dome tents would sprout up overnight around the lab and bunk house. They cooked their own meals and did their own washing up.
Monica Reid-Wong led the groups to some of her study plots, gave histories of the ecological changes over the past 20 years, showed differences in plants and mammals. We led the groups through the Alder-Tamarack Bog so they could experience the bog.
We demonstrated a wide variety of mammal traps, from small Sherman live traps to Conibears to the big Hancock beaver live traps. Each of the eco-tourists had opportunity to try to set each of the types of traps. David Wright demonstrated radio-telemetry. Then we played Hare and Hounds wherein David was the Hare and took the tiny radio-transmitter and disappeared into the woods. The eco-tourists took turns trying to find the Hare.
All of these activities were accompanied by running commentaries about vegetation types, mammal and bird habitats, biodiversity differences and changes, effects of political changes on the area and similar topics.
We also furnished each person 10 Sherman live traps and showed how to bait and set them. The next morning they checked the traps, looked at the small mammals caught and then released them.
In the evenings, after dark, we set up a screen outside and started the generator so we could use a slide projector. I gave illustrated lectures on the history of TBS, discussion of some of our earlier studies, and ecology of snow.
Usually, mid-September is clear, Indian summer, but 1999 - almost continuous raining.
From the feed-back we have had, the entire operation was a success. Of course, in each group there were one or two who complained they were not given enough time to go shopping in Winnipeg! We plan to repeat the operation again, but, more importantly, we must continue our regular program of research so that we have fresh research results to impart to visitors.
Financial donations were received from Helen Steinkopf, Chim Wong, Aaron Zuccolin, Hugh Donald Sutherland and Boreal Wilderness Guides. We are especially grateful for these donations because they mean we can purchase tiny radio transmitters for use in radiotelemetry.
David Wright made several trips to TBS, hauled materials, gasoline and cut much firewood. Charles Pruitt also hauled materials and supplies. David Wright, Dan Benoit and Peter Dowd put a new steel-panel roof on the sauna. Boreal Wilderness Guides donated miscellaneous food supplies. Aaron Zuccolin donated many items of kitchenware, as well as installed solar panels and wiring. John Cranstone worked electronic magic installing solar panels.
D Kurt's Home Page for TBS (www.wilds.mb.ca/taiga) has been a great success, with correspondence from Canada, USA, England, Belgium, Sweden, Russia, Finland.
Wolf Heck made the photo plates. Erna Pruitt and Bill Conley kept us all sane.
Pruitt, W.O., Jr. 1999. Formozov - inspired Concepts in Snow Ecology in North America. Moscow Society of Naturalists, Biology Section, Bulletin 104 (5): 13-22 (Memorial Issue on the Centenary of the birth of A.N. Formozov; in Russian and English.).
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