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

March, 2002

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
and a Memorial to Kuusi.

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2001 TBS Activity Photo Mosaic

Kuusi Dog Memorial Photo Mosaic

 

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GENERAL

The solar panels continue their amazing activity of squirting electrons through the system, first shunted for storage in the big batteries and then to power the electric fence. One could become addicted to the presence of the fluorescent lights in the darkest corner of the Lab and the Bunkhouse! (Students from earlier years think I am joking when I regale them with tales of our fluorescent lights in the Lab and the Bunkhouse.)

Now that MTS is phasing out the regular mobile telephone network we have been forced into a higher (and, of course, more expensive) level of technology - a satellite telephone. Our number is now: (613) nnx-zzzz. The solar panels keep the phone charged, but we will continue to monitor incoming calls between 1800hr and 1900hr daily. Because calls to and from our phone in Manitoba are relayed to and from the satellite through an exchange in Ottawa, all calls are at "long distance" rates, plus satellite charges. They are very expensive, so don't gab!! Calls are automatically charged to the initiator.

We were saddened by the death in July of "Kuusi," my Malamute bear guard. She developed a particularly virulent form of cancer of the lymphatic system and did not live long. All Malamutes are highly individual dogs: Tunnit was a jock, Koira was a self-assured lady but Kuusi was a clown. She is buried alongside her predecessors in the dog cemetery near the Cubby.


 

Research

During the first half of August we sampled the small mammal plots for the twenty-fifth year. Populations were generally slightly higher than in 2000, but still far below the peaks in the period 1985-1994. Monica Reid-Wong is analyzing her data from the plots. Her progress report follows.

Small Mammal Response to
Habitat Change Following Fire in
the Taiga of South-eastern Manitoba

This past fall and winter I have made several trips to TBS with dog Sasha to check on the camp and spend some time in peaceful surroundings. It is great to ski across the lake looking for animal sign and activity, and knowing that a warm cabin awaits with a little more effort. This winter I did not find any canid sign in the snow while on skis on the lake. However, Sasha and I saw a wolf from the car while driving back to Winnipeg on Highway 304.

I have also been busy on the computer analyzing the small mammal records of the past 25 years. I have discovered some interesting relationships among the small creatures which I hope soon to share in my thesis. I have been looking closely at variables such as trap type, gender, weight and species captured - factors that are described in the records and that affect the output of small mammal population data.These are necessary in order to describe adequately the small mammal responses to changing habitat over time. I am also examining interspecific associations among small mammals and have found that on some of the plots the presence or absence of Clethrionomys (Red-backed Voles) at a trap site may affect the interactions of other species on the plot.

Several other aspects of data analysis on which I am working involve species diversity indices for both the plants and animals. The indices are used to provide a qualitative assessment of changes in species diversity through time on each of the plots.

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Dr. Karen Johnson has retired as Curator of Botany at the Manitoba Museum. We hope her new-found freedom will enable her to spend more time at TBS. Her progress report follows:

No one from the Museum did any field work at TBS this past year as Dr. Karen Johnson had wrapped up most of her field work in 2000. She is now starting to work on the analysis of her 25 years of data on fire succession and plans to try to complete a draft species list of vascular plants for the Station research area within the next year.

Dr. Johnson maintains a connection with the Museum as a Research Associate. She has bought a house near Lee River, only about 2 hours from Wallace Lake by the "back road" up through Nopiming Provincial Park and plans to get to TBS more often. She hopes to publish the results of her study through the Museum within four to five years but has several other papers to complete before it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Museum study, a brief outline follows:

The study traced the succession of vascular plants, mosses and lichens that developed after the three major forest fires which occurred in the Wallace Lake area over the past 25 years. It used a series of two-metre by two-metre permanently-marked burned ("experimental") and unburned ("control") plots which were sampled for individual plant species cover and photographed, usually in August. Precise locations for each plot were determined in 2000 using a GPS unit, as previously they had been only roughly marked on topographic maps and air photos. Considering the ruggedness of the terrain and the dense regrowth on several of the sites, it would be impossible to find them in the future without this GPS information.

The three fires occurred in late May or early June of 1976, 1980 and 1987. After the 1976 fire 16 plots, in groups of 4's, were set up in the burn at Cabin Lake near Bill Conley's cabin site, approximately 8 km from TBS "Home Hill." Two control plots, one on a dry ridge and one in a dense stand of black spruce, were set up in the unburned area along Blind River before it entered Cabin Lake. Plots on Cabin Lake and other later fire sites were set up in equal numbers on dry ridges and moist depressions, echoing the sites of control plots. Four sets of four burned plots and a control ridge and depression plot were also set up on Obukowin Lake by Charles Pruitt. These, because of their distance and difficult access, were sampled only six times during the study.

After the disastrous 1980 fire we set up 3 new sets of four plots closer to TBS in some of the small mammal trapping sites. They are on the Jack Pine Ridge, Sand Plain and Black Spruce Bog. Two new control plots were established above the old Conley Camps/Natural Resources Cabins on the east side of Conley Bay. The 1980 fire burned the 1976 ridge control plot, providing one site on which we have exact "before and after" data, but missed the black spruce control plot and the 16 plots on Cabin Lake itself [and Bill Conley's new cabin which he had rebuilt after the 1976 fire!]

The 1987 fire destroyed most of the forests on the south side of Wallace Lake and swung around the north side in a tongue which extended across part of the 1980 burn. It missed the plots on Cabin Lake but burned both the former ridge control plot and the black spruce control plot along Blind River as well as the new control plots above the Conley Camp. This configuration of burn again provides invaluable exact "before and after" data. Three new "double burn" plots were then established along Blind River just south of Little Caribou Lake in an area burned over in both the 1980 and 1987 fires. We missed only 2 years out of the 25 between 1976 and 2000 in sampling the plots.

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Cassie Aitchison and Glenn Sutherland completed a major publication of some of the results of their study of Manitoba spiders and opiliones. The complete reference is in the "Publications" section, but the abstract follows:

The diversity of taiga upland arachnid communities, collected mainly in pitfall or pan traps, is compared among forested habitats in two Manitoba regions, one southern and one northern. In the south, where collections were taken both in summer and in winter under the snow cover, the dominant spider families were Erigonidae, Linyphiidae, Lycosidae and Gnaphosidae. The diurnal and nocturnal pursuit guilds dominated across habitats. In the north, with summer collecting only, dominant families were Lycosidae, Gnaphosidae and Erigonidae of the diurnal pursuit guild. The southern taiga uplands had 99 species of spiders, northern uplands 49 species with 19 species common to both regions. The five most dominant species from these families are Agraeca ornata Banks, Gnaphosa microps Holm, Pardosa xerampelina (Keyserling), P. mackenziana (Keyserling) and Agelenopsis utahana (Chamberlain and Ivie). Three opilionid species occur in the south and one species, Odiellus pictus (Wood), occurs in both regions. In this region of the taiga, we found the most species-rich habitats to be undisturbed forest types, e. g. alder-tamarack ecotone in winter, which produced 34 winter-active species (n=233) with 27 species collected only during winter months. Among-habitat differences in species richness, species dominance and guild composition suggest that maintenance of habitat heterogeneity is needed at all scales to preserve the diversity of forest floor arachnid communities in managed taiga forests.

Key Words: spiders, arachnids, Opiliones, Araneae, upland, taiga, forest, diversity, subnivean activity.

 


 

VISITORS

Our annual Thanksgiving baked salmon feast was attended by: Les Peltier, Dr. Karen Johnson, Monica Reid-Wong, Ginger Arnold, Cheryl Klassen, Erna and William Pruitt.


 

DONATIONS

Hugh Sutherland, Glenn Sutherland, Hugh Hornbeck, Chim Wong made donations. We are honoured to have been named beneficiaries in the wills of the late Alice Chambers and Ella Jack.


 

PUBLICATION

Aitchison, C.W. and Glenn D.Sutherland. 2000. Diversity of forest upland arachnid communities in Manitoba taiga (Aranaea, Opiliones). Canadian Field-Naturalist 114(4): 636-651. TBSPUB 58

Pruitt, W. O. , Jr. 2001. Book Review of: Snow Ecology, An Interdisciplinary Examination of Snow-Covered Ecosystems. Edited by: H. G. Jones, J. W. Pomeroy, D. A. Walker and R. W. Hoham. Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press. US$80.00. xx + 378 pp. + 4 pl; illus; index. ISBN: 0-521-58483-3. Reviewed in: The Quarterly Review of Biology, 2001, 76(4):513-514. TBSPUB 59

This book is the result of the decision by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences and its offspring, the International Commission of Snow and Ice, to form a Snow Ecology Working Group that met in 1993. Some of the material presented at that meeting is discussed in this book.

There is a basic difference between the ecological relations of mammals and birds that inhabit environments having a snow cover that lasts all winter and those where the cover is intermittent or lacking. At the same time, there is also a basic difference between those human cultures that are adapted to a permanent winter snow cover and those that are not. The reactions of various human cultures to snow vary from a joyous, welcoming acceptance to near hysteria when it falls. The culture of western Europe and those derived from it usually look on snow only as something to gotten rid of as quickly as possible. Vast sums of money are spent every winter in removing snow from roads, sidewalks and airstrips. Even in northern regions we continue to construct houses and buildings that trap and accumulate masses of snow in entrances, recessed stairs and window wells, and our highways departments still plow roads by pushing the berm up the prevailing winds where it collects even more snow over the road. The very abundance of snow seems to have suppressed almost all but the negative aspects of getting rid of it as quickly as possible! In the literature of the sciences that ought to be most concerned there is even yet little to suggest that snow is a major element in the environment of life.

Although some of the early naturalists appreciated the role of snow, the modern period of viewing its role as an ecological factor must date from 1946 when A.N. Formozov published his classic work on the subject (1946. Moscow Society of Naturalists, Materials for the study of Fauna and Flora U.S.S.R., Zoology, New Series 5:1-152).

In the Preface of the current book, when very briefly discussing the relationship between humans and snow, the editors set the tone for most of the book by emphasizing the negative aspects such as "[t]he relationship between mankind and snow and ice throughout history is ambivalent and has often been epitomized as a struggle for survival in the adverse circumstances of cold, storms, isolation, starvation and deep snow. On the other hand, snow and ice have fascinated mankind, intrigued the curious mind and lent substance to artistic expression and sporting achievements."(p.xix).

Nowhere in the book is there discusssion or even recognition of the close ecological relations of some human cultures to snow cover. There is no treatment of such human adaptations as komatiks, toboggans, pulkas, ahkios, and their variations in size and shape in response to regional variations in duration, thickness, hardness and grain characteristics of snow covers. There is no discussion of such human adaptations as snowshoes, skis or Siberian snegostupi, and the characteristics of these inventions that vary in close agreement with the regional variations in thickness, vertical surface hardness, and duration of the snow cover as well as the physical characteristics (e.g., mass), of the individuals that use them and the functions to which they are put. There is also no mention of such major human inventions as the iglu or the quin-zhee and what physical characteristics of the snow cover make them possible.

The important subject of snow cover and adaptations of supranivean animals, with its massive scientific literature in many languages, is dismissed by the editors in a rather cavalier fashion in the Preface with only four lines of type and four marginal references. The editors do, however, recommend the classic work on the relations of mammals and birds with snow cover by A. N. Formozov but spell his name incorrectly both times they use it. The Preface also confounds life in the snow with life in the cold, which require vastly different routes of adaptation.

In the first chapter, Snow Cover and the Climate System, the authors make the important point that all ecosystems - around the globe - are indirectly affected by snow cover because of its role as a component of the world climate system. This chapter contains a valuable but all too brief summary of the possible changes in snow cover regimes with expected warmer global and regional temperatures. Unfortunately, there is no integration of the anticipated physical changes in snow covers with possible ecological changes. Chapter 2, Physical Properties of Snow, includes an extensive discussion of "intercepted snow" (=qali) but ignores the effect of qali accumulation on the inversely related necessary formation of qamaniq and this latter phenomenon on subnivean temperatures with the consequent cascade of effects on tree vegetation, small mammals, and sometimes small birds. In fact, Figure 2.11 (which depicts "intercepted snow") shows no qamaniq! This chapter includes a description of the interesting occasional reversal of the usual heat flow gradient in a tundra snow cover (upsik). Under intense solar radiation meltwater from the surface of the upsik moves downward until it encounters the cold substrate and it freezes. The phenomenon is well known to Sámi reindeer herders and it is called cuokki. It has been implicated in die-offs of Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) in the Canadian High Arctic.

Chapter 3, The Chemistry of Snow: Processes and Nutrient Cycling, follows the chemistry of snow from the initial formation of snow crystals, its fall and accumulation, to its eventual melting and incorporation of the nutrients into meltwater and thence into living systems. Chapter 4, Microbial Ecology of Snow and Freshwater Ice with Emphasis on Snow Algae, brings order to the scattered literature on microbial life in snow and freshwater ice, from the first scientific paper on the subject in 1819 to those as recent as 2000. The oft-reported, but poorly-understood, phenomena of "red snow," "orange snow," and even "green snow," and the causative organisms, are described and shown in colour plates. The life cycles and ecology of some of these organisms are described.

The following chapter (5), The Effects of Snow Cover on Small Animals, is a masterful display of familiarity with a difficult multilingual scientific literature. The author discusses not only the more familiar tundra and taiga invertebrate snow faunas, but also the small animals of nival and aeolian faunas. Low temperature feeding and possible subnivean food chains are also described from her own extensive field and laboratory studies.

Chapter 6, Snow-Vegetation Interactions in Tundra Environments described an experimental sequence to determine the effects of altering snow cover characteristics by a series of moveable snow fences upwind of an instrumented stretch of Arctic tundra. This is a good example of introducing living organisms into the otherwise rather sterile accounts of studies of snow covers. The final chapter, Tree-Ring Dating of Past Snow Regimes, is a detective story of interpretation of the interacting phenomena of snow crystals, wind, phototropism and tree growth, complicated by periods of varying snow cover regimes through time. This is a fascinating chapter of real natural history interpretations. The book concludes with a glossary of some of the words used in various chapters.

It is difficult to visualize a niche for this publication. The emphasis on physical relations, mathematical formulas, and models in most of the chapters is heavy and uninteresting reading for field biologists and ecologists, while physicists and meteorologists may be put off by the limited amount of biological taxonomic nomenclature. Too many of the figures are excessively reduced and difficult to interpret. The price is a bit steep for a personal reference, so I suspect that university and research libraries will be the main purchasers of this volume.


 

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To all who have helped in so many ways to keep Taiga Biological Station alive during this unfavourable period, thank you. As always, thanks to Wolf Heck who made the photo plates and to Monica Reid-Wong and Cheryl Klassen for some of the photographs. And thank you, Erna, for keeping me sane!

 


 

This page created January 31, 2003.

 

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