Mark Sloan – “What can stable isotopes tell us about the decline of Marbled Murrelets?”

Mark Sloan – “What can stable isotopes tell us about the decline of Marbled Murrelets?”
by Andrew Bryant, 25 Jan 2018.

Mark Sloan now works as  a “First Nations Relations Advisor” for the BC Government, but once upon a time he spent his days (and nights) capturing Marbled Murrelets at sea – for science!

These delightful robin-sized seabirds are noteworthy for a bunch or reasons.  Most of their population is found in B.C. (although they range from Californa to Alaska), where they’re considered “threatened” or “endangered”.  Most unusually, these seabirds nest in trees – specifically in big, tall trees typically associated with coastal old-growth forests.

Here in Powell River, we typically see murrelets in winter plumage, and rarely see them in their far more drab, brown breeding plumage.  Indeed, for decades their breeding habits remained unknown – the first nest was only discovered in 1974 – by a maintenance worker!

Mark’s was definitely a science talk, with hypotheses, statistical tests, graphs and definitions (what is “stable isotope analysisanyway?)
In a nutshell, what Mark’s team was trying to learn was whether breeding success of murrelets could be attributed to “how high on the food chain they were feeding”.  Their full paper is available here, but be forwarned…it’s hefty reading.

What I enjoy most about such talks is that science is indeed very much like a detective story.
Sometimes the data fit one’s hypothesis, the conclusions are straightforward, and all the loose ends get neatly tied up…

…and sometimes, as in this case, they don’t!



Pamela Zevit – “Diversity by Design”

Pamela Zevit – “Diversity by Design”
by Andrew Bryant, 18 Jan 2018.

Pamela Zevit works for the South Coast Conservation Program (SCCP).  Together with her colleage Tamsin Baker, Pamela came to speak to us about one of their latest initiatives – diversity by design.

In a phrase, “diversity by design” refers to habitat restoration – and just like ecosystems, things quickly become complicated.

For example, a species can be listed as endangered under the BC Wildlife Act, or the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).  There are other “threat-levels” (extirpated, vulnerable, threatened) and designations (e.g., our provincial Red and Blue lists).  Add to that the diversity of species, habitat types, land ownership types and “stakeholders” (stewardship groups, environmental and parks department employees, municipal planners, private landowners and even consultants and developers), and it becomes mind-bending.

Pamela expertly guided us through this maze to outline the following Keys to Successful Habitat Restoration Projects (Guiding Principles):

•  Put protection over restoration
•  Take a long-term view
•  Design for diversity
•  Adopt a socio-ecological approach
•  Apply the best available knowledge
•  Set clear objectives
•  Apply adaptive management
•  Document your results

Pamela and Tamsin also provided a well-stocked display table – all of which is available online – and much of it new to me.
I had no idea there was a Snail Key for the South Coast, for example
(that sure would have come in handy last year on Mitlenatch!)
…and there are many more



Andrew Bryant – “Sidehill gougers & sea monsters: one biologist’s journey”

Andrew Bryant – “Sidehill gougers & sea monsters: one biologist’s journey”
by Heather Harbord, 19 Oct 2017.

Our very own Dr. Andrew Bryant came to tell a story – or more accurately, a whole bunch of stories – about his work with endangered species.

In “Follow the money”, newly-graduated Andrew does just that.  He passed up a low-paying “dream job”, instead becoming a park naturalist, answering damn fool questions from tourists in Algonquin Provincial Park.  Things worked out.  He wound up reintroducing Peregrine Falcons – and having a cliff named after him.

“Loaded for bear” begins with a chance encounter with a grizzly bear, on an otherwise Julie-Andrews-kind-of-day.  This led to a slight change in Andrew’s career-path – and a minor supporting role in creatimg the world’s first protected sanctuary for grizzly bears – in a place called the Khutzeymateen.

Follow the girl” sees Andrew arrive in the south Okanagan.  There he spent time rapelling into abandoned mine shafts in search of hibernating bats.  Twenty-seven years later, he was surprised to learn that somebody had actually read his report – and acted upon it.

Watch out for sea monsters” takes Andrew back to Ontario, where he used tape-playback methods to search for endangered Kirtland’s Warblers.  Not finding any, he did get a good scare while paddling around Manitoulin Island.  The warblers, as it turned out, didn’t need his help anyway.

Here and there we also got to learn about sidehill gougers, zoom back and forth across the country, and see some truly one-of-a-kind photographs.

He really needs to settle down and write that book!


Andrew Bryant – “Recovery of Vancouver Island marmots”

Andrew Bryant – “Recovery of Vancouver Island marmots”
by Andrew Bryant, 19 Jan 2012.

I had the great good fortune to spend over twenty years working with what used to be the most critically endangered mammal in North America, the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis).

Mine was a detective story, for that is what science is.  How do we know what we think we know?  The story of Vancouver Island marmots is one of blind alleys, mistakes, and plain bad luck.   The world population declined during  the 1990s to a few score remaining in the wild by 2003  (the estimate was ~30).   At the last hour, a recovery program based on captive-breeding and reintroduction began in 1997.

Slowly at first, but with growing momentum, a team of dedicated researchers, loggers, naturalists, veterinarians, housewives, architects, financial planners and schoolchildren began to raise the resources necessary to solve the problem.  The captive program was successful and reintroductions began in 2003.  A decade later the wild population has rebounded to over 300 individuals.

Although not out of the woods yet, the Vancouver Island marmot story is no longer one of impending doom.  Instead, these lovely animals offer a wonderful story of forensic science, and a compelling tale of hope.