Nathan Skolski

Email: nathanskolski@okmain.cms.ok.ubc.ca


 

A helicopter attacks a wildfire from above.

A team of scientists, including UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Mathieu Bourbonnais, have prepared a white paper detailing a game plan for western Canada to reduce wildfire risk and prevent “crisis seasons” like the one British Columbia is currently facing.

Applying their decades of experience in wildland fire management, fire ecology, climate change research and on-the-ground operations, the paper’s authors describe in detail the crisis western Canada is facing and suggest a course of action to reduce the adverse consequences of future wildfires.

Dr. Bourbonnais is an Assistant Professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science’s Department of Earth, Environment and Geographic Sciences. Before becoming a faculty member, Dr. Bourbonnais spent years working as a wildland firefighter and now, more than ever, he and his collaborators from the Indigenous community, academia, government and industry, are worried about forest conditions and say we need to do far more to proactively reduce wildfire risk.

Beyond the immediate threat to homes and people, what is the bigger issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to wildfires?

The numbers are staggering. We’re potentially talking about hundreds to thousands of premature deaths due to smoke impacts on human health, tens to hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions further complicating efforts to mitigate climate change — not to mention the billions of dollars in increased suppression and indirect fire costs negatively impacting the social, cultural and political fabric of society.

By 2050, years like 2017–2018 in BC and 2016–2019 in Alberta will be commonplace. Already, we are seeing evidence of another record-setting year in BC, with numerous fires and evacuation orders resulting in a state of emergency. Climate change and fire science experts insist there is a very limited window — the next decade — in which society can positively alter the crisis.

Is our current approach to wildfires sustainable?

No. The shockingly high costs of recent fire events and seasons will be completely unsustainable if allowed to continue unabated. Recent catastrophic wildfires, including the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, the 2017–2018 fire seasons in B.C. and the 2019 fire season in Alberta, accounted for more than $10 billion in direct losses, billions of dollars in fire suppression costs and tens of billions of dollars more in indirect costs in each of these events. We haven’t even fully considered the loss of the entire town of Lytton this summer and it is difficult to quantify the adverse social, cultural, physical and mental health impacts due to the loss of life, and evacuations resulting from fire and widespread smoke.

How did we get here — is it just about climate change?

Climate change plays a big role, but it is much more complicated. Although images from Lytton, Fort McMurray, California and Australia remind us of the potentially devastating effects of wildfire on people and infrastructure, we forget that wildfires are an important part of our ecosystems and how we manage landscapes directly contributes to the current wildfire crisis. But society has never been more vulnerable. More people are living in fire-prone areas and a changing climate is lengthening the fire season and creating more extreme weather conditions.

In the past, much of the “wildfire problem” was pegged on either wildland fire management agencies or the forest sector. This perspective has led to a decades-long discussion on how to maximize fire protection by integrating fire and forest management activities. This paradigm is simplistic and insufficient, because wildfires affect so many facets of our society and environment including health, the economy, biodiversity, ecosystem function and more. Wildland fire management must engage additional proponents, including Indigenous peoples, industry and communities, to help people learn to live with the realities of landscapes and ecological systems that include wildfires but, over time, work to reduce their more catastrophic effects.

What needs to be done? How can we protect the forests, citizens and communities of western Canada and beyond?

The challenge lies in creating a realistic plan we can readily implement while acknowledging existing interests and resources. Can we imagine an effective wildfire reduction strategy surviving both the political and market-based changes witnessed in North America during the past four years, along with the financial realities of burgeoning government debt? Yes, by integrating adaptability and defining milestones to serve as indicators for both progress and course correction, we have a chance for meaningful change.

Simply put, what’s the major recommendation coming from this white paper?

The answer is not another Royal Commission or task force. We know enough about the actions that should be taken, especially in recognizing the climate change emergency facing western North America.

Knowledge gaps and uncertainty surrounding wildfire mitigation are real but should not impede action. This includes, but is not limited to, the effects of forest thinning, prescribed burning, tree planting, rehabilitation and restoration work, as well as developing strategies to deal with the immense quantities of fuel that need to be removed from our forests in ecologically sustainable ways.

To solve this crisis, we need a new kind of strategic plan — one that spans multiple decades and is national and international in scope yet meaningfully involves local and provincial/state governments. It is critical that these efforts receive nonpartisan political support, are founded on principles of ecosystem function and resilience, and are inclusive and adaptable. A plan also needs to be responsive to the needs of business and government while creating a social licence to operate that includes input from the general public, Indigenous peoples, and a wide range of NGOs.

UBCO researchers used computer modelling to simulate the movement of black bears and identify what attracts them to populated areas.

Computer modelling shows reducing attractants most effective in keeping bears away

Conservationists have long warned of the dangers associated with bears becoming habituated to life in urban areas. Yet, it appears the message hasn’t gotten through to everyone.

News reports continue to cover seemingly similar situations — a foraging bear enters a neighbourhood, easily finds high-value food and refuses to leave. The story often ends with conservation officers being forced to euthanize the animal for public safety purposes.

Now, a new study by sustainability researchers in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science uses computer modelling to look at the best strategies to reduce human-bear conflict.

“It happens all the time, and unfortunately, humans are almost always at fault,” says study co-author Dr. Lael Parrott.

Looking to reduce the number of conflicts, Dr. Parrott and a team of researchers, including master's student Luke Crevier, built a computer model to simulate bears’ journeys within a specific urban area.

Their goal was to find the best way to keep bears out.

Using the resort municipality of Whistler as their area of inquiry, the team partnered with Margo Supplies, a wildlife management technology solutions company based in High River, Alberta. Using agent-based computer modelling, researchers were able to simulate the movement of black bears in and around Whistler, identifying the potential attractants luring them in.

“Our model allows us to drop in large amounts of data, including the landscape’s spatial characteristics, movement patterns collected from GPS tracking of real bears, and other important information to essentially create a virtual landscape,” says Crevier.

The problem, he adds, is that bears are attracted to what researchers call anthropogenic food — easily attainable food sources such as human garbage, berries or fruit.

“We were able to track the model bears as they moved through the landscape and interacted with different cells in the software that represented anthropogenic food, vegetation and human deterrents. The ability to input all of these proxies allowed us to better understand where they’re roaming, why, and test different strategies within the simulation to find the most effective way to keep them out.”

The study’s findings reinforced the team’s expectations that using attractant reduction and human deterrent strategies together was the most effective way to keep bears away. In cases where only one strategy could be applied, reducing attractants was the most effective.

“These results confirm that the most commonly used management strategies are indeed the most effective,” explains Crevier. “What was really interesting was how the model allowed us to identify attractants that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be considered — like human garbage or large amounts of berries on private land within city limits.”

A bear’s intelligence and memory are largely the reasons why reducing the availability of anthropogenic food is considered more effective than reactive management strategies that aim to deter bears, when used alone.

“Using deterrents like bear bangers may be effective temporarily in that the bear will get frightened and run away, but they won’t be gone for long,” explains Dr. Parrott. “They’ll remember being scared off, but their memories of the good meal will supersede their fear.”

Though Whistler was selected as the study location because of the large number of black bears venturing into town, Crevier says this same type of modelling can be used for communities across Canada experiencing similar issues.

“What’s cool about this model is it allows us to look at how different management strategies interact with each other, and this type of model can also be applied to better understand the movements of other large predators like cougars or wolves,” he adds.

Dr. Parrott stresses it is important to learn how to co-exist with wildlife in a way that’s safe for all — including the animals. While some people may not think twice about a neighbourhood bear being destroyed, the practice has far-reaching implications.

“We know that bears who tend to come into communities are often juvenile or female bears with cubs, because the large males already have all the ‘good spots’ and have established their territories,” she explains. “That’s cause for concern because it means the females are teaching their cubs techniques to access anthropogenic food. It also means these are the bears who are most often put down, so we’re selectively eliminating a particular part of their population.

The results of this study and similar agent-based models give conservationists another tool in the toolbox to help communities reduce the number of bears entering urban areas, ultimately reducing the number of bears destroyed, and putting the brakes on these problematic trends.”

This study, recently published in Ecological Modelling, was funded by an engage grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO’s Brendan Dyck is using his geology expertise about planet formation to help identify other planets that might support life. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

Findings will help better identify Earth-like planets that could sustain life

Astronomers have identified more than 4,000, and counting, confirmed exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than the sun — but only a fraction have the potential to sustain life.

Now, new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus is using the geology of early planet formation to help identify those that may be capable of supporting life.

“The discovery of any planet is pretty exciting, but almost everyone wants to know if there are smaller Earth-like planets with iron cores,” says Dr. Brendan Dyck, assistant professor of geology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and lead author on the study.

“We typically hope to find these planets in the so-called ‘goldilocks’ or habitable zone, where they are the right distance from their stars to support liquid water on their surfaces.”

Dr. Dyck says that while locating planets in the habitable zone is a great way to sort through the thousands of candidate planets, it’s not quite enough to say whether that planet is truly habitable.

“Just because a rocky planet can have liquid water doesn’t mean it does,” he explains. “Take a look right in our own solar system. Mars is also within the habitable zone and although it once supported liquid water, it has long since dried up.”

That, according to Dr. Dyck, is where geology and the formation of these rocky planets may play a key role in narrowing down the search. His research was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Our findings show that if we know the amount of iron present in a planet’s mantle, we can predict how thick its crust will be and, in turn, whether liquid water and an atmosphere may be present,” he says. “It’s a more precise way of identifying potential new Earth-like worlds than relying on their position in the habitable zone alone.”

Dr. Dyck explains that within any given planetary system, the smaller rocky planets all have one thing in common — they all have the same proportion of iron as the star they orbit. What differentiates them, he says, is how much of that iron is contained in the mantle versus the core.

“As the planet forms, those with a larger core will form thinner crusts, whereas those with smaller cores form thicker iron-rich crusts like Mars.”

The thickness of the planetary crust will then dictate whether the planet can support plate tectonics and how much water and atmosphere may be present, key ingredients for life as we know it.

“While a planet’s orbit may lie within the habitable zone, its early formation history might ultimately render it inhabitable,” says Dr. Dyck. “The good news is that with a foundation in geology, we can work out whether a planet will support surface water before planning future space missions.”

Later this year, in a joint project with NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will launch. Dr. Dyck describes this as the golden opportunity to put his findings to good use.

“One of the goals of the JWST is to investigate the chemical properties of extra-solar planetary systems,” says Dr. Dyck. “It will be able to measure the amount of iron present in these alien worlds and give us a good idea of what their surfaces may look like and may even offer a hint as to whether they’re home to life.”

“We’re on the brink of making huge strides in better understanding the countless planets around us and in discovering how unique the Earth may or may not be. It may still be some time before we know whether any of these strange new worlds contain new life or even new civilizations, but it’s an exciting time to be part of that exploration.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Projects will look at improving N95 masks, mental health and well-being

The BC Ministry of Health is investing in BC Interior research universities to understand the harmful effects of COVID-19 and mitigate its impact on communities across the province.

The province has funded five collaborative research projects through the Interior University Research Coalition (IURC), a partnership between Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, the University of British Columbia, Okanagan (UBCO) in Kelowna and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George.

The projects being funded range from identifying the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of people living in rural communities to developing telehealth programs that will engage older adults outside urban centres. Other projects include a focus on improving the lifespan of N95 masks, as well as building a better understanding of whether new technologies are improving the resiliency of rural health-care practitioners.

“This is a win-win-win situation for the province, for the universities, and for the communities we serve in terms of the impact this research will have on the health and quality of life for the people who live there,” says Will Garrett-Petts, associate vice-president, research and graduate studies at TRU.

He adds that the IURC has developed a model that can ensure responsible and innovative research.

“The work we’re doing is meaningful and is guided by the interests of the local and regional communities,” he says. “This is a wonderful model of collaboration, and one we are collectively celebrating.”

UBC Okanagan’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President for Research and Innovation Phil Barker agrees. He says his campus is especially excited to be working on an initiative that is highly collaborative and that spans campuses and institutions across the BC interior.

“We’re delighted that the BC Ministry of Health is investing in this initiative to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 throughout our province,” explains Barker. “Our researchers have been able to mobilize quickly through the tri-university partnership and each of the selected projects will leverage our respective strengths to serve communities across BC.”

The BC Ministry of Health has provided the IURC with $150,000 to launch this initiative. The IURC was established in 2017 to advance the research and innovation capacity and commercialization potential of the BC Interior and create new opportunities for economic and social innovation. The inaugural funding is focused largely on COVID-19 issues that affect the BC Interior but the results from these projects will help support regional and provincial health care decision-making and provide real-world opportunities for students to gain experience in the complex, ever-changing realm of health care.

“When researchers from different institutions collaborate across disciplines, the research outcomes benefit from different perspectives and synergies that result from cross-institutional collaboration,” says Kathy Lewis, acting vice-president of research at UNBC. “These projects are fantastic examples of what’s possible when researchers from across the BC Interior come together and seek solutions to pressing public health concerns.”

About the projects

  • Shannon Freeman, associate professor in UNBC’s School of Nursing, has partnered with Piper Jackson, assistant professor of computer science at TRU, to develop a COVID-19 risk assessment tool that identifies homecare clients who are at greatest risk of contracting the virus.
  • Jian Liu and Abbas Milani of UBCO’s School of Engineering will be working with Hossein Kazemian of UNBC to improve the lifespan of nanofibres and activated carbon mats in N95 masks.
  • Brodie Sakakibara, assistant professor in UBCO’s Southern Medical Program and investigator in the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, is working with researchers at UBCO, UNBC and Interior Health to create a student-delivered Community Outreach Telehealth Program that will engage older adults from outside urban centres and establish best practices for providing health support during a pandemic.
  • TRU’s Bala Nikku has teamed up with Khalad Hasan from UBCO and Rahul Jain from UNBC to better understand whether new technologies are improving the resiliency of rural health care practitioners.
  • Nelly Oelke, associate professor in UBCO’s School of Nursing and scientific director of the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, will be collaborating with UBCO’s Donna Kurtz, UNBC’s Davina Banner-Lukaris and TRU’s Bonnie Fournier to expand ongoing research that explores the mental health impacts of climate change events. The new study will identify the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of people living in rural communities to help foster resilience.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Understanding how gut mucus packages microbiota could lead to new ways of disease detection 

Gut mucus. It may not be everyone’s favourite subject, but new research from UBC Okanagan has found it’s more complex and intimately linked to the body’s microbiota than previously thought.

Microbiota is a physiological force made up of microbes—mostly bacteria, fungi and viruses. While it often does good, like extracting energy from diet, warding off pathogens and promoting a healthy immune system, if it’s off-balance, it can also work against the body to promote illnesses like cancer, inflammation and obesity.

Working with colleagues at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, UBCO researchers recently published a study in Science examining this new-found relationship, why it matters, and how it may lead to less-invasive disease screening.

Kirk Bergstrom is an assistant professor of biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and co-lead author of the study.

Let’s talk mucus. What are the misconceptions about it and how is it useful for our bodies?

I think people associate mucus with being sticky, gooey and kind of gross—but in the gut, it’s actually really important physiologically, and can protect from microbiota-driven diseases like cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about it, and that’s because it’s really complicated, decorated with thousands of sugar structures we call O-glycans that make up most of the molecule. It’s also hard to access so we could never get a lot of it to study.

Your study provides some new insight into how the mucus system works. Can you elaborate on this?

It was long-thought that mucus was continually produced along the entire length of the gut, especially in the colon, and that it stuck to the tissue to form a barrier to these microbes. It was thought to be immobile and have an overall similar chemical composition throughout.

Our study essentially showed the opposite. We found that the mucus does not attach to tissue, it attaches to the microbiota within the fecal mass, forming a seal around the community as it moves through the colon.  It’s also made up of two chemical sugar ‘flavours’—a dominant one is produced way up in the first part of the colon and the other, previously undiscovered kind, is formed in the lower colon.

What’s also really interesting is that the microbes themselves promote their own sealing by boosting production of the mucus in the first part of the colon. The sugars on this mucus then influence the types of microbes that thrive, the molecules they produce and where they position themselves in the gut.  All this, we believe, promotes their good functions, for example, by preventing unwanted inflammation.

How do your study results help advance knowledge in the field, and what impact could they have for the general public? 

Discovering this connection between mucus, its sugars, and microbes really changes how we view our microbial friends and how they live, move and behave in the gut. This has implications for microbial transmission—once they are packaged up, how does this influence where they ultimately go? How do pathogens escape this sealing and cause disease?

Another really exciting opportunity is that since the mucus system is attached to the fecal mass, this opens the door to easier non-invasive ways of accessing mucus, and that’s going to lead to a better understanding of its chemistry and biology. In line with this, we envision new opportunities for non-invasive biomarker discovery for chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer, since changes in the mucus sugars can be early warning signs for disease, we can potentially easily screen from these markers without the need for uncomfortable biopsies and endoscopies.

Where do you go from here? 

These were pre-clinical studies, meaning they were conducted using mouse models, which are essential biologic tools for health researchers. However, our next step is to take these results and replicate them in humans. Actually, our study already shows evidence that a similar mucus formation mechanism is present in humans, but we want to dig deeper to see if microbes influence this as we move forward.

We also want to begin using this new understanding and way of analyzing mucus in fecal samples to explore how things like diet, antibiotics, lifestyle or disease impact the structure and composition of the mucus.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

Bergstrom would like to thank his mentor Lijun Xia, and colleagues Xindi Shan, Wesley Zandberg, Deanna Gibson and Sepideh Pakpour for their contributions to this research.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Telhiqox, in the traditional territories of the Tŝilhqot'in people. Image courtesy Kevin Hanna.

Agreements to strengthen collaborative research partnerships with UBC’s Centre for Environmental Assessment Research

On August 11, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and an Indigenous Knowledge Protocol Agreement (IK Protocol) were signed by the Tŝilhqot’in Nation and the University of British Columbia. These agreements were led by Chief Russell Myers Ross, Vice Chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government (TNG) and Prof. Helen Burt, Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation at UBC.

The MOU and IK Protocol are a first between UBC and the Tŝilhqot’in Nation and set a path forward for collaboration, cooperation and partnership grounded in respect for the Indigenous Rights of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation.

“The relationship with Kevin Hanna and his team at UBC has worked well, from the original conversations about cumulative effects to working with the Tŝilhqot'in Nation lands department to conduct a variety of useful projects to fill the gaps of understanding the Tŝilhqot'in territory,” says Chief Myers Ross. “The MOU and IK Protocol collectively represent one of many projects from UBC, collaborating with the support of the Indigenous Research Support Initiative (IRSI), to further our research priorities. IRSI has ensured continuity and governance support in fostering the relationship between UBC and the Tŝilhqot'in Nation.”

A key feature of the MOU and IK Protocol is to ensure that research is undertaken with cultural safety, an approach that recognizes and addresses systemic power imbalances and fosters a culture free of racism and discrimination, thus creating a safe arena for Indigenous partners. In addition, the agreements recognize the intellectual property rights of the Tŝilhqot’in knowledge and solidify the Nation’s data ownership and control. Further, the MOU establishes a foundation for future research collaborations that incorporate Tŝilhqot’in knowledge, community needs and sustainable environmental practices and opportunities within Tŝilhqot’in Nen (lands).

UBC and TNG have multiple research collaborations underway, including a number of projects with the Centre for Environmental Assessment Research (CEAR), which is a research centre based at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus and led by Director, Dr. Kevin Hanna. Current CEAR-TNG research collaborations include Indigenous-led impact assessment, mapping and visualization of landscape change, new approaches and technologies for wildlife monitoring, and water governance.

“This MOU represents an important step forward in the relationship between UBC and the Tŝilhqot’in National Government,” says Dr. Hanna. “We have a unique opportunity to learn from the knowledge and experience of our Tŝilhqot’in colleagues, and to connect the resources and expertise of UBC to a range of historic and emerging environmental and natural resource management challenges in Tŝilhqot’in territory. There is a lot of innovative work we are already doing -- in impact assessment and geospatial science, and more is being planned. But this is very much about connecting different forms of knowledge, creating new collaborative approaches to doing research, and ensuring that the outcomes have value to Tŝilhqot’in communities.”

Background

  • The Tŝilhqot’in Nation is a Dene-speaking Nation comprised of six First Nation communities; Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Valley), Tl’etinqox (Anaham), Tl’esqox (Toosey), Yunesit’in (Stone), ʔEsdilagh (Alexandria) and Tsideldel (Redstone). The Tŝilhqot’in Nation is located in central British Columbia and is the first in Canada’s history to secure a court declaration of Aboriginal Title to a portion of their homelands.
  • The University of British Columbia is a global centre for research and teaching, consistently ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. Since 1915, UBC’s entrepreneurial spirit has embraced innovation and challenged the status quo. UBC encourages its students, staff and faculty to challenge convention, lead discovery and explore new ways of learning. At UBC, bold thinking is given a place to develop into ideas that can change the world.
  • Located on Musqueam territory at UBC’s Point Grey, Vancouver campus, the Indigenous Research Support Initiative (IRSI) at UBC provides professional research support and services to Indigenous communities and university researchers in order that they may undertake collaborative projects based on community-led interests, reciprocal relationships, and principles of mutual accountability and understanding.
  • Located in Syilx Okanagan Nation territory at UBC’s Okanagan campus, the Centre for Environmental Assessment Research (CEAR) at UBC supports research about environmental assessment (EA) processes and methods and helps integrate this information into practice. Research conducted and supported by CEAR contributes to resource development by furthering knowledge about the role that EA plays in helping to advance natural resource management practices that benefit Canadians.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Master of Science Biology student Portiaa McGonigal gives her winning 3MT presentation in front of a capacity crowd.

Graduate students compete for their share of $6,000

A compelling presentation of a topic all too familiar among Okanagan wine producers clinched the winning spot at last night’s seventh annual UBC Okanagan Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Portiaa McGonigal, a master of science biology student, captivated judges and audience members alike with her presentation, “Crown Gall Disease of Grapevine: Investigating Management Strategies and Biological Controls.” She took home first place and the top prize of $3,000.

“It feels so great to have won this amazing competition alongside so many brilliant minds,” says McGonical, a graduate student in the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences. “I was nervous, but the desire to communicate my research was greater than the nerves. It was so incredible to have the chance to share my research with people outside my field and broader community.”

Kelowna’s Innovation Centre was filled to capacity for the event, which saw 11 graduate students explain years of research in just three minutes to a diverse audience.

Interdisciplinary Studies student Meg Yamamoto was awarded second place and $2,000 for her presentation, “Documenting Experiential and Artistic Interpretations for a Local Flora and Fauna Online Archive.”

Abisola Kehinde, a master’s student in biochemistry and molecular biology, was the crowd favourite taking home $1,000 for the alumni UBC People’s Choice Award for her presentation titled, “Developing an Infant Formula from Breadfruit.”

“Getting the alumni UBC People’s Choice Award means so much to me. It’s so encouraging that I was able to communicate my research and people enjoyed it,” says Kehinde. “3MT is simply amazing. It taught me how to slow down and communicate my research effectively.”

As the winner of the 3MT final, McGonigal will travel to this year’s Western Regional 3MT Competition hosted by the University of Alberta on April 21.

From there, the top three presenters will win an opportunity to compete in the national competition, hosted by the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBC Okanagan researcher argues against relying only on charismatic species the like grizzly bear for gauging habitat health.

Menagerie of several species to monitor habitat health offers better conservation outcomes

With habitat loss threatening the extinction of an ever-growing number of species around the world, many wildlife advocates and conservation professionals rely on the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’—monitoring and protecting a single representative species—to maintain healthy wildlife biodiversity.

But new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus suggests that habitats are better served if conservation efforts focus on a collection of species rather than a single ‘canary.’

“Efforts around the world are going into countering a decline in biodiversity,” says Adam Ford, study author and Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology at UBC Okanagan. “While we would love to be able to protect all habitats for all species, organizations tend to focus their efforts on a few species and not everyone shares the same priorities.”

That, he says, is where the idea of surrogate species—or the canary in the coal mine—comes into play. But it’s not without its drawbacks.

“The problem with surrogate species is that people rarely agree on which species that should be,” says Ford. “And there is a tendency to favour charismatic species like grizzly bears and wolves, over lesser-known but equally-important species. These preferences are deeply rooted in cultural norms.”

To address that imbalance in selecting surrogate species, Ford and his team began looking at how to group species together to present a more objective and representative sample of the habitats that need protecting.

By combing through a public dataset of over 1,000 species and 64 habitats in British Columbia, they were able to compare the surrogacy value of each species—a numerical score based on the association of two species through their use of shared habitats.

They found that a mixture of five to 10 game and non-game species offered the best value as surrogates for biodiversity conservation.

“We discovered what we called an ‘all-star’ team of species for each of the province’s nine wildlife management units, as well as an all-star team for the province as a whole,” says Sarah Falconer, graduate student at Laurentian University and study co-author. “Our findings suggest that if we commit to preserving these collections of species rather than just the charismatic megafauna, we’re likely to achieve much better conservation outcomes.”

Ford is quick to point out that the mixture of game and non-game species in their all-star teams mean that seemingly disparate groups, ranging from hunters to bird-watchers to hikers, have a vested interest in working together to protect each of their species for the benefit of all.

“Perhaps we should not be focusing on figuring out which species is the best conservation surrogate, but which groups of species bring the most people together to protect the most biodiversity,” he says.

The study was published recently in the Canadian Journal of Zoology with funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canada Research Chairs program.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Everything that grows in the Okanagan will be impacted by climate change, population growth, consumption, production and changes in land use. Learn more at the Okanagan Research Forum on December 3.

What: Okanagan Research Forum
Who: UBC Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience, and Ecosystem Services and UBC Okanagan Institute for Community Engaged Research
When: Monday, December 3 from 8:45 a.m. to 6 p.m.; keynote lecture at noon
Where: Summerhill Pyramid Winery ballroom, 4870 Chute Lake Road, Kelowna

The Okanagan Research Forum invites the community to listen to experts and take part in an open discussion about the future of food production in the Okanagan.

The forum is hosted by UBC Okanagan’s Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience, and Ecosystem Services (BRAES) and the Institute for Community Engaged Research (ICER). It’s a collaboration with partner organizations in an effort to share information and encourage conversation between the community, government and academia.

Presenters from local organizations include Westbank First Nation, the Certified Organic Association, the City of Kelowna, the Central Okanagan Food Policy Council, the B.C. Wildlife Federation, the En’owkin Centre and the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems.

This year’s theme is to explore changes in local food systems and will consider issues such as climate change, access to land, consumption, sustainable food production and future land use.

Four expert panels will discuss agricultural land use, policy, production and consumption. Each panel will be moderated by a UBC Okanagan professor or alumnus, and include farmers, representatives from relevant organizations and other experts. The goal is to explore how 'eating the Okanagan' applies to social, cultural and ecological systems. The day will conclude with a research poster session accompanied by a wine and cheese event.

The afternoon keynote lecture on indigenous plant foods will be presented by Nancy Turner, emeritus professor and ethnobotanist from the University of Victoria. All four panel discussions and the keynote lecture are open to the public. There is a nominal registration fee for the day to cover the cost of food and beverages.

This year’s forum is sponsored by UBC Okanagan’s BRAES, ICER, the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, the College of Graduate Studies and the BC Institute of Agrologists.

To register, or get more information, visit okresearchforum.geolive.ca or contact Carolina Restrepo at carolina.restrepo@ubc.ca.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world. For more visit ok.ubc.ca.

Public is invited to discussion about extinction and our peril

What: The great dying: The modern extinction of species and humanity’s peril
Who: Professor Corey Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Fellow in Global Ecology Flinders University, Australia
When: Tuesday, November 20, from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
Where: Library building, room LIB 305, 3333 University Way, UBC Okanagan

Conservation ecologist Corey Bradshaw, professor at Flinders University, comes from an eclectic background. Growing up as the son of a trapper in Canada, he had the opportunity to form a unique view of the environment. From his childhood experiences, he learned that without intact environmental functions, precious resources quickly degrade or disappear. This appreciation of natural processes later led him into academia and the pursuit of reducing the rate of the extinction crisis.

He is now based at Flinders University in Australia and has a vibrant research lab where he applies quantitative skills to everything from conservation ecology, climate change, energy provision, human population trends, ecosystem services, sustainable agriculture, human health, palaeoecology, carbon-based conservation initiatives and restoration techniques.

This event, sponsored by the UBC Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience and Ecosystem Services, is free and open to the public.

For more information contact: carolina.restrepo@ubc.ca

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world. For more visit ok.ubc.ca.