Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

UBCO’s new bachelor of sustainability degree will equip students with the breadth and compassion to find solutions to sustainability issues such as climate change, land and water use, energy transition, and social and economic inequality.

UBC Okanagan will soon be home to Canada’s first undergraduate degree dedicated exclusively to sustainability.

The Bachelor of Sustainability (BSust) is a four-year direct-entry program dedicated to inspiring students to address complex environmental challenges by integrating knowledge from different academic subjects, with hands-on and community-based learning.

The program combines a broad, interdisciplinary approach, with focused concentrations that develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes of students who want to become good citizens of the Earth.

“This is the type of learning opportunity that prepares students to become the innovators and leaders needed to meet the environmental challenges that we face now, and in the future,” says the program’s inaugural director and associate professor of earth sciences Dr. Kevin Hanna.

“Heat waves, record-breaking wildfire seasons, drought—these are major threats to life as we know it, and though a lot of people define sustainability in ways that seem clear, obvious and needed, it can be tough to put sustainability into action. The BSust is about building the skills to go from hopeful to operational.”

Students will choose from one of four concentrations: environmental analytics, environmental conservation and management, environmental humanities or green chemistry.

Program graduates will be well-positioned to seek employment in numerous sectors including natural resources management, environmental impact assessment, project management and education, or to continue their studies in a graduate-level program.

Dr. Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC Okanagan, is proud UBCO is leading the way in sustainability education.

“UBC has a long track record of innovative practices and programs, and I’m thrilled that we’re adding to this record by establishing the BSust program,” says Dr. Cormack.

“The creation of this program is a bold step towards realizing UBC’s vision of inspiring people, ideas and actions for a better world and fulfilling its commitment to advance sustainability across teaching, learning and research.”

The program also aligns with UBC’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

All students are required to take an Indigenous Studies course that introduces concepts of Indigenous knowledge, which will contribute to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

The new credential will strengthen UBC Okanagan’s leadership in sustainability and promote a greener future for British Columbia and the planet.

“Sustainability education enlarges our understanding of the world we inhabit and seeks solutions to put us on a path towards a cleaner, brighter future,” says Anne Kang, BC’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training.

“Training students with the necessary tools to actively contribute towards initiatives like our CleanBC plan creates opportunities to reduce pollution and protect our climate for future generations.”

The new program will accept its first intake of students in September 2022.

For more information about the BSust, visit: sustainability.ok.ubc.ca

UBCO researchers have worked to Indigenize a set of wildlife conservation principles and policies that have guided wildlife management decisions in Canada and the United States for decades.

Most conservation experts would agree that the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAM) is a leading global framework to manage wildlife, but new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus is highlighting one of its major shortcomings — a lack of Indigenous histories, perspectives and knowledge systems.

“The NAM has done and continues to do a lot of good for wildlife and people,” says Mateen Hessami, a master’s biology student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

Hessami, a member of the Wyandotte Nation, works alongside Dr. Adam Ford, Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology.

“There’s a lot of research that critiques the model but doesn’t necessarily advance solutions to fix its flaws,” says Hessami. “Our research team, which includes an equal representation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors, saw an opportunity to contribute to the creation of a more effective and equitable framework to manage wildlife in our changing world.”

The NAM is a set of wildlife conservation principles and policies that have long-guided wildlife management decisions in the United States and Canada. It emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries but was formally transcribed in 2001. It focuses on four conservation values: safeguarding wildlife for future generations, prioritizing the best available knowledge or evidence to conserve wildlife populations, international collaboration, and democracy of hunting and wildlife conservation.

“In our research, we identified a lot of common ground among the values that support both the NAM and many Indigenous-led or shared models of wildlife conservation in Canada. Those shared values are what guided us through the process of creating the revised model,” Hessami explains.

In addition to modernizing these core, shared values, the team worked to remove colonial language and wove in Indigenous worldviews and knowledge systems regarding wildlife conservation in Canada. They label this new document: The Indigenizing North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (I-NAM).

“The I-NAM is a starting point, it emphasizes a process of continuous learning, listening and respecting views of Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. We need to better recognize how much common ground we actually share — the health of wildlife populations depends on it,” explains Dr. Ford. “Successful wildlife conservation relies on bringing together diverse communities, perspectives and knowledge systems.”

Though the model is intended for use by any jurisdiction looking to modernize its wildlife conservation strategy, Hessami points out that the I-NAM isn’t meant to replace Indigenous-led conservation.

“Indigenous-led conservation is an effective conservation strategy but is not the dominant approach in many parts of Canada or North America,” he says. “We are hopeful conservation experts will see the I-NAM as a way to improve wildlife management in areas where Indigenous-led conservation is less influential.”

“As Canadians, our connections to nature and wildlife are important, they’re emblematic of who we are,” says Hessami. “There are still a lot of Canadians who depend on wildlife for their livelihoods and food security. It’s our duty to preserve these resources in an equitable manner for generations to come.”

The paper was published this week in FACETS.

Canadian poet and spoken word artist Shane Koyczan will address the UBCO graduating class of 2021.

Virtual ceremony recognizes more than 1,800 graduating students

UBC Okanagan is marking its second virtual convocation next week.

More than 1,850 graduates — including 1,600 undergraduates as well as more than 100 masters’ and doctoral students — will tune in to celebrate the success of their educational journey.

“This has been a remarkable year for our students and our faculty,” says Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC’s Okanagan campus. “While the ceremony will be virtual, the remarkable achievements of our students are very real and worthy of recognition. I invite everyone to join me in celebrating the Class of 2021.”

There are also some new faces in the procession of dignitaries that will congratulate the graduates this year. UBC’s 19th Chancellor, the Honourable Steven Point (xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl), will preside over the ceremony, his first since taking on the role of chancellor last year. And this will be Cormack’s first convocation since joining the university in July 2020.

“Coming to UBC Okanagan during a time when our students are learning remotely has indeed been interesting,” Cormack adds. “Through it all, our students have shown remarkable fortitude while learning and conducting research online. I commend them all for their accomplishments.”

Once the ceremony has begun, UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono will address the Class of 2021 live, dressed in full academic regalia and graduates will have an opportunity to take a virtual selfie with President Ono. Along with a congratulatory message from Cormack, graduates will also hear inspiring words from student speakers Ali Poostizadeh, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and Blessing Adeagbo, who has earned a Bachelor of Human Kinetics.

Another highlight of the 50-minute ceremony will be a keynote address from Shane Koyczan. The Canadian poet and spoken word artist will honour the perseverance and resilience of the 2021 graduating class. His message, written from the heart, will inspire all viewers, Cormack adds.

UBC Okanagan’s graduating class will celebrate their accomplishments virtually on June 2, starting at 2:30 p.m. Students and their family members can watch the ceremony on YouTube, Facebook or Panopto, a platform that is accessible from many countries.

To find out more about the virtual convocation ceremony, visit: virtualgraduation.ok.ubc.ca

This year’s medal recipients

Governor General's Gold Medal: Sandra Fox

Lieutenant Governor's Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation: Aidan O'Callahan

UBC Medal in Fine Arts: Jade Zitko

UBC Medal in Arts: Michelle Tucsok

UBC Medal in Science: Jakob Thoms

UBC Medal in Education: Patricia Perkins

UBC Medal in Nursing: Alex Halonen

UBC Medal in Management: Breanne Ruskowsky

UBC Medal in Human Kinetics: Marika Harris

UBC Medal in Engineering: Rohan Ikebuchi

UBC Medal in Media Studies Sydney Bezenar

UBC hosts virtual wine tasting on National Rosé Day.

Celebrate National Rosé Day with local wineries at a free wine tasting event

What: Rosés of the Okanagan, virtual wine tasting event
Who: Winemakers, winery owners, UBC alumni and wine experts
When: Saturday, June 12 starting at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Zoom webinar

UBC’s alumni association is raising a glass to toast the university’s many alumni in the winemaking industry in celebration of National Rosé Day.

Rosés of the Okanagan, a virtual wine tasting event, will feature a curated wine pack and wine-tasting tips from expert speakers. Participants can purchase the specially-selected bottles of rosé — products from four alumni-affiliated wineries in the Okanagan. The event takes place Saturday, June 12, starting at 4:30 p.m.

The virtual event is hosted by Bachelor of Arts graduate DJ Kearney, a Vancouver-based wine educator who is also a wine writer, critic, judge, presenter and classically trained cook. Kearney will lead participants in a Zoom presentation where they will sample the wines as they follow along with the program.

“The rosé is the fastest growing wine segment in the wine industry, and in Europe, rosé has become the most successful summer wine,” says Jacques-Olivier Pesme, director of the UBC Wine Research Centre. “There are various types of rosé and British Columbia offers a large palette of tastes, which will be detailed at this virtual event.”

UBC alumni Sarah and Murray Bancroft with Birch Block Vineyard, Graham Nordin from CedarCreek Estate Winery, David Scholefield from Haywire Winery, and Tony Holler from Poplar Grove Winery will explain their rosés while the virtual audience can taste along at home.

Along with the winemakers, special guests and UBC Professor Dr. Wes Zandberg and analytical scientist Sarah Lyons will explain their research on smoke taint from wildfires and how it can impact winemaking.

Participants can purchase a wine pack in advance of the tasting. For each wine pack purchased a $10 donation will be made to the UBC Blue & Gold Campaign for Students.

This free event is offered in partnership with the UBC Wine Research Centre and UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management. To register and purchase the wine pack, or to find out more visit: alumni.ubc.ca/event/roses-of-the-okanagan

The latest research by Drs. Gibson, Ghosh and Zandberg into dietary fat suggest current health guidelines should be reevaluated.

Findings show types of fats matter when it comes to gut well-being

A team of UBC Okanagan researchers has determined that the type of fats a mother consumes while breastfeeding can have long-term implications on her infant’s gut health.

Dr. Deanna Gibson, a biochemistry researcher, along with Dr. Sanjoy Ghosh, who studies the biochemical aspects of dietary fats, teamed up with chemistry and molecular biology researcher Dr. Wesley Zandberg. The team, who conducts research in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, explored the role of feeding dietary fat to gestating rodents to determine the generational effects of fat exposure on their offspring.

“The goal was to investigate how maternal dietary habits can impact an offspring’s gut microbial communities and their associated sugar molecule patterns which can be important in immune responses to infectious disease,” says Dr. Gibson, who studies gut health and immunity as well as causes of acute or chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease.

Their study suggests that the type of fat consumed during breastfeeding could differentially impact an infant's intestinal microbial communities, immune development and disease risk.

The three main classes of fatty acids include saturated (SFA), found in meats and dairy products, monounsaturated fats (MUFA), found in plant-based liquid oils, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), found in some nuts, fish and shellfish. PUFAs are further characterized as either n-3 PUFAs or n-6 PUFAs, based on the number and positions of double bonds in the acyl chain.

Previous research has determined both n-3 PUFAs and n-6 PUFAs can have a negative impact on intestinal infections such as Enteropathogenic E. coli, Clostridium difficile, salmonella and gastrointestinal illnesses from eating poorly prepared or undercooked food or drinking contaminated water. In contrast, diets rich in MUFAs and SFAs have been shown to be largely protective against these infections.

Dr. Gibson’s latest research states the beneficial properties of milk fat, or saturated fats, during the pre-and postnatal period might improve protection against infectious intestinal disease during adulthood particularly when a source of n-3 PUFAs are combined with saturated fats.

“Our findings challenge current dietary recommendations and reveal that maternal intake of fat has transgenerational impacts on their offspring’s susceptibility to intestinal infection, likely enabled through microbe-immune interactions,” says Dr. Gibson.

Global consumption of unsaturated fatty acids has increased significantly between 1990 and 2010, she adds, while people are consuming lower amounts of saturated fats during pregnancy because of recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake.

“Although it has been known for decades that high-fat diets can directly alter inflammatory responses, recent studies have only just begun to appreciate how fatty acid classes may have discrete effects on inflammation, and can shift host responses to an infection,” says Dr. Gibson.

Dietary fatty acids can impact inflammatory processes including defensive inflammatory responses following an intestinal infection. This can affect the severity of disease, making dietary fatty acids an important consideration in predicting disease risk, Dr. Gibson explains.

Researchers believe it’s a combination of dietary fat-host interactions with the intestinal bacteriome that can determine the severity of these infections. The intestinal bacteriome, Dr. Gibson explains, is established during infancy and plays a critical role in aiding immune system maturation and providing a barrier against colonization with potential pathogens.

And Dr. Ghosh notes this latest research suggests current health guidelines should be reevaluated.

“Currently, Canadian dietary guidelines recommend nursing mothers replace foods rich in SFA with dietary PUFAs, with an emphasis on consuming n-6 and n-3 PUFAs,” Dr. Ghosh says. “Given that PUFAs worsened disease outcomes in postnatal diet studies, in our views, these recommendations should be reconsidered.”

While breast milk protein and carbohydrate concentrations remain relatively inert, fatty acid contents vary considerably and are influenced by maternal fat intake.

“Overall, we conclude that maternal consumption of various dietary fat types alters the establishment of their child’s bacteriome and can have lasting consequences on their ability to respond to infection during adulthood,” says Dr. Gibson. “At the same time, we show that maternal diets rich in SFA, provide a host-microbe relationship in their offspring that protects against disease.”

It’s important to understand that the intestinal bacteriome is established during infancy because it plays a critical role in aiding immune system maturation which can provide a barrier to potential pathogens, explains Dr. Zandberg. He also notes a healthy bacteriome is dependent on early-life nutrition.

“Sugars decorate important proteins in the gut,” says Dr. Zandberg. “Their patterns are altered in the offspring due to the dietary choices of the mother during gestation and lactation. The change in patterns is associated with changes in the ability of the infant to fight off infectious disease in our model.”

The research, published recently in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and awarded to Drs. Gibson and Ghosh as well as other organizations including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada, and a scholarship to the study’s first author Candice Quin from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

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

CBC journalist and author Nora Young.

Virtual event explores complex role of data in everyday life

What: From Big Data to Your Data: How Data-Driven Technologies are Shaping the Future, as part of UBCO’s Distinguished Speaker Series
Who: Canadian journalist and author Nora Young
When: Tuesday, April 13 beginning at 7 p.m.
Where: Zoom webinar

In an increasingly data-driven world, data literacy plays an important role in ensuring people understand how their interactions with technology may lead to the gathering, sharing or selling of their personal information.

Though many are aware of these possibilities when choosing to visit a website or enable location services on a device—how often do they consider the effect data may be having on their interpersonal relationships, behaviours and opinions?

On Tuesday, April 13, UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science hosts CBC journalist, author and speaker Nora Young as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series. She will explore how recent advancements in technology and the explosion of data can affect relationships, behaviours and opinions.

Young is a highly-respected Canadian journalist, best known as the creator and host of Spark, CBC’s national radio show exploring technology and culture, author of The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us, and as the founding host of CBC Radio’s pop culture magazine, Definitely not the Opera.

In her talk, Young will cover everything from artificial intelligence and robotics, to smart cities and the internet of things.

She will take a deep dive into the top data-driven trends influencing our world, and discuss the challenges and opportunities that accompany them. She’ll also cover the impacts these shifts are having on the economy and society, and describe how they’re affecting our health, relationships and the types of jobs the next generation will be moving into.

The Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science’s Distinguished Speaker Series brings compelling speakers to the homes of Okanagan residents to share their unique perspectives on issues that affect our region, our country and our world.

This virtual event is free and open to all, but online pre-registration is required.

To register, visit: speakers.ok.ubc.ca

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

Event winner Robyn Thomas and runner-up Elizabeth Houghton with Dr. Peter Simpson, dean of the College of Graduate Studies, Katrina Plamondon, featured speaker and assistant professor, and Dr. Lesley Cormack, UBC Okanagan Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

Finalists raced against the clock to present their work in a winning way

A compelling presentation of a topic all too familiar to some secured the top spot at yesterday’s eighth annual UBC Okanagan Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

For her winning presentation, Robyn Thomas spoke about the challenges family caregivers of children with medical complexity face. Thomas, a Master of Arts student in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies, captivated judges with her thesis, "Developing the role of the volunteer in supporting family caregivers of children living with medical complexity: A Delphi Study."

She took home first place and the top prize of $3,000. It wasn’t just the judges who were inspired by Thomas’ presentation, though. Thomas also won over audience member’s hearts, taking home the alumniUBC People’s Choice award.

“I’m honoured to have won this competition alongside so many brilliant graduate student researchers,” says Thomas, a master's student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Science. “It’s exciting to know that community members are interested in my research and I look forward to future opportunities to share my results and findings and make an impact.”

UBC Okanagan’s popular 3MT competition returned this year in an all-new live virtual format, which saw eight graduate students explain years of research in just three minutes to a general audience.

Dr. Katrina Plamondon began the event with her inspiring talk "Walking a Path Toward Equitable Futures," which discussed using research to move all of society toward collective futures that are more beautiful, more connected and more equitable.

Biology Master of Science student Elizabeth Houghton was awarded second place and $2,000 for her presentation, "Influence of postharvest deficit irrigation on sweet cherry cold hardiness in the Okanagan Valley."

“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to share my research with others through this competition,” says Houghton. “Condensing my research into three minutes has taught me important skills that will help me throughout my graduate degree.”

As the winner of the 3MT final, Thomas will represent UBC Okanagan in the virtual Western Regional Three Minute Thesis competition on May 13, 2021.

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

2021 UBC Okanagan 3MT winners

Robyn Thomas, winner of the 2021 UBC Okanagan Three Minute Thesis Final.

Robyn Thomas, winner of the 2021 UBC Okanagan Three Minute Thesis Final.

Robyn Thomas

Presentation title: Developing the role of the volunteer in supporting family caregivers of children living with medical complexity: A Delphi Study.

Robyn Thomas is a Master of Arts student in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies, under the community engagement, social change and equity theme. She is also a research assistant with the Health, Ethics and Diversity Lab at UBCO. She intends to explore the barriers and facilitators that family caregivers of children with medical complexity face when engaging with external support systems. Thomas’s research aims to develop a volunteer navigation program focused on improving the quality of life of caregivers and their children.

 

Elizabeth Houghton, runner-up of the 2021 UBC Okanagan Three Minute Thesis Final.

Elizabeth Houghton, runner-up of the 2021 UBC Okanagan Three Minute Thesis Final.

Elizabeth Houghton

Presentation title: Influence of postharvest deficit irrigation on sweet cherry cold hardiness in the Okanagan Valley

Elizabeth Houghton is a Master of Science candidate in the Biology Department. Working with local commercial cherry growers, she is researching the impact of postharvest deficit irrigation on sweet cherry growth, phenology, and cold hardiness. Through her research, Houghton aims to help enhance the local cherry industry’s resilience to climate change and at the same time contribute to improving water management in the Okanagan Valley.

 

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

Acting as natural reservoirs, forests in watersheds release and purify water by slowing erosion and delaying its release into streams.

Human and natural changes to forests impacting natural filtration system

As World Water Day is observed around the globe, new research from UBC Okanagan suggests a systematic approach to forest and water supply research may yield an improved assessment and understanding of connections between the two.

Healthy forests play a vital role in providing a clean, stable water supply, says eco-hydrologist Dr. Adam Wei.

Acting as natural reservoirs, forests in watersheds release and purify water by slowing erosion and delaying its release into streams. But forests are changing—in part because of human activity—and that’s having an impact on forests’ interaction with hydrological processes.

Dr. Wei, Forest Renewal BC’s chair of watershed research and management, is a professor of earth, environmental and geographic sciences in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, and study co-author.

He says activities like logging, deforestation, creating new forests on previously bare land, agriculture and urbanization are changing the landscape of forests worldwide.

Dr. Adam Wei, professor of earth, environmental and geographic sciences, visits the Williston Reservoir near Fort St. John, BC.

Dr. Adam Wei, professor of earth, environmental and geographic sciences, visits the Williston Reservoir near Fort St. John, BC.

“The notion that humans have left enormous, often negative, footprints on the natural world isn’t new,” he says. “It’s why the term Anthropocene was created, to describe these phenomena. But now we need to acknowledge where we’re at and figure out a way to fix what’s broken.”

While humans bear much of the blame, they aren’t the only culprits.

Natural disturbances like insect infestations and wildfires are also contributing to the swift transformation of forests, leading Dr. Wei to examine current forest-water research and management practices. His goal is to identify the gaps and propose a new approach that reflects numerous variables and their interactions that may be at play at any given watershed.

He points to an example in the study to illustrate the need for a new perspective.

“We were looking at the impacts of deforestation on annual streamflow—and though we were able to draw the conclusion that deforestation increased it, the variations between studies were large, with increases between less than one per cent to nearly 600 per cent,” he explains.

Dr. Wei saw similar variations when he researched the ‘why.’

“We concluded this was due to when water in the soil and on plants evaporates due to a loss of forest cover,” explains Wei. “But the amount lost ranged from less than two per cent to 100 per cent—that’s a huge difference that can be attributed to scale, type and severity of forest disturbance, as well as climate and location of watershed properties. There are so many variables that need to be taken into account, and not doing so can result in contradictory research conclusions.”

To limit disparities, Dr. Wei says future research and watershed management approaches need to be systematic, include key contributing factors and a broad spectrum of response variables related to hydrological services.

He also suggests new tools like machine learning and climatic eco-hydrological modelling should be utilized.

“Implementing a systematic approach to all forest-water research will reduce the likelihood of procuring misleading assessment, which in turn will give us a better chance to solve some of the problems we’ve created,” says Dr. Wei.

This study, published in Science, was conducted by Dr. Wei, and his then-graduate student Dr. Mingfang Zhang, with support from the China National Science Foundation.

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

A team of researchers has determined the declining caribou population is part of a natural chain reaction from forest harvesting which can attract predators and competition for food.

Researchers examine landscape, food supply, predator-prey relationships

A new study comparing decades of environmental monitoring records has confirmed that Canada’s caribou are not faring as well as other animals like moose and wolves in the same areas—and also teased out why.

The study used 16 years of data to examine changes in vegetation, moose, wolves and caribou.

“Caribou are declining across Canada and have been recently lost in the Lower 48 States,” says Melanie Dickie, a doctoral student with UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

“Understanding why caribou are declining is the first step to effectively managing the species—it tells us which parts of the issue we can target with management actions and how that might help caribou.”

Dickie, along with fellow UBCO researchers Dr. Clayton Lamb and Dr. Adam Ford, describe the decline in caribou populations as an ecological puzzle. Typically, there are multiple factors, all changing at once, making it hard to identify how the pieces fit together. Factors such as predation from wolves and other large carnivores, increasing moose and deer populations, and habitat alteration through resource extraction and wildfires all play a part. The study aimed to sort out the roles each of these play in caribou population declines.

Once land is cleared by either wildfire or harvesting, the mature forest transforms into more productive early seral forage. With the tree canopy removed, there is a significant increase in sunlight, allowing understory plants to thrive. These plants provide food that benefits moose, deer and their predators. These predators then have a spillover effect on the rarer caribou, creating apparent competition between moose and caribou.

“Changes in primary productivity have the potential to substantially alter food webs, with positive outcomes for some species and negative outcomes for others,” Dickie explains. “Understanding the environmental context and species interactions that give rise to these different outcomes is a major challenge to both theoretical and applied ecology.”

To establish the link between habitat alteration and primary productivity, the researchers first examined satellite imagery to show a link between logging and new vegetation growth. They then used data on moose, caribou and wolf numbers to compare the leading hypotheses on how changes in vegetation influence these populations. The analysis was conducted across a 598,000-square kilometre area located in the boreal shield and boreal plains of western Canada.

Ultimately, the researchers determined that lower caribou populations were a victim of an ecological chain reaction. Caribou have a lower population growth rate relative to moose, making them more susceptible to landscape changes.

“We found that increased deciduous vegetation on the landscape, which moose like to eat, increased moose populations, which increased wolves, and in turn, means declining caribou,” Dickie says. “We also found that human land use, like forestry, significantly increased vegetation productivity, suggesting that these kinds of land uses are leading to caribou declines via changes to predators and prey.”

Caribou conservation will be a defining point for Canada in the 21st century, adds Dr. Lamb, a Liber Ero Fellow at UBCO. Caribou highlight an unresolved tension between land stewardship, wildlife conservation and resource extraction. Further, as caribou populations continue to decline, Indigenous Peoples are forced to grapple with mounting threats to food security, cultural traditions, and infringed treaty rights.

“We can't attribute caribou declines to just one factor or another,” he says. “But understanding the relative importance of these factors, and how they interact, can help us understand how we can manage caribou populations in the face of continued climate change and land use.”

The study, published recently in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, was partially funded by the Government of the Northwest Territories, Government of Alberta, the Resource Industry Caribou Collaboration, British Columbia Oil and the Gas Research and Innovation Society, and the Liber Ero Fellowship.

Caribou have a lower population growth rates relative to moose, and are not as resilient, making them more susceptible to landscape changes.

Caribou have a lower population growth rate relative to moose, and are not as resilient, making them more susceptible to landscape changes.

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 researchers are concerned about how the actions of some scientists, advocacy groups and the public are eroding efforts to conserve biodiversity, including grizzly bears, wild bees and salmon.

UBCO researchers part of global team working to curb misplaced conservation

A group of researchers, spanning six universities and three continents, are sounding the alarm on a topic not often discussed in the context of conservation—misinformation.

In a recent study published in FACETS, the team, including Dr. Adam Ford, Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology, and Dr. Clayton Lamb, Liber Ero Fellow, both based in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, explain how the actions of some scientists, advocacy groups and the public are eroding efforts to conserve biodiversity.

“Outcomes, not intentions, should be the basis for how we view success in conservation,” says Dr. Ford.

“Misinformation related to vaccines, climate change, and links between smoking and cancer has made it harder for science to create better policies for people,” he says. “Weaponizing information to attack other groups impedes our ability to solve problems that affect almost everyone. We wanted to know if these issues were also a problem for people working to conserve biodiversity.

“Conservation is not perfect and things can go wrong. Sometimes people mean well, and harm ensues by accident. Sometimes people’s actions are much more sinister.”

The study points to multiple examples of good intentions ending badly from across the globe, including the case of the Huemul deer in Patagonia National Park, Chile.

“We reviewed one case where the primary objective of a newly-established park was to protect the endangered Huemul deer. The goal was to make the landscape a little better for these deer in hopes of increasing the population,” explains Dr. Lamb. “In doing so, they removed the domestic livestock from the park, and as a result, the natural predators in the system lost their usual food source and ate many of the deer, causing the population to decline further. It’s a textbook case of misplaced conservation.”

Dr. Lamb points to other cases including mass petitions against shark finning in Florida, although the practice was previously banned there; planting a species of milkweed in an attempt to save monarch butterflies, only to ultimately harm them; and closer to home, the sharing of misinformation in regards to the British Columbia grizzly bear hunt.

“When we see province-wide policies like banning grizzly hunting, those go against the wishes of some local communities in some parts of the province—and choosing to steamroll their perspectives is damaging relationships and alienating the partners we need on board to protect biodiversity,” says Dr. Ford.

He suggests using a ‘big tent’ approach may help combat some of the problems.

“We need to work together on the 90 per cent of goals that we share in common, as opposed to focusing on the 10 per cent of issues where we disagree. There are many clear wins for people and wildlife waiting to be actioned right now, we need to work together to make those happen,” says Dr. Ford.

Dr. Lamb says doing so is likely to improve cooperation among parties and increase the use of evidence-based approaches in conservation; ultimately suppressing the spread of misinformation and occurrences of polarization.

“Although we’re seeing some misplaced efforts, we’re also seeing genuine care and good community energy in many of these cases—we just need to find a way to harness this energy in the right direction.”

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