Patty Wellborn

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


 

The Okanagan-based CHIME radio telescope detected a fast radio burst from within the Milky Way in April 2020.

UBCO researcher describes significance of findings

In the decade since they were first discovered, astronomers have categorized fast radio bursts (FRBs) as mysterious phenomena. But a recent astronomical event has provided further insight into the origin of these signals.

In a paper published recently in Nature, researchers confirm the evidence that supports their theory of what caused the April 28, 2020 event—a magnetar.

Magnetars, or high-magnetized pulsars, are remnants of dead stars that have gone supernova and left behind a compressed core that has more mass than the sun but is the diameter of a small city. Before this, researchers suspected that FRBs likely originate from magnetars, but no FRB-like event had been seen from any of the Milky Way’s roughly 30 known magnetars.

Alex Hill is an assistant professor of astrophysics in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and a member of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) research team that made this discovery.

What is the CHIME project?

CHIME is a large radio telescope that was originally created to study the properties of dark energy. It was built in 2017 at the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) just outside of Penticton, BC.

Dark energy is a mysterious form of energy that’s causing the universe’s expansion to speed up over time. It’s challenging to study because we can’t see it—we can only see what it does to things we can see, like galaxies. Researchers from UBC, the University of Toronto and McGill University came together in partnership with DRAO to build CHIME in order to try and map out the properties of dark energy by observing hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe.

My main focus within CHIME is using this telescope to study our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which we must look through to see the distant universe. This is a great challenge for cosmological science but a great opportunity for us to understand where the 'star stuff' we’re all made of comes from.

What makes the CHIME radio telescope different from others?

With a distinct cylindrical design, CHIME is definitely not what comes to mind when most people think of a telescope. It looks like four massive half-pipes laying next to each other, and it’s now the fourth-largest radio telescope in the world. This allows us to see a strip across the whole sky from the southern to northern horizons all at once. CHIME itself doesn’t move. Instead, when the earth rotates, we let the sky rotate over, so we’re seeing the sky in its entirety every day.

This is highly valuable because it lets our team build up many signals so we can detect very faint things. It also lets us see signals that go off periodically, like FRBs. When an FRB goes off, you don’t know in advance where it is, so you need to be seeing as much sky as possible at a given time to see most of them. CHIME is specifically designed to do this.

What did CHIME detect on April 28, 2020 and why is it significant?

CHIME detected a signal from within the Milky Way that appeared similar to FRBs. The team immediately released what’s called an astronomer’s telegram to let our fellow astronomers know something strange just happened and they should point their telescopes at it right away. FRBs are exactly what they sound like: mysterious bursts of radio emissions that go off quickly. Because they go off so quickly and usually leave no signal behind, you have to catch them the moment they appear.

We suspected that they might be coming from magnetars because they’re compact and have strong magnetic fields that produce radio signals. But there just wasn’t enough evidence to say one way or another.

The first FRB was detected in 2007, and there were around 30 to 50 of them detected before we built CHIME. Since then, CHIME has detected hundreds, but none in the Milky Way until 2020. This had us scratching our heads—if FRBs come from magnetars, as we had suspected, and we know our galaxy has magnetars, it was a bit of a puzzle that they’d never happened here.

The April 28 event was really affirming for our team. It was a pretty exciting day for astronomers because it was a first, and we finally had this new, concrete evidence that we were on the right track.

What makes the Okanagan ideal to host Canada’s national radio observatory?

In our line of work, we’re trying to detect radio signals. And to do so effectively we need a site that is as radio quiet as possible. Cell phones, TV towers and any other electronic device that produces radio frequency interference can threaten our success.

Our site is one of the best in the world for what we do. It’s ideal because, through a combination of regulation and geography, it is well-protected from radio signals. We’re one valley over from Penticton, so the mountains block radio signals from the city. At the observatory, we don’t use microwaves to heat our lunch, all of our computers are kept in metal cages that keep radio signals in, and we can’t use cell phones even in airplane mode. The observatory staff test every piece of electronics on-site to make sure they don’t harm our radio-quiet environment.

It may sound extreme but we’ve worked incredibly hard to keep our site radio quiet—it’s an enormous benefit to science. I don’t think there’s an observatory in the world with a better combination of an outstanding radio-quiet environment and easy access to a major population centre.

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

Gino DiLabio, inaugural dean of the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

Faculty of Science’s inaugural dean shares bright vision for future

It was a summer to remember for UBC Okanagan’s newly-minted Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

The new Faculty of Science was formed in July alongside the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences after the previously combined faculty grew and evolved into two new independent academic units.

The transition from one faculty into two marked a milestone for UBC Okanagan and signals the growth that the campus has experienced since its inception 15 years ago—expanding from 3,500 students in 2005 to more than 11,000 today.

The Faculty of Science’s inaugural Dean Gino DiLabio was recently appointed and is navigating his first term in the newly-created role. DiLabio, a chemistry professor and former head of UBCO’s chemistry department, explains the rationale for the new faculty and its commitment to research and partnerships within the community.

Why was it time to create the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science at UBC Okanagan?

A lot of factors were taken into consideration when making this decision—but I’d say the biggest factor was that the sciences here on campus have grown so much since its inception in 2005.

The former Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences had nearly 55 per cent of all of UBCO’s students, who were enrolled in many different programs. Transitioning into two separate faculties allows us to focus our attention and resources on advancing science education and research and in leading the growth of the campus as outlined in UBC’s Okanagan’s Outlook 2040 strategic plan.

What types of research are currently underway in the Faculty of Science?

Our faculty does everything from making new molecules to understanding ecological landscapes and nearly everything in between. We have expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning and medical physics. We’re a relatively small faculty in comparison to other institutions, yet have a broad range of research that we’re engaged in locally, garnering national and international attention.

Initially, we will focus on identifying how we can combine our strengths across the research disciplines in the faculty to do truly unique things in the research and educational programming spaces.

Why are increased partnerships between the Faculty of Science and local industry important for both?

If we can use our skillset to conduct world-renowned research while helping local industry solve a problem, to me it’s a win-win. We have some incredible partnerships within the community already, but I’d like to see more.

The first that comes to mind is Chemistry Professor Wesley Zandberg’s partnership with local grape growers. He’s working with farmers to develop a preventative strategy that protects wine grapes from the negative effects of wildfire smoke. Another example is the work of Professor Lael Parrott, who is collaborating with Indigenous traditional knowledge holders to find sustainable ways to manage the Okanagan landscape.

These are great examples of Okanagan researchers solving Okanagan problems; not only do they allow our community to be more self-reliant, it’s also pretty cool.

How do you see the Faculty of Science evolving over the next five years?

Broadly speaking, I’d like us to continue on this growth trajectory. Over the past couple of years, the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences has hired several faculty members in the sciences, both educators and researchers, and I hope to work with them on continuing to grow our undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as our research output.

The Faculty of Science is, and will continue to be, an important part of this campus’ identity in the years to come. We’re not a stand-alone entity, we’re an integral part of the community, helping to develop the socio-economic landscape in the region—but we don’t do it on our own. We do it in partnership with other faculties on our campus, local Indigenous communities, broader communities and industry partners. I’d like to see us continue to nurture these relationships and leverage them to do good for all involved—that, to me, would be a true success.

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

Landscape left untouched after a wildfire can regenerate and create protective cover for red squirrels and the snowshoe hare, and important species like coyotes, lynx, bobcats and owls depend on it to survive. Photo credit Angelina Kelly.

Salvage harvesting logging damages vital habitat for wildlife species

New research from UBC Okanagan shows that salvage logging on land damaged by wildfires has negative impacts on a variety of animals.

While post-fire salvage logging is used to mitigate economic losses following wildfire, Karen Hodges, a biology professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, says the compounded effects of wildfire and post-fire salvage logging are more severe than what wildlife experience from fire alone.

Wildfires have been increasing in prevalence and severity in recent decades, Hodges says, and salvaging trees after a fire is a common practice. However, the scale and intensity of post-fire logging removes important regenerating habitat for a variety of forest species.

“When trees are removed from a newly burned landscape, birds and mammals lose the last remnants of habitat,” she adds. “Salvage logging decreases forest biodiversity and changes ecological processes of post-fire forest regeneration. Mosaics of regenerating forest are changed through the removal of standing and downed trees, which would naturally remain on the landscape following fire.”

Hodges notes while BC’s logging industry is heavily regulated, harvesting differs between normal harvests and post-fire logging. More frequent wildfires mean an increase in post-fire salvage logging.

“Salvage logging is often done urgently as harvesters attempt to get burned timber to market before the wood deteriorates,” she says. “Salvage logging is also done at larger scales and intensities than a standard harvest. This post-fire harvest means wildlife species that can manage after a wildfire do not rebound as quickly from this second disturbance.”

The research led by master’s student Angelina Kelly studied populations of snowshoe hares and red squirrels in post-fire and salvage-logged areas of the Chilcotin—an area severely impacted by wildfires in 2010 and 2017. Hares and squirrels are important species because predators such as coyote, bobcats, marten, lynx, goshawks and great horned owls rely on them to survive.

“The main concern of a snowshoe hare is to avoid predators. Hares select stands with protective vegetation cover and avoid open areas like clearcuts—even if those areas provide food,” says Kelly. “Because of their need for vegetative cover, snowshoe hare populations decrease immediately following fires, clearcut logging or salvage logging.”

Their study area, about 32,000 hectares on the eastern edge of the Chilcotin Plateau, was ravaged by wildfire in 2017. While looking for evidence of hares and squirrels, the researchers also conducted vegetation surveys to quantify important habitat attributes in mature forests, burned forest and areas where salvage logging had taken place.

“Post-fire salvage logging greatly changed the habitat structure of post-fire stands, removing vegetative cover and rendering those sites unsuitable for hares and red squirrels,” says Kelly. “The post-fire salvage-logged areas supported no hares or red squirrels for at least eight to nine years after the initial wildfire. Burn areas where no post-fire harvesting took place supported low densities of hares and red squirrels by that time.”

This loss of prey species contributes to declines in forest predators such as lynx, marten and owls, as Hodges and her team have documented in this region and other studies.

Hodges and Kelly stress that any trees or vegetation left after a wildfire are critical for wildlife immediately after a fire, and promote a healthy mosaic of post-fire habitat. Residual trees facilitate regeneration of burned areas, while also supporting wildlife.

Their research was published recently in Forest Ecology and Management, and was funded by grants from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

UBCO researchers say post-fire salvage logging removes important regenerating habitat for a variety of species including the snowshoe hare. Photo credit Angelina Kelly.

UBCO researchers say post-fire salvage logging removes important regenerating habitat for a variety of species including the snowshoe hare. Photo credit Angelina Kelly.

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 researchers say breadfruit is nutritionally sound and has the potential to improve worldwide food security issues. Photo credit Jan Vozenilek, Copper Sky Productions, Kelowna.

Breadfruit is sustainable, environmentally friendly and a high-production crop

A fruit used for centuries in countries around the world is getting the nutritional thumbs-up from a team of British Columbia researchers.

Breadfruit, which grows in abundance in tropical and South Pacific countries, has long been a staple in the diet of many people. The fruit can be eaten when ripe, or it can be dried and ground up into a flour and repurposed into many types of meals, explains UBC Okanagan researcher Susan Murch.

“Breadfruit is a traditional staple crop from the Pacific islands with the potential to improve worldwide food security and mitigate diabetes,” says Murch, a chemistry professor in the newly-created Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “While people have survived on it for thousands of years there was a lack of basic scientific knowledge of the health impacts of a breadfruit-based diet in both humans and animals.”

Breadfruit can be harvested, dried and ground into a gluten-free flour. For the project, researchers had four breadfruits from the same tree in Hawaii, shipped to the Murch Lab at UBC Okanagan. Doctoral student Ying Liu led the study examining the digestion and health impact of a breadfruit-based diet.

“Detailed and systematic studies of the health impacts of a breadfruit diet had not previously been conducted and we wanted to contribute to the development of breadfruit as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and high-production crop,” Liu says.

The few studies done on the product have been to examine the glycemic index of breadfruit—with a low glycemic index it is comparable to many common staples such as wheat, cassava, yam and potatoes.

“The objective of our current study was to determine whether a diet containing breadfruit flour poses any serious health concerns,” explains Liu, who conducted her research with colleagues from British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Natural Health and Food Products Research Group and the Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanic Garden in Hawaii.

The researchers designed a series of studies—using flour ground from dehydrated breadfruits—that could provide data on the impacts of a breadfruit-based diet fed to mice and also an enzyme digestion model.

The researchers determined that breadfruit protein was found to be easier to digest than wheat protein in the enzyme digestion model. And mice fed the breadfruit diet had a significantly higher growth rate and body weight than standard diet-fed mice.

Liu also noted mice on the breadfruit diet had a significantly higher daily water consumption compared to mice on the wheat diet. And at the end of the three-week-trial, the body composition was similar between the breadfruit and wheat diet-fed mice.

“As the first complete, fully-designed breadfruit diet study, our data showed that a breadfruit diet does not impose any toxic impact,” says Liu. “Fundamental understanding of the health impact of breadfruit digestion and diets is necessary and imperative to the establishment of breadfruit as a staple or as a functional food in the future.”

The use of breadfruit is nutritious and sustainable and could make inroads in food sustainability for many populations globally, she adds. For example, the average daily consumption of grain in the United States is 189 grams (6.67 ounces) per day. Liu suggests if a person ate the same amount of cooked breadfruit they can meet up to nearly 57 per cent of their daily fibre requirement, more than 34 per cent of their protein requirement and at the same time consume vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus.

“Overall, these studies support the use of breadfruit as part of a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet,” says Liu. “Flour produced from breadfruit is a gluten-free, low glycemic index, nutrient-dense and complete protein option for modern foods.”

The study was recently published in PLOS ONE.

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

The Alpine Club of Canada’s general mountaineering camp, set up for the summer of 2019. Photo credit: Lael Parrott

Biodiversity, glacier health and sea mountains featured in annual report

While many know of the canary in the coal mine analogy, a team of researchers are using Canada’s mountain ranges as their canary. And, like the coal miners, they say Canadians should be worried.

Each year the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) issues a State of the Mountains report, tallying what climate change is doing to glaciers and rivers, alpine flora and fauna as well as mountain communities and people. The report is co-edited by UBC Okanagan’s Lael Parrott, a professor of sustainability in the earth, environmental and geographic sciences department and ACC vice-president for access and environment.

“Mountains are indeed sentinels for understanding a rapidly changing world,” says Parrott. “And Canada’s mountains, like those around the world, are experiencing a variety of worrying changes. Glaciers are disappearing and many species of plants and animals are being forced to either adapt to changing conditions or perish.”

But, Parrott says, Canada’s mountain experts are also discovering new information that will help to address these challenges. And the report shares positive news, highlighting how Indigenous communities and Canada’s youth are mobilizing to create opportunities for conservation and sustainability.

“What stands out this year are the two articles on seamounts,” says Parrott. “It’s the first time we cover underwater mountain ranges. Just like terrestrial mountains, the complex topography and elevational changes in seamounts also create special niches that support high diversity and unique ecosystems.”

Parrott explains the report is a collection of contributions from Canadian experts, including those living in mountain communities, Indigenous peoples, scientists and natural resource managers. Experts explain how landslides and volcanic eruptions, always a significant risk to people and property, are increasing due to climate change and increased human activity in the mountains. Specialists also examine the downstream impact of mining, recent changes in mountain glaciers and the importance of the biodiversity of plants and animals in Canada’s mountains.

Other key findings in the report include an explanation of new tools to forecast avalanches, document biodiversity and predict the impacts of climate change.

“Of course, climate change permeates all of the articles,” says Parrott. “The impacts of climate change are felt so strongly at high elevations and these impacts manifest into increasing landslides, changing vegetation, melting glaciers and much more.”

The third annual State of the Mountains report is available online at: stateofthemountains.ca. Learn more about Parrott’s work at: ourstories.ok.ubc.ca/stories/lael-parrott.

“We’re hoping to raise Canadian’s awareness about the urgency of acting to protect our mountain environments,” she adds. “And that people will become advocates for mountain conservation and mountain stewardship.”

South Chilcotin Provincial Park. Photo credit: Lael Parrott

South Chilcotin Provincial Park. Photo credit: Lael Parrott

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

Coral species differ in their contribution to the complexity of the habitat, and their response to disturbances and capacity to compete. Modelling the resilience of coral communities will help ecologists design reef management and restoration strategies. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

‘Virtual’ coral reefs become diagnostic tool to help manage the planet’s reefs

A UBC Okanagan researcher has developed a way to predict the future health of the planet’s coral reefs.

Working with scientists from Australia’s Flinders University and privately-owned research firm Nova Blue Environment, biology doctoral student Bruno Carturan has been studying the ecosystems of the world’s endangered reefs.

“Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and they support the livelihoods of more than 500 million people,” says Carturan. “But coral reefs are also in peril. About 75 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by habitat loss, climate change and other human-caused disturbances.”

Carturan, who studies resilience, biodiversity and complex systems under UBCO Professors Lael Parrott and Jason Pither, says nearly all the world’s reefs will be dangerously affected by 2050 if no effective measures are taken.

There is hope, however, as he has determined a way to examine the reefs and explore why some reef ecosystems appear to be more resilient than others. Uncovering why, he says, could help stem the losses.

“In other ecosystems, including forests and wetlands, experiments have shown that diversity is key to resilience,” says Carturan. “With more species, comes a greater variety of form and function—what ecologists call traits. And with this, there is a greater likelihood that some particular traits, or combination of traits, help the ecosystem better withstand and bounce back from disturbances.”

The importance of diversity for the health and stability of ecosystems has been extensively investigated by ecologists, he explains. While the consensus is that ecosystems with more diversity are more resilient and function better, the hypothesis has rarely been tested experimentally with corals.

Using an experiment to recreate the conditions found in real coral reefs is challenging for several reasons—one being that the required size, timeframe and number of different samples and replicates are just unmanageable.

That’s where computer simulation modelling comes in.

“Technically called an ‘agent-based model’, it can be thought of as a virtual experimental arena that enables us to manipulate species and different types of disturbances, and then examine their different influences on resilience in ways that are just not feasible in real reefs,” explains Carturan.

In his simulation arena, individual coral colonies and algae grow, compete with one another, reproduce and die. And they do all this in realistic ways. By using agent-based models—with data collected by many researchers over decades—scientists can manipulate the initial diversity of corals, including their number and identity, and see how the virtual reef communities respond to threats.

“This is crucial because these traits are the building blocks that give rise to ecosystem structure and function. For instance, corals come in a variety of forms—from simple spheres to complex branching—and this influences the variety of fish species these reefs host, and their susceptibility to disturbances such as cyclones and coral bleaching.”

By running simulations over and over again, the model can identify combinations that can provide the greatest resilience. This will help ecologists design reef management and restoration strategies using predictions from the model, says collaborating Flinders researcher Professor Corey Bradshaw.

“Sophisticated models like ours will be useful for coral-reef management around the world,” Bradshaw adds. “For example, Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef is in deep trouble from invasive species, climate change-driven mass bleaching and overfishing.”

“This high-resolution coral ‘video game’ allows us to peek into the future to make the best possible decisions and avoid catastrophes.”

The research, supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, was published recently in eLife.

A UBCO researcher is using years of compiled data to determine how virtual reef communities will respond to threats including cyclones and coral bleaching. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

A UBCO researcher is using years of compiled data to determine how virtual reef communities will respond to threats including cyclones and coral bleaching. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

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 study examined 40 years of data following the fate of 2,500 grizzly bears.

Bears living near people rely on ‘immigrants’ and nocturnal behaviour to sustain populations

Researchers have determined that bear populations near people need two things to survive—adaptive behaviour to become nocturnal and immigrant bears moving into their region.

A study published this week looks at 40 years of data following the fate of more than 2,500 grizzly bears in BC. Researchers learned that bear populations living near people depend on other bears ‘immigrating’ from adjacent wilderness areas to sustain population numbers. And the bears need to change their behaviour, becoming nocturnal, to avoid conflict with humans.

Unfortunately, this adaptation takes time and many bears die before they learn to live with people, says study author Clayton Lamb, a Liber Ero post-doctoral fellow at UBC Okanagan’s campus.

“Human coexistence with large carnivores poses one of the greatest conservation challenges of our time,” says Lamb. “Bears that live near people are actively engaging in nocturnal behaviour to increase their own survival and reduce conflicts with people, but this is often not enough to sustain the population. These populations rely on a ‘lifeline’ of immigrants from nearby areas with low human impact.”

Lamb, who conducted some of this research while a doctoral student at the University of Alberta, works with Adam Ford, an assistant professor in biology at UBCO and principal investigator in the Wildlife Restoration Ecology (WiRE) lab. Researchers in the WiRE lab bridge the gap between applied and theoretical science to support new ideas in ecology and decision making. Ways to better coexist with wildlife is a key contribution from WiRE researchers.

While carnivores pose a real and perceived threat to people and property, Ford says, humans are genuinely fascinated by them.

“This creates a profound tension in conservation,” Ford adds. “How can people and carnivores coexist?”

Ford says when coexistence does occur, success is often attributed to the role of people acting to reduce human-caused mortality. However, evidence suggests the bears themselves also play a role.

“Bears in human-dominated areas increased their nocturnal behaviour by two to three per cent past their third year of age and this led to a two to three per cent increase in survival rates each year,” Ford says. “In wilderness areas we detected no significant age-related shift in bear nocturnality, suggesting that humans are inducing the bears to change their habits.”

Lamb says social tolerance for carnivores along with creative solutions for coexistence are on the upswing. Reducing human influence at night can restore carnivore movement and wildlife highway crossings can increase carnivore survival and connectivity without interfering with human transportation.

However, the current mortality rates are far too great to maintain existing bear populations without immigration. There’s a lot of dead bears, Lamb says, and survival is quite low for bears living near people, especially if they are young.

“There are two outcomes for young animals in landscapes of coexistence—adapt to people by becoming more nocturnal or die because of people,” he says. “Although it sounds bleak, grizzly bear populations are currently sustaining themselves near people in many places, and even increasing. Key examples include range expansions in southwest Alberta and the eastern Okanagan near Big White. But if we were to double the human population in BC or halve the wilderness areas, this balancing act of populations sustaining themselves with wilderness immigrants might collapse.”

The study, funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia, was published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science journal.

Read more about WiRE Lab research including a mule deer project in BC’s Southern Interior and studies into BC’s wolf populations.

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

Lake Country’s Teagan MacDougall is the 2020 recipient of the Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

Aspiring pediatrician wins top student award

Teagan MacDougall reminds herself of one thing when the going gets tough—how worthwhile this will all be when she’s able to help sick children as a pediatrician.

Today, MacDougall graduates with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology (honours), celebrating not only the end of her undergraduate career, but also being awarded the Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

The $10,000 prize, now in its 11th year, is the highest honour available for an Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences student and recognizes a graduating student who has excelled academically and shown leadership while earning their degree.

Andrew Brunton, managing partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP, says the firm is proud to recognize the accomplishments of another exceptional student at UBC Okanagan.

“We are happy to support Teagan and hope she continues to chase her dream of becoming a pediatrician and is able to continue her great work in the community,” says Brunton. “We are proud to be a supporter of UBC Okanagan and to be able to add Teagan to the distinguished list of Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize winners.”

MacDougall grew up a short drive from the UBC campus in Lake Country, BC. After graduating high school, she relocated to Whistler to spend her days on the slopes and evenings working in the hospitality industry—before returning to the Okanagan and enrolling at UBCO in 2016.

Having enjoyed biology in high school, and knowing her end-goal was medical school—microbiology was a natural choice.

Though thrilled to be back in the classroom—bad study habits started to haunt her. She struggled during her first semester, trying to learn weeks of course material for an upcoming midterm in one night.

“I was up all-night studying, drank six red bulls, and I got 20 per cent,” she says. “It made me wonder whether or not I was cut out for university—I asked myself what I wanted to do. I could either walk away or try harder and I decided to try harder.”

MacDougall registered for a summer physics course—this time committing to give it her all.

She did just that—and completed the course with 97 per cent. From that moment forward, she never received a grade lower than an A.

Aside from academic achievements, MacDougall was deeply involved in research during her time at UBCO, volunteering in a biomedical research lab, and working as an undergraduate research assistant.

An honours student, MacDougall also produced original research investigating the persistency and viability of a fungal probiotic in the human gastrointestinal tract—winning first-place poster presentation at UBCO’s Undergraduate Research Conference.

In her sparse spare time, MacDougall founded Heroes for Little Heroes, a registered Canadian non-profit where volunteers wear princess and superhero costumes to visit medically-vulnerable children at local hospitals and disadvantaged children at social service institutions.

“The smile on their faces when they see a princess or superhero walk into the room—it’s so heartwarming,” says MacDougall.

“We do crafts, read books and just talk and keep them company—but, honestly, they’re the real heroes. They overcome huge adversities at a young age and still come out smiling—they’re so brave and inspire me to be resilient every day.”

Aside from pediatrics visits, MacDougall is also a volunteer at Kelowna General Hospital, doing patient visitations and providing information in the emergency department. She also serves as a youth mental health ambassador with the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at BC Children’s Hospital, a position that piqued her interest for personal reasons.

“During my teenage years, I suffered from an eating disorder,” she explains. “Although it was horrible—I try to think of it as a silver lining. That experience helps me to better understand and empathize with youth suffering from similar disorders.”

Over the next few months, MacDougall will work with the early detection research group at the BC Cancer Agency—while studying to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) this fall.

Though her medical school of choice is UBC’s Southern Medical Program on the Okanagan campus, MacDougall says she’s open to the idea of relocating if necessary.

“Wherever my journey takes me, the financial flexibility that comes with winning this award will allow me to further my education and continue growing my foundation with the goal of helping as many people as possible,” she says, thanking Pushor Mitchell and her professors for their support.

As she graduates today, she shares one final lesson not learned in a textbook.

“Hard work does pay off and I want my fellow students to know they are capable of much more than they know. No one should sell themselves short. Anything worth having is worth working for—it’s so simple, yet so true.”

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

Research has shown that the more rigorous forests are thinned, the more resilient they can be under the impact of climate change.

Turns out ‘thinning’ saves water and can combat climate change

New research suggests a backyard gardener’s tried and true method of ‘thinning’ could benefit tree growth and water supply, and ultimately help fight climate change.

UBC Okanagan Professor Adam Wei says thinning—the selective harvesting of a young crop to make space for growth—could improve the overall growing conditions of lodgepole pine stands in the BC Interior. Lodgepole pine trees are prolific and often crowd each other which can affect tree growth.

The more rigorous forests are thinned, the more resilient they can be under the impact of climate change.

“Our study presented the short-term benefits of the juvenile thinning in terms of increasing tree-level radial growth, sap flow and reducing stand-level water absorption and evaporation,” says Wei. “While heavier thinning can mean more rigorous trees, it can also produce more ecological benefits, such as resistance to the effect of drought.”

Wei, who teaches forest hydrology in UBCO’s earth, environmental and geographic sciences department, says the world needs more healthy forests and thinning of some species of trees is a good way to improve the overall growing conditions of the individual trees in overcrowded forests.

Wei’s research team, consisting of scientists from the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the University of Waterloo and universities in Spain and China, conducted a multi-year study over three blocks of trees in the upper Penticton experimental watershed.

After selective trees were harvested, the individual forest blocks were monitored closely over a two-year period. The researchers tracked tree diameter, sap flows, moisture retention and at the same time kept track of the weather conditions including wind, precipitation, temperature, sunshine and relative humidity.

“Our results generally agree with other studies showing that thinning can greatly increase tree-level radial growth while at the same time, decreasing stand-level transpiration due to the decrease in stand density,” says Wei.

The researchers had three study plots—one heavily harvested, the other lightly harvested and one left alone. While the trees benefit from having more space and daylight, the study also states juvenile thinning could mitigate the effects of drought, as fewer trees need rainwater and moisture from the ground.

“Our two-year results demonstrate that the more heavily thinned treatment reducing the number of trees per hectare from 27,000 to 1,100 had the more pronounced effect on tree growth, sap flow velocity and stand-level transpiration,” says Yi Wang, who conducted this research as part of her graduate studies. “Significant improvements in radial growth and tree transpiration in the heavily thinned stand corresponded with improved quality of daylight and soil water availability than the other two stands.”

Wei also notes the more heavily thinned stands did maintain the highest tree growth and the best moisture absorption even during a drought year. He suggests the information from this study will be useful in future years, especially when it comes to planning management strategies for forests impacted by climate change.

But he also notes, previous studies have determined that thinning trees may not guarantee a healthy forest.

“However, other forestry research has shown that tree species, the age at which forests are thinned, and the number of trees left after thinning all have a substantial effect on the health of the future forest and wood products, says Wei. “So forest management decisions on thinning must be made within a much broader context and take into consideration timber supply, forest health, carbon stocks, water conservation, wildfire risks and wildlife habitat.”

“More studies on long-term effects of thinning are still needed to support development of sustainable management for both water and wood,” says Rita Winkler, researcher with the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “As well as for carbon sequestration and the many other ecological functions of lodgepole pine forests, particularly in the context of climate change.”

The study, partially funded by a collaborative research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, was recently published in Forest Ecology and Management.

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’s Sharon Hanna, Mathew Vis-Dunbar and Jason Pither announced this week UBC is the first Canadian university to sign on to the Center for Open Science’s online platform, OSF Institutions.

New service aims to make transparency, collaboration, and reproducibility easier than ever

With increasing interest in promoting transparency, collaboration, and reproducibility in academic research, the University of British Columbia announced today that it has become the first Canadian post-secondary institution to join the Center for Open Science’s online platform, Open Science Framework Institutions (OSFI).

OSFI is a highly flexible collaboration and research management tool that encourages best practices in project organization and reproducibility.

Mathew Vis-Dunbar is a librarian for the Southern Medical Program, biology and human kinetics at UBC Okanagan and has been leading UBC’s adoption of the system. He says the university’s embrace of open science is important for bringing greater transparency to academic research and for helping to maintain public trust in science.

“With recent concerns about a reproducibility crisis plaguing scientific research, the benefits of open science, where everything from research plans to the data and results of a study is posted for all to review and scrutinize, are well recognized,” says Vis-Dunbar. “Breaking down traditional barriers to collaborative research is also very effective at improving the quality and impact of research, making connections and accelerating the pace of scientific discovery.”

That is where OSFI comes in, says Jason Pither, associate professor of biology at UBC Okanagan and collaborator on the project.

“We all strive to publish ground-breaking research, but equally important is ensuring that our work is reproducible, and discoverable to all who wish to see it,” says Pither. “OSFI facilitates this. It is a free online platform that helps researchers organize their research projects and workflow, to keep track of all changes made along the way, and to store and share protocols and outputs.

Pither adds that it also integrates with many tools that researchers are already using, and makes large international collaborations easy.

“OSFI accommodates all aspects of the work that goes into research, such as storing data and making them accessible and discoverable,” he says. “And unlike other platforms, OSFI provides storage infrastructure that resides in Canada.”

“Our membership in OSFI will help UBC researchers lead Canada’s efforts towards greater transparency and rigour in academic research, and it’s a move I expect many other institutions to follow.”

To find out more about the initiative at UBC behind OSFI, visit:  openscience.ubc.ca/about

To find out more about the Center for Open Science and the OSFI platform, visit: cos.io

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