Tim Antill, Land Reclamation and Ecosystem Resotration, University of Alberta (MSc Candidate – Dr. Anne Naeth, Supervisor)

I am currently researching the effects Russian thistle (Salsola kali), an invasive weed plant species, on native montane grasslands communities in Jasper National Park

Invasion of non-native plant species can have a significant impact on the function and integrity of natural ecosystems. In Jasper National Park, large areas of Russian thistle have been observed in native montane grassland communities used for winter grazing by bighorn sheep and other ungulates. There is concern that these areas of invasion may be increasing in size. Areas invaded by Russian thistle appear to coincide with areas subject to sustained use by sheep, elk and possibly deer. Critical areas are believed to be overgrazed, reducing range condition and permitting Russian thistle to become established and compete with, or replace, already stressed native plant species and reducing wildlife forage.

To manage and protect the ecological integrity within Canada’s National Parks it is important to fully understand how native plant communities within the parks respond to the influence of alien species and the role of herbivores in this process. Increasing the knowledge of native plant community response to a particular invasive species may lead to improved ecological restoration, and management methods. Potential overgrazing of winter range habitats may be facilitating the establishment of Russian thistle in native montane grasslands. This study examines the role of wildlife grazing and range condition on Russian thistle establishment. Outcomes from this study will assist park managers in determining appropriate Russian thistle control, as well as identifying ungulate management strategies for winter range use.

Specifically, this research project attempts to address the extent and character of Russian thistle infestations in the park, mechanisms of Russian thistle invasion, the role of wildlife grazing on Russian thistle establishment, how Russian thistle impacts native plant communities, and strategies that may aid in managing this species. Research results will benefit land managers within the park, and other park managers and land managers who are involved with ungulate grazing and invasive species.

Laura Gray, Department of Reweable Resources, University of Alberta (PhD Program – Dr. Anne Naeth, Supervisor)

Climate change has become a prevalent topic in ecological research since we are beginning to see the effects of warming temperatures on plant populations. In western Canada, research has already identified climate change as a cause for loss of local tree populations, for example through extreme drought events or indirectly through range expansion of pests and diseases. The International Panel on Climate Change suggests that the global temperature will continue to rise approximately 0.2oC per decade which raises the question if tree populations in a protected by a static network of reserves and parks are adequately protected.

The aim of my research is to determine how adequate the current network of protected areas w ill be in protecting native tree species in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan as Canada faces climate warming. By modeling tree species habitat under a variety of climate change projections, I will be able to identifying (1 ) how long the current network of protected areas will be able to protect native tree, and (2) whether any “future proof” reserves exist that maintain habitat under most or all scenarios. Conservation efforts should be targeted toward those areas.

Many thanks are due to Drs. Guy Swinnerton, professor emeritus, University of Alberta, Elizabeth Halpenny, University of Alberta, Bill Crins, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Rob Wright, Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport for evaluating submissions.

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