Doctor of Philosophy in Forestry (PhD)
Evaluating cumulative impacts to inform effective conservation decisions in a biodiversity hotspot
It is #GreatSupervisor week at UBC! A good time to reflect on those who pour time and energy into our academic journeys. A warm thanks to @TaraGMartin for doing precisely this, and for inspiring those around her with her passion for conservation! #ubcforestry
Loss of connectivity caused by anthropogenic barriers is a key threat for migratory freshwater species, barriers on streams can decrease the amount of habitat available for spawning and rearing. To set appropriate targets for restoration it is important to know how different populations have been impacted in terms of the location and extent of historically available habitat that has been lost or has become inaccessible. I mapped and predicted barriers to fish passage in streams and diking infrastructure to estimate the amount of floodplain and stream habitat that remains for 14 populations of salmon in the Lower Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada’s most productive salmon river. To place these estimates within a historical context, the floodplain area was estimated using vegetation records from the 1850’s, and lost streams were estimated. Accessibility to floodplain was poor across the entire region with only 15% of the historical floodplain remaining accessible. Linear stream habitat ranged in accessibility from 28-99% across populations. I used conservation planning software to maximize the amount and quality of stream habitat that can be restored across a range of budgets. An estimated 75% of habitat blocked by barriers could have access restored with an investment of 200 million dollars. With small budgets it was more efficient to remove a high number of culverts, but when budgets were larger, restoration included restoring passage past dams and flood infrastructure. The amount of habitat restored for each species varied depending on whether habitat quality was also prioritized, highlighting where restoration of freshwater habitat requires more than the removal of barriers.
Invasive species represent a significant and growing threat to biodiversity in ecosystems around the world. Research that can address key knowledge gaps is invaluable, particularly as managers grapple with diminishing time, resources, and data to deal with species invasions. Non-native narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia) is a wetland invader that has been detected in western Canada’s Fraser River Estuary (FRE) in recent decades, but questions around their degree of establishment, impact, manageability, and the potential emergence of invasive hybrid cattail (Typha x glauca), remain unanswered. This research aimed to address these knowledge gaps, investigating the threat potential of these taxa. Using a spectral analysis of aerial imagery, I found that invasive cattails are widespread, currently occupying approximately 4% of FRE marshes. Though never formally recorded in the FRE, T. x glauca is more abundant than T. angustifolia, and likely went undetected due to its cryptic nature. A species distribution model for invasive cattail predicted that 28% and 21% of the FRE has suitability (establishment and persistence) and susceptibility (risk of colonization when suitable) probabilities of > 50% respectively, indicating this invasion is likely to continue. Restoration projects were invasion hotspots, with proportionally more cattail, susceptible habitat, and suitable habitat than the overall estuary. Vegetation sampling demonstrated that cattail-invaded marshes contained lower richness and diversity than uninvaded habitats. Cattail leaf litter had a significant negative effect on richness and diversity, while ramet density and foliar cover did not, suggesting litter may be an important dominance mechanism behind this invasion. Results from a two-year management experiment suggest these impacts may be counteracted, but not without expending considerable resources. Belowground energy reserves declined in response to cutting, however cattail ramets remained unchanged or increased in abundance. Native plant communities have yet to respond significantly to cutting and litter removal, suggesting that more time may be required for their recovery. I conclude that the extent of this invasion, likelihood of further invasion, and management challenges presented by invasive cattail require a strategic shift towards preventative management approaches, such as surveillance and early eradication in uninvaded high-value habitats, along with restoration designs that inhibit litter accumulation.