Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's all about the salmon!

Hello everyone! We have just four days left for our Kickstarter project. If you haven't had a chance to donate, please contribute now! We're 61% of the way to reaching our funding goal, and time is running out! Tell friends, family, and colleagues about our project and help to fund scientific research!

Thanks to everyone who came out to our talk yesterday evening at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum! We had a great time discussing our research, showing our photos and videos, and interacting with everyone from the community. We really appreciate your support, and we hope you'll continue to check in with us as we gear up for the start of our field season at the end of July!

One of the major points we reviewed is how important salmon are to terrestrial wildlife, and how little we still know about how much salmon different species, including bald eagles, bears, wolves, coyotes, marten, and others, need to survive.

Historically, millions of salmon spawned up freshwater streams from the ocean, provisioning human and wildlife communities. However, land use changes, such as increasing urbanization and agricultural conversion, as well as overfishing, climate change, and water contamination, have adversely impacted salmon populations, and salmon have disappeared from greater than 40% of their historic range.

Fewer salmon in freshwater streams means less terrestrial wildlife, but we're still working to learn more about precisely how salmon availability affects wildlife communities. For example, what would happen if a large salmon run, such as the yearly chum salmon run in early winter on the Chilkat River, disappeared?

We can always speculate about what might happen if a large proportion of the salmon were lost, but we may find out first-hand within the next decade. Constantine Metals, LLC, has staked a mining claim just upstream of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines, Alaska, home of one of the largest annual congregations of Bald Eagles in North America. Upwards of 3,000 eagles or more feed at one time on salmon between late October and mid-November on the Preserve. The claim, to be developed as a copper, zinc, gold and silver mine spanning more than 90 square kilometers, could threaten salmon and all the wildlife that feed on them. Although mining generates economic revenue and provides jobs to local workers, mining processes have high environmental costs. Leaching of toxic heavy metals, cyanide poisoning, erosion, fugitive dust emissions, and contamination of soil and groundwater all threaten ecosystems near mines. It's not hard to imagine that these impacts would be detrimental to salmon populations.

As part of our research, we hope to collect baseline data on wildlife community composition and species diversity and abundance, as well as conduct experiments to help better understand salmon consumption and the salmon requirements of terrestrial carnivores. These data will be invaluable if any mines are implemented in the future-- we'll be able to use the data we collect now to help understand exactly how mines affect the local environment in the future.

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At June 27, 2012 at 6:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. Several other fish in the same family are called trout; the difference is often said to be that salmon migrate and trout are resident, but this distinction does not strictly hold true.

At June 28, 2012 at 9:41 AM , Blogger Ecology Alaska said...

You're exactly right, mischy! The salmonid family also includes whitefishes, graylings, and char, among others. We're primarily interested in anadromous fishes, fish that are born in freshwater streams, migrate to sea, then return to natal streams to breed and die. Specifically, we study the interactions of terrestrial wildlife with the five species of Pacific salmon in the genus Oncorhynchus that live in the eastern Pacific and spawn on the western coast of North America: Coho, Chum, Pink, Chinook, and Sockeye.


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