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Story behind traps one of climate change

TRU grasslands research leads to agricultural applications
By Mike Youds
August 2, 2016 3:25 P.M.
Jordann Foster, TRU masters student, doing field research in Lac du Bois grasslands.

Hers is far from the only grasslands research underway in the hills surrounding Kamloops, but Jordann Foster’s may be the most visible at the moment.

Foster has four Malaise traps set up in the Lac du Bois grasslands. They are small, tent-like structures used for catching flying insects. From the road, the traps look like pup tents, but there’s no one home except the bugs, Foster hopes.

Through her field research, the TRU environmental sciences masters student wants to gain a better understanding of the impact of climate change on lake and pond habitat within a unique ecosystem.

“We’re looking at differences in the insect community, either at the lake or a little farther away, and in relation to the plant life,” Foster explained.

Malaise trap set up to capture flying insects.

For the last few years, research at TRU has examined the impact of climate change on the small lakes in the grasslands. Some of these small bodies of water dry up on a seasonal basis while others have lost water, which has been attributed to changing climate patterns. 

“It’s happening at a faster rate,” said Foster, who is doing her first semester at TRU, working with project lead Prof. Lauchlan Fraser.

The loss of water naturally has an impact on the plant communities in the aquatic habitat, which in turn affects insects.

Fraser, reached while holidaying at Lac la Hache, confirmed the recent research on water loss and described the changes as remarkable. Batchelor Lake, which was still a lake when he began visiting the Lac du Bois Protected Area a dozen years ago, no longer exists.

“Over the past 25 to 30 years, there has been a huge decline in the water level of those ponds,” Fraser said. In some cases, the loss is as great as 50 percent, he said.

He recalled specific research done a couple of years ago by a former student, Aaron Coelho, who now works as an environmental consultant for Urban Systems in Kamloops.

Coelho’s research was driven by the critical role that such small bodies of water play in B.C.’s ranching industry. Fully 98 percent of grasslands are working ranch lands, he noted.

“They’re looking to maximize productivity, and water is a limiting factor,” Coelho said, adding that the limited resource also supports populations of water fowl, amphibians, insects and plant life.

“For biodiversity, it’s huge for the grasslands,” he said. “People are observing this happening all over B.C. in areas around grasslands, that it’s not just a localized phenomenon.

He recently returned to Lac du Bois and found one of the more stable ponds is also dropping in level, leading them to conclude that climate change — with reduced precipitation and higher average temperatures — may be lowering the water table. The more stable bodies are sometimes fed by groundwater alone, making them more susceptible to shifts in the water table.

Coelho’s study in university is part of a continuum of research in which he’s still immersed through a partnership between Urban Systems and TRU. They’re developing a climate model for all southern Interior grasslands that could be cross-referenced with a global climate model to determine which areas will be most at risk due to water loss between 2050 and 2080.

A second element of the research is aim to develop a decision-making tool that could be used by ranchers to better manage the water resource.

“They can start to be pro-active in terms of how to adapt.”

They may also be able to avoid the costly business of drilling and piping to deliver water when nature comes up short.

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