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BC VOICES: The 100 Islands Research Program

BC VOICES: The 100 Islands Research Program

September 7, 2016

1: Researchers gather round the fire for an evening meal at Grief Bay, Calvert Island.


2: Heading home after a long day amid a momentary pastel backdrop.


3: The wild beauty of the central coastline is stunning.


4: Courtney Eichorn, Crystal Ernst, and Vinko Culjak-Mathieu prepare for a site survey.


5: Shin deep piles of sea wrack crawling with amphipods and smelling pretty great!

The 100 Islands Research Program
by Sara Wickham

The leaves outside of my office window here at the University of Victoria have started to turn from vibrant green to a golden yellow, evidence that the fall season is upon us. Further evidence comes in the form of my colleagues returning to their desks after busy field seasons collecting data across British Columbia and beyond.

My lab mates and myself have all recently returned from our field season on the central coast of BC. It was a long, soggy, and stormy summer for the majority of us who are members of the 100 Islands research program ‰ÛÒ a collaboration between UVic, SFU, and the Hakai Institute. The broad goal of our program is to investigate how Island Biogeography (IB) theory is affected by ecosystem subsidies. To do this, we are surveying 100 islands across the central coast for plants, invertebrates, mammals, and songbirds.

My role in the 100 Islands program is to study the “ecosystem subsidy” portion of the project. Sea wrack (dead, shore-cast seaweeds) is a consistent vector of nutrients from the marine ecosystem to the terrestrial ecosystem. I survey shorelines for wrack accumulations in an effort to answer how much, where, and when sea wrack is deposited. Armed with this knowledge, other researchers will test for patterns in diversity in relation to IB theory and nutrient subsidies.

There are some serious logistics required to study 100 islands! Our group spends summers based out of the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island. From Calvert we take 12 to 14-day camping trips to nearby island archipelagoes. Planning a ten-week long camping trip for 16 people is no easy task; planning logistics such as remote campsite space, safe boat anchorages, food, science equipment, camping equipment, boat transportation, toilets, tides and weather are just the start. After every two week camping stint we would gleefully return to the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island to re-stock our food supplies (and eat cookies), check the internet, shower, and do laundry.

After two summers of field work our research team has performed biodiversity surveys at hundreds of sites across roughly 75 different islands. So far throughout our study area we have detected over 60 species of seaweeds, 92 species of terrestrial vascular plants, seven mammal species (ranging from tiny shrews to wolves), and have confirmed sightings of the endangered western screech owl.

This past summer was a particularly intense one, as we had an ambitious schedule compounded by some truly rotten weather. In the end everyone survived in one piece, a heck load of data was collected, and many memories were made. Although I cherished my desk (and a proper roof over my head) for the first few days upon returning to UVic, I am already looking forward to seeing those leaves outside my office window bud with green; a signal to the start of the third and final field season for the 100 Islands research program.