Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

UBCO researchers are concerned about how the actions of some scientists, advocacy groups and the public are eroding efforts to conserve biodiversity, including grizzly bears, wild bees and salmon.

UBCO researchers part of global team working to curb misplaced conservation

A group of researchers, spanning six universities and three continents, are sounding the alarm on a topic not often discussed in the context of conservation—misinformation.

In a recent study published in FACETS, the team, including Dr. Adam Ford, Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology, and Dr. Clayton Lamb, Liber Ero Fellow, both based in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, explain how the actions of some scientists, advocacy groups and the public are eroding efforts to conserve biodiversity.

“Outcomes, not intentions, should be the basis for how we view success in conservation,” says Dr. Ford.

“Misinformation related to vaccines, climate change, and links between smoking and cancer has made it harder for science to create better policies for people,” he says. “Weaponizing information to attack other groups impedes our ability to solve problems that affect almost everyone. We wanted to know if these issues were also a problem for people working to conserve biodiversity.

“Conservation is not perfect and things can go wrong. Sometimes people mean well, and harm ensues by accident. Sometimes people’s actions are much more sinister.”

The study points to multiple examples of good intentions ending badly from across the globe, including the case of the Huemul deer in Patagonia National Park, Chile.

“We reviewed one case where the primary objective of a newly-established park was to protect the endangered Huemul deer. The goal was to make the landscape a little better for these deer in hopes of increasing the population,” explains Dr. Lamb. “In doing so, they removed the domestic livestock from the park, and as a result, the natural predators in the system lost their usual food source and ate many of the deer, causing the population to decline further. It’s a textbook case of misplaced conservation.”

Dr. Lamb points to other cases including mass petitions against shark finning in Florida, although the practice was previously banned there; planting a species of milkweed in an attempt to save monarch butterflies, only to ultimately harm them; and closer to home, the sharing of misinformation in regards to the British Columbia grizzly bear hunt.

“When we see province-wide policies like banning grizzly hunting, those go against the wishes of some local communities in some parts of the province—and choosing to steamroll their perspectives is damaging relationships and alienating the partners we need on board to protect biodiversity,” says Dr. Ford.

He suggests using a ‘big tent’ approach may help combat some of the problems.

“We need to work together on the 90 per cent of goals that we share in common, as opposed to focusing on the 10 per cent of issues where we disagree. There are many clear wins for people and wildlife waiting to be actioned right now, we need to work together to make those happen,” says Dr. Ford.

Dr. Lamb says doing so is likely to improve cooperation among parties and increase the use of evidence-based approaches in conservation; ultimately suppressing the spread of misinformation and occurrences of polarization.

“Although we’re seeing some misplaced efforts, we’re also seeing genuine care and good community energy in many of these cases—we just need to find a way to harness this energy in the right direction.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Assistant Professor of Teaching Dean Richert and student Ram Dershan prepare a workstation that will be used for the industrial automation micro-credential course.

Short-duration, competency-based options aim to help community members improve skills

With an increasing need for continued education among those looking to build their knowledge in high-demand fields, UBC Okanagan has launched two micro-credential programs as part of its career and personal education portfolio. The first of their kind at UBCO, the two new micro-credentials will focus on the fields of technical communication and industrial automation.

“Micro-credentials are short programs that are often competency-based and are designed to respond to the needs of industry,” says Ananya Mukherjee Reed, provost and vice-president academic at UBC Okanagan. “They enable UBC Okanagan to offer unique learning opportunities alongside our academic programs that reflect the evolving education needs of today’s workforce.”

The new micro-credentials are part of British Columbia’s $4 million in funding for similar initiatives across the province. UBCO’s two new programs are delivered online and learners will earn a non-credit letter of proficiency, which includes a traditional paper copy of the credential and one or more digital badges which can be shared on their professional social media profiles.

The Critical Skills for Communications in the Technical Sector course, offered through the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, focuses on developing skills to communicate information accurately, succinctly and unambiguously and is intended for those working or seeking employment in a technical field.

Dr. Edward Hornibrook, head of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences and host of the new credential at UBCO, says the ability to communicate complex topics in a way that can be generally understood is a critical skill for employees across a breadth of industries.

“The program offers eight modules that focus on everything from improving grammar and style to better engaging with clients to producing successful technical proposals,” he says. “While many people focus on developing their technical abilities, this program is a great opportunity to improve on communication skills and will help participants get their ideas out in a clear and concise way—something that can bring a world of new opportunities for those seeking employment or wishing to advance their current position.”

Skills in Industrial Automation, offered through the School of Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science, brings together theory with hands-on practice. Participants have the opportunity to use industry-standard tools to learn about and develop automated systems.

“Not only are these programs designed in close collaboration with industry partners to ensure they provide real value in a professional context, but also students get to hone their skills in a flexible way and network with other people in their fields with the same interests,” says Dr. Homayoun Najjaran, associate director of manufacturing engineering and creator of the industrial automation micro-credential. “This is a new and exciting offering from UBCO and one that’s going to benefit employers and individuals alike.”

While the Skills in Industrial Automation micro-credential is full, Critical Skills for Communications in the Technical Sector is open for enrolment. For more information on both programs visit: provost.ok.ubc.ca/cpe

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

The Okanagan-based CHIME radio telescope detected a fast radio burst from within the Milky Way in April 2020.

UBCO researcher describes significance of findings

In the decade since they were first discovered, astronomers have categorized fast radio bursts (FRBs) as mysterious phenomena. But a recent astronomical event has provided further insight into the origin of these signals.

In a paper published recently in Nature, researchers confirm the evidence that supports their theory of what caused the April 28, 2020 event—a magnetar.

Magnetars, or high-magnetized pulsars, are remnants of dead stars that have gone supernova and left behind a compressed core that has more mass than the sun but is the diameter of a small city. Before this, researchers suspected that FRBs likely originate from magnetars, but no FRB-like event had been seen from any of the Milky Way’s roughly 30 known magnetars.

Alex Hill is an assistant professor of astrophysics in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and a member of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) research team that made this discovery.

What is the CHIME project?

CHIME is a large radio telescope that was originally created to study the properties of dark energy. It was built in 2017 at the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) just outside of Penticton, BC.

Dark energy is a mysterious form of energy that’s causing the universe’s expansion to speed up over time. It’s challenging to study because we can’t see it—we can only see what it does to things we can see, like galaxies. Researchers from UBC, the University of Toronto and McGill University came together in partnership with DRAO to build CHIME in order to try and map out the properties of dark energy by observing hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe.

My main focus within CHIME is using this telescope to study our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which we must look through to see the distant universe. This is a great challenge for cosmological science but a great opportunity for us to understand where the 'star stuff' we’re all made of comes from.

What makes the CHIME radio telescope different from others?

With a distinct cylindrical design, CHIME is definitely not what comes to mind when most people think of a telescope. It looks like four massive half-pipes laying next to each other, and it’s now the fourth-largest radio telescope in the world. This allows us to see a strip across the whole sky from the southern to northern horizons all at once. CHIME itself doesn’t move. Instead, when the earth rotates, we let the sky rotate over, so we’re seeing the sky in its entirety every day.

This is highly valuable because it lets our team build up many signals so we can detect very faint things. It also lets us see signals that go off periodically, like FRBs. When an FRB goes off, you don’t know in advance where it is, so you need to be seeing as much sky as possible at a given time to see most of them. CHIME is specifically designed to do this.

What did CHIME detect on April 28, 2020 and why is it significant?

CHIME detected a signal from within the Milky Way that appeared similar to FRBs. The team immediately released what’s called an astronomer’s telegram to let our fellow astronomers know something strange just happened and they should point their telescopes at it right away. FRBs are exactly what they sound like: mysterious bursts of radio emissions that go off quickly. Because they go off so quickly and usually leave no signal behind, you have to catch them the moment they appear.

We suspected that they might be coming from magnetars because they’re compact and have strong magnetic fields that produce radio signals. But there just wasn’t enough evidence to say one way or another.

The first FRB was detected in 2007, and there were around 30 to 50 of them detected before we built CHIME. Since then, CHIME has detected hundreds, but none in the Milky Way until 2020. This had us scratching our heads—if FRBs come from magnetars, as we had suspected, and we know our galaxy has magnetars, it was a bit of a puzzle that they’d never happened here.

The April 28 event was really affirming for our team. It was a pretty exciting day for astronomers because it was a first, and we finally had this new, concrete evidence that we were on the right track.

What makes the Okanagan ideal to host Canada’s national radio observatory?

In our line of work, we’re trying to detect radio signals. And to do so effectively we need a site that is as radio quiet as possible. Cell phones, TV towers and any other electronic device that produces radio frequency interference can threaten our success.

Our site is one of the best in the world for what we do. It’s ideal because, through a combination of regulation and geography, it is well-protected from radio signals. We’re one valley over from Penticton, so the mountains block radio signals from the city. At the observatory, we don’t use microwaves to heat our lunch, all of our computers are kept in metal cages that keep radio signals in, and we can’t use cell phones even in airplane mode. The observatory staff test every piece of electronics on-site to make sure they don’t harm our radio-quiet environment.

It may sound extreme but we’ve worked incredibly hard to keep our site radio quiet—it’s an enormous benefit to science. I don’t think there’s an observatory in the world with a better combination of an outstanding radio-quiet environment and easy access to a major population centre.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Gino DiLabio, inaugural dean of the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

Faculty of Science’s inaugural dean shares bright vision for future

It was a summer to remember for UBC Okanagan’s newly-minted Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science.

The new Faculty of Science was formed in July alongside the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences after the previously combined faculty grew and evolved into two new independent academic units.

The transition from one faculty into two marked a milestone for UBC Okanagan and signals the growth that the campus has experienced since its inception 15 years ago—expanding from 3,500 students in 2005 to more than 11,000 today.

The Faculty of Science’s inaugural Dean Gino DiLabio was recently appointed and is navigating his first term in the newly-created role. DiLabio, a chemistry professor and former head of UBCO’s chemistry department, explains the rationale for the new faculty and its commitment to research and partnerships within the community.

Why was it time to create the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science at UBC Okanagan?

A lot of factors were taken into consideration when making this decision—but I’d say the biggest factor was that the sciences here on campus have grown so much since its inception in 2005.

The former Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences had nearly 55 per cent of all of UBCO’s students, who were enrolled in many different programs. Transitioning into two separate faculties allows us to focus our attention and resources on advancing science education and research and in leading the growth of the campus as outlined in UBC’s Okanagan’s Outlook 2040 strategic plan.

What types of research are currently underway in the Faculty of Science?

Our faculty does everything from making new molecules to understanding ecological landscapes and nearly everything in between. We have expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning and medical physics. We’re a relatively small faculty in comparison to other institutions, yet have a broad range of research that we’re engaged in locally, garnering national and international attention.

Initially, we will focus on identifying how we can combine our strengths across the research disciplines in the faculty to do truly unique things in the research and educational programming spaces.

Why are increased partnerships between the Faculty of Science and local industry important for both?

If we can use our skillset to conduct world-renowned research while helping local industry solve a problem, to me it’s a win-win. We have some incredible partnerships within the community already, but I’d like to see more.

The first that comes to mind is Chemistry Professor Wesley Zandberg’s partnership with local grape growers. He’s working with farmers to develop a preventative strategy that protects wine grapes from the negative effects of wildfire smoke. Another example is the work of Professor Lael Parrott, who is collaborating with Indigenous traditional knowledge holders to find sustainable ways to manage the Okanagan landscape.

These are great examples of Okanagan researchers solving Okanagan problems; not only do they allow our community to be more self-reliant, it’s also pretty cool.

How do you see the Faculty of Science evolving over the next five years?

Broadly speaking, I’d like us to continue on this growth trajectory. Over the past couple of years, the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences has hired several faculty members in the sciences, both educators and researchers, and I hope to work with them on continuing to grow our undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as our research output.

The Faculty of Science is, and will continue to be, an important part of this campus’ identity in the years to come. We’re not a stand-alone entity, we’re an integral part of the community, helping to develop the socio-economic landscape in the region—but we don’t do it on our own. We do it in partnership with other faculties on our campus, local Indigenous communities, broader communities and industry partners. I’d like to see us continue to nurture these relationships and leverage them to do good for all involved—that, to me, would be a true success.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Landscape left untouched after a wildfire can regenerate and create protective cover for red squirrels and the snowshoe hare, and important species like coyotes, lynx, bobcats and owls depend on it to survive. Photo credit Angelina Kelly.

Salvage harvesting logging damages vital habitat for wildlife species

New research from UBC Okanagan shows that salvage logging on land damaged by wildfires has negative impacts on a variety of animals.

While post-fire salvage logging is used to mitigate economic losses following wildfire, Karen Hodges, a biology professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, says the compounded effects of wildfire and post-fire salvage logging are more severe than what wildlife experience from fire alone.

Wildfires have been increasing in prevalence and severity in recent decades, Hodges says, and salvaging trees after a fire is a common practice. However, the scale and intensity of post-fire logging removes important regenerating habitat for a variety of forest species.

“When trees are removed from a newly burned landscape, birds and mammals lose the last remnants of habitat,” she adds. “Salvage logging decreases forest biodiversity and changes ecological processes of post-fire forest regeneration. Mosaics of regenerating forest are changed through the removal of standing and downed trees, which would naturally remain on the landscape following fire.”

Hodges notes while BC’s logging industry is heavily regulated, harvesting differs between normal harvests and post-fire logging. More frequent wildfires mean an increase in post-fire salvage logging.

“Salvage logging is often done urgently as harvesters attempt to get burned timber to market before the wood deteriorates,” she says. “Salvage logging is also done at larger scales and intensities than a standard harvest. This post-fire harvest means wildlife species that can manage after a wildfire do not rebound as quickly from this second disturbance.”

The research led by master’s student Angelina Kelly studied populations of snowshoe hares and red squirrels in post-fire and salvage-logged areas of the Chilcotin—an area severely impacted by wildfires in 2010 and 2017. Hares and squirrels are important species because predators such as coyote, bobcats, marten, lynx, goshawks and great horned owls rely on them to survive.

“The main concern of a snowshoe hare is to avoid predators. Hares select stands with protective vegetation cover and avoid open areas like clearcuts—even if those areas provide food,” says Kelly. “Because of their need for vegetative cover, snowshoe hare populations decrease immediately following fires, clearcut logging or salvage logging.”

Their study area, about 32,000 hectares on the eastern edge of the Chilcotin Plateau, was ravaged by wildfire in 2017. While looking for evidence of hares and squirrels, the researchers also conducted vegetation surveys to quantify important habitat attributes in mature forests, burned forest and areas where salvage logging had taken place.

“Post-fire salvage logging greatly changed the habitat structure of post-fire stands, removing vegetative cover and rendering those sites unsuitable for hares and red squirrels,” says Kelly. “The post-fire salvage-logged areas supported no hares or red squirrels for at least eight to nine years after the initial wildfire. Burn areas where no post-fire harvesting took place supported low densities of hares and red squirrels by that time.”

This loss of prey species contributes to declines in forest predators such as lynx, marten and owls, as Hodges and her team have documented in this region and other studies.

Hodges and Kelly stress that any trees or vegetation left after a wildfire are critical for wildlife immediately after a fire, and promote a healthy mosaic of post-fire habitat. Residual trees facilitate regeneration of burned areas, while also supporting wildlife.

Their research was published recently in Forest Ecology and Management, and was funded by grants from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

UBCO researchers say post-fire salvage logging removes important regenerating habitat for a variety of species including the snowshoe hare. Photo credit Angelina Kelly.

UBCO researchers say post-fire salvage logging removes important regenerating habitat for a variety of species including the snowshoe hare. Photo credit Angelina Kelly.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBC Okanagan researchers say breadfruit is nutritionally sound and has the potential to improve worldwide food security issues. Photo credit Jan Vozenilek, Copper Sky Productions, Kelowna.

Breadfruit is sustainable, environmentally friendly and a high-production crop

A fruit used for centuries in countries around the world is getting the nutritional thumbs-up from a team of British Columbia researchers.

Breadfruit, which grows in abundance in tropical and South Pacific countries, has long been a staple in the diet of many people. The fruit can be eaten when ripe, or it can be dried and ground up into a flour and repurposed into many types of meals, explains UBC Okanagan researcher Susan Murch.

“Breadfruit is a traditional staple crop from the Pacific islands with the potential to improve worldwide food security and mitigate diabetes,” says Murch, a chemistry professor in the newly-created Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “While people have survived on it for thousands of years there was a lack of basic scientific knowledge of the health impacts of a breadfruit-based diet in both humans and animals.”

Breadfruit can be harvested, dried and ground into a gluten-free flour. For the project, researchers had four breadfruits from the same tree in Hawaii, shipped to the Murch Lab at UBC Okanagan. Doctoral student Ying Liu led the study examining the digestion and health impact of a breadfruit-based diet.

“Detailed and systematic studies of the health impacts of a breadfruit diet had not previously been conducted and we wanted to contribute to the development of breadfruit as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and high-production crop,” Liu says.

The few studies done on the product have been to examine the glycemic index of breadfruit—with a low glycemic index it is comparable to many common staples such as wheat, cassava, yam and potatoes.

“The objective of our current study was to determine whether a diet containing breadfruit flour poses any serious health concerns,” explains Liu, who conducted her research with colleagues from British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Natural Health and Food Products Research Group and the Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanic Garden in Hawaii.

The researchers designed a series of studies—using flour ground from dehydrated breadfruits—that could provide data on the impacts of a breadfruit-based diet fed to mice and also an enzyme digestion model.

The researchers determined that breadfruit protein was found to be easier to digest than wheat protein in the enzyme digestion model. And mice fed the breadfruit diet had a significantly higher growth rate and body weight than standard diet-fed mice.

Liu also noted mice on the breadfruit diet had a significantly higher daily water consumption compared to mice on the wheat diet. And at the end of the three-week-trial, the body composition was similar between the breadfruit and wheat diet-fed mice.

“As the first complete, fully-designed breadfruit diet study, our data showed that a breadfruit diet does not impose any toxic impact,” says Liu. “Fundamental understanding of the health impact of breadfruit digestion and diets is necessary and imperative to the establishment of breadfruit as a staple or as a functional food in the future.”

The use of breadfruit is nutritious and sustainable and could make inroads in food sustainability for many populations globally, she adds. For example, the average daily consumption of grain in the United States is 189 grams (6.67 ounces) per day. Liu suggests if a person ate the same amount of cooked breadfruit they can meet up to nearly 57 per cent of their daily fibre requirement, more than 34 per cent of their protein requirement and at the same time consume vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus.

“Overall, these studies support the use of breadfruit as part of a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet,” says Liu. “Flour produced from breadfruit is a gluten-free, low glycemic index, nutrient-dense and complete protein option for modern foods.”

The study was recently published in PLOS ONE.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

The Alpine Club of Canada’s general mountaineering camp, set up for the summer of 2019. Photo credit: Lael Parrott

Biodiversity, glacier health and sea mountains featured in annual report

While many know of the canary in the coal mine analogy, a team of researchers are using Canada’s mountain ranges as their canary. And, like the coal miners, they say Canadians should be worried.

Each year the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) issues a State of the Mountains report, tallying what climate change is doing to glaciers and rivers, alpine flora and fauna as well as mountain communities and people. The report is co-edited by UBC Okanagan’s Lael Parrott, a professor of sustainability in the earth, environmental and geographic sciences department and ACC vice-president for access and environment.

“Mountains are indeed sentinels for understanding a rapidly changing world,” says Parrott. “And Canada’s mountains, like those around the world, are experiencing a variety of worrying changes. Glaciers are disappearing and many species of plants and animals are being forced to either adapt to changing conditions or perish.”

But, Parrott says, Canada’s mountain experts are also discovering new information that will help to address these challenges. And the report shares positive news, highlighting how Indigenous communities and Canada’s youth are mobilizing to create opportunities for conservation and sustainability.

“What stands out this year are the two articles on seamounts,” says Parrott. “It’s the first time we cover underwater mountain ranges. Just like terrestrial mountains, the complex topography and elevational changes in seamounts also create special niches that support high diversity and unique ecosystems.”

Parrott explains the report is a collection of contributions from Canadian experts, including those living in mountain communities, Indigenous peoples, scientists and natural resource managers. Experts explain how landslides and volcanic eruptions, always a significant risk to people and property, are increasing due to climate change and increased human activity in the mountains. Specialists also examine the downstream impact of mining, recent changes in mountain glaciers and the importance of the biodiversity of plants and animals in Canada’s mountains.

Other key findings in the report include an explanation of new tools to forecast avalanches, document biodiversity and predict the impacts of climate change.

“Of course, climate change permeates all of the articles,” says Parrott. “The impacts of climate change are felt so strongly at high elevations and these impacts manifest into increasing landslides, changing vegetation, melting glaciers and much more.”

The third annual State of the Mountains report is available online at: stateofthemountains.ca. Learn more about Parrott’s work at: ourstories.ok.ubc.ca/stories/lael-parrott.

“We’re hoping to raise Canadian’s awareness about the urgency of acting to protect our mountain environments,” she adds. “And that people will become advocates for mountain conservation and mountain stewardship.”

South Chilcotin Provincial Park. Photo credit: Lael Parrott

South Chilcotin Provincial Park. Photo credit: Lael Parrott

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Coral species differ in their contribution to the complexity of the habitat, and their response to disturbances and capacity to compete. Modelling the resilience of coral communities will help ecologists design reef management and restoration strategies. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

‘Virtual’ coral reefs become diagnostic tool to help manage the planet’s reefs

A UBC Okanagan researcher has developed a way to predict the future health of the planet’s coral reefs.

Working with scientists from Australia’s Flinders University and privately-owned research firm Nova Blue Environment, biology doctoral student Bruno Carturan has been studying the ecosystems of the world’s endangered reefs.

“Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and they support the livelihoods of more than 500 million people,” says Carturan. “But coral reefs are also in peril. About 75 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by habitat loss, climate change and other human-caused disturbances.”

Carturan, who studies resilience, biodiversity and complex systems under UBCO Professors Lael Parrott and Jason Pither, says nearly all the world’s reefs will be dangerously affected by 2050 if no effective measures are taken.

There is hope, however, as he has determined a way to examine the reefs and explore why some reef ecosystems appear to be more resilient than others. Uncovering why, he says, could help stem the losses.

“In other ecosystems, including forests and wetlands, experiments have shown that diversity is key to resilience,” says Carturan. “With more species, comes a greater variety of form and function—what ecologists call traits. And with this, there is a greater likelihood that some particular traits, or combination of traits, help the ecosystem better withstand and bounce back from disturbances.”

The importance of diversity for the health and stability of ecosystems has been extensively investigated by ecologists, he explains. While the consensus is that ecosystems with more diversity are more resilient and function better, the hypothesis has rarely been tested experimentally with corals.

Using an experiment to recreate the conditions found in real coral reefs is challenging for several reasons—one being that the required size, timeframe and number of different samples and replicates are just unmanageable.

That’s where computer simulation modelling comes in.

“Technically called an ‘agent-based model’, it can be thought of as a virtual experimental arena that enables us to manipulate species and different types of disturbances, and then examine their different influences on resilience in ways that are just not feasible in real reefs,” explains Carturan.

In his simulation arena, individual coral colonies and algae grow, compete with one another, reproduce and die. And they do all this in realistic ways. By using agent-based models—with data collected by many researchers over decades—scientists can manipulate the initial diversity of corals, including their number and identity, and see how the virtual reef communities respond to threats.

“This is crucial because these traits are the building blocks that give rise to ecosystem structure and function. For instance, corals come in a variety of forms—from simple spheres to complex branching—and this influences the variety of fish species these reefs host, and their susceptibility to disturbances such as cyclones and coral bleaching.”

By running simulations over and over again, the model can identify combinations that can provide the greatest resilience. This will help ecologists design reef management and restoration strategies using predictions from the model, says collaborating Flinders researcher Professor Corey Bradshaw.

“Sophisticated models like ours will be useful for coral-reef management around the world,” Bradshaw adds. “For example, Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef is in deep trouble from invasive species, climate change-driven mass bleaching and overfishing.”

“This high-resolution coral ‘video game’ allows us to peek into the future to make the best possible decisions and avoid catastrophes.”

The research, supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, was published recently in eLife.

A UBCO researcher is using years of compiled data to determine how virtual reef communities will respond to threats including cyclones and coral bleaching. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

A UBCO researcher is using years of compiled data to determine how virtual reef communities will respond to threats including cyclones and coral bleaching. Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Maréchal.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Lake Country’s Teagan MacDougall is the 2020 recipient of the Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

Aspiring pediatrician wins top student award

Teagan MacDougall reminds herself of one thing when the going gets tough—how worthwhile this will all be when she’s able to help sick children as a pediatrician.

Today, MacDougall graduates with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology (honours), celebrating not only the end of her undergraduate career, but also being awarded the Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

The $10,000 prize, now in its 11th year, is the highest honour available for an Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences student and recognizes a graduating student who has excelled academically and shown leadership while earning their degree.

Andrew Brunton, managing partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP, says the firm is proud to recognize the accomplishments of another exceptional student at UBC Okanagan.

“We are happy to support Teagan and hope she continues to chase her dream of becoming a pediatrician and is able to continue her great work in the community,” says Brunton. “We are proud to be a supporter of UBC Okanagan and to be able to add Teagan to the distinguished list of Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize winners.”

MacDougall grew up a short drive from the UBC campus in Lake Country, BC. After graduating high school, she relocated to Whistler to spend her days on the slopes and evenings working in the hospitality industry—before returning to the Okanagan and enrolling at UBCO in 2016.

Having enjoyed biology in high school, and knowing her end-goal was medical school—microbiology was a natural choice.

Though thrilled to be back in the classroom—bad study habits started to haunt her. She struggled during her first semester, trying to learn weeks of course material for an upcoming midterm in one night.

“I was up all-night studying, drank six red bulls, and I got 20 per cent,” she says. “It made me wonder whether or not I was cut out for university—I asked myself what I wanted to do. I could either walk away or try harder and I decided to try harder.”

MacDougall registered for a summer physics course—this time committing to give it her all.

She did just that—and completed the course with 97 per cent. From that moment forward, she never received a grade lower than an A.

Aside from academic achievements, MacDougall was deeply involved in research during her time at UBCO, volunteering in a biomedical research lab, and working as an undergraduate research assistant.

An honours student, MacDougall also produced original research investigating the persistency and viability of a fungal probiotic in the human gastrointestinal tract—winning first-place poster presentation at UBCO’s Undergraduate Research Conference.

In her sparse spare time, MacDougall founded Heroes for Little Heroes, a registered Canadian non-profit where volunteers wear princess and superhero costumes to visit medically-vulnerable children at local hospitals and disadvantaged children at social service institutions.

“The smile on their faces when they see a princess or superhero walk into the room—it’s so heartwarming,” says MacDougall.

“We do crafts, read books and just talk and keep them company—but, honestly, they’re the real heroes. They overcome huge adversities at a young age and still come out smiling—they’re so brave and inspire me to be resilient every day.”

Aside from pediatrics visits, MacDougall is also a volunteer at Kelowna General Hospital, doing patient visitations and providing information in the emergency department. She also serves as a youth mental health ambassador with the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at BC Children’s Hospital, a position that piqued her interest for personal reasons.

“During my teenage years, I suffered from an eating disorder,” she explains. “Although it was horrible—I try to think of it as a silver lining. That experience helps me to better understand and empathize with youth suffering from similar disorders.”

Over the next few months, MacDougall will work with the early detection research group at the BC Cancer Agency—while studying to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) this fall.

Though her medical school of choice is UBC’s Southern Medical Program on the Okanagan campus, MacDougall says she’s open to the idea of relocating if necessary.

“Wherever my journey takes me, the financial flexibility that comes with winning this award will allow me to further my education and continue growing my foundation with the goal of helping as many people as possible,” she says, thanking Pushor Mitchell and her professors for their support.

As she graduates today, she shares one final lesson not learned in a textbook.

“Hard work does pay off and I want my fellow students to know they are capable of much more than they know. No one should sell themselves short. Anything worth having is worth working for—it’s so simple, yet so true.”

UBCO’s Dominica Patterson has won the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. She is now preparing for law school.

Silver Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation

Shortly after high school, Dominica Patterson boarded a plane to volunteer in Benin, West Africa. While she knew an adventure was waiting, she had no idea how that journey would light a spark that would eventually lead to law school.

Now, as she graduates from UBC Okanagan and studies for her Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Patterson has been named the winner of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. It’s an honour reserved for a student with a strong academic standing and who has also made a difference in this world.

Patterson admits she didn’t take high school seriously enough and had no idea what her future would bring. She signed up for the cultural exchange and left the rest up to fate.

“I assumed I was going on a big ‘save the planet’ project and I’d come back feeling like a great person,” she says. “To my benefit, it was not that type of program and it certainly opened my eyes. I quickly learned a lot about integrating into a new society, and the conflicts between foreign affairs, international aid and the lack of human rights many people struggle with.”

In Benin, she lived in a small rural village, worked on a community farm and also shadowed health care professionals in a nearby maternity clinic. The experience lit a fire in Patterson. She became passionate about global affairs and human rights. Back in Canada, after completing an associate degree in criminal justice she transferred to UBC Okanagan, bridging her credits towards a bachelor’s degree in international relations.

She quickly became involved in a number of organizations, most notably the non-profit group Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (RAMA).

“Working alongside human rights lawyers and executive organizers of the organization, I joined the fight to stand with temporary migrant workers in Canada against the structural racism, violence, isolation, discrimination and poor living and working conditions they often face while working here,” she explains.

She also began a fundraising campaign, helping support a person while he was waiting for the ruling of the Canadian BC Human Rights Tribunal. Not only did she start a Go Fund Me campaign, but she also created a business selling succulents in vintage teapots to raise money to support his family.

All this, while working on her degree. She admits there were some long nights poring over textbooks, and endless papers to write. But her work with RAMA inspired her to make a difference. The spark that had been lit in Benin, continued to burn.

“I took each moment in each course as it came along. Then I made the dean’s list and suddenly I knew I had the possibility of getting where I wanted to go. I knew there was no giving up.”

By then Patterson, and her passion for justice, was noticed by some of her professors.

“She has all of the hallmarks of being an outstanding scholar and someone who will be a practical change-maker around issues of inequality, inclusion and social justice,” says Economics, Philosophy and Political Science Department Head, Professor Helen Yanacopulos. “Teaching Dominica has been not only inspiring, but also intellectually stimulating and an absolute pleasure.”

And in 2019, Associate Professor of History Jessica Stites Mor invited Patterson to help coordinate a conference on International Solidarity Movement New York City.

“Dominica is an outstanding student and promises to contribute great things in the future. Her research on labour issues between Latin America and Canada has involved a deep reading of hemispheric labour conflict and activism with RAMA,” she adds. “Her family’s experience coming to Canada from Chile in the aftermath of Pinochet’s military coup has inspired her to consider the connections between everyday acts of exploitation and the foundations of citizenship and democracy.”

And the spark for human rights continues to burn. She takes her LSAT in July and has applied for law school, with a focus on international affairs. It’s daunting, she says, thinking of the years of course work ahead. But hearing about the Lieutenant Governor’s Silver Medal only sparks the flame for justice.

“At certain points, you find yourself on the floor, exhausted. You wonder how you’re going to get through this. But you can’t quit, because you want to make a difference,” she says. “To have this recognition is something I never expected. I can now look back at those moments when I was on my knees—done and ready to give up. I wish I could have told myself then it was going to be worth it. This is an amazing end to my time at UBCO and I couldn’t be more humbled or more grateful. I am truly thankful.”