The 100 Islands Project seeks to blend the theory of island biogeography with theories about ecosystem subsidies, to understand how nutrients from the sea affect the ecology of plants, breeding birds, mammals, insects and amphibians. To do this we will be studying 100 islands near the Hakai Institute on Calvert Island. Little is known of the diversity on these islands and therefore we have a great opportunity to conduct lots of interesting work, including mapping of major taxa, tracking marine-derived nutrients along shorelines (think seaweed deposition) and into the forests, and measuring stable isotope signatures in a variety of organisms (from tiny plants to large mammals), to name just a few!
Archipelagos with islands that vary in physical characteristics comprise complex landscapes for studying species distributions. Research questions will explore the nature of connectivity between islands and barriers to connectedness and species dispersal. Hypotheses will be developed and tested on the mechanisms for spatial variation in species distributions and marine versus terrestrial subsidy use.
Through the 100 Islands Project the Hakai Institute at Calvert will build and maintain an inventory of physical and biotic features of the islands that could serve as a foundation for future studies and will work with and contribute to numerous other Hakai research programs.
The 100 Islands Project is looking for a PhD student to begin early 2016. See posting here for more information.
Our conceptual framework is rooted in the theory of island biogeography. The theory of island biogeography provides a starting point for predicting abundance and diversity of species in relation to island areas and remoteness. Recent refinements include the role of primary productivity (e.g. temperature, moisture, nutrients), and habitat heterogeneity. A separate theory of ecosystem subsidies focuses on the role of nutrient transfers between ecosystems in driving productivity and ecological interactions. In an island context, transfer of seaweed, guano from seabirds, and shellfish remains from human occupancy can be affected by island area, perimeter:area ratios, island position relative to winds and currents, and topography (e.g. steepness of shorelines). A third context is history of human occupation, which can affect shoreline topography, land cover, and subsidies (e.g., from middens). We wish to work at the intersection of these three contexts (and probably more!).
The default expectation is that larger and less isolated islands will have more species. The interesting (and novel) aspect is how these classical expectations might be affected by nutrients from the sea, as well as physical features of islands that affect their delivery, including any human modification of the landscapes. For example, species-area relationships will probably fall apart in small, heavily marine-influenced islands (either higher or lower than the classical prediction, depending on the species). By understanding the marine processes in relation to the biology of the terrestrial species, we should be able to re-build the relationships, and verify them with tests at new locations.
Our approach is interdisciplinary. Our study will require data from multiple sources. Remote sensing and GIS will allow us to visualize data, extract important geographical data and derive environmental areas that cover our vast study area, while ground surveys of flora and fauna will be the bread and butter of our field research team. Synergy with other Hakai research projects will be key to its success.
There are some serious logistics required to study 100 islands. Our initial timelines are set to run the program for the next 5 years. Fieldwork will run from the start of April until about mid-August each year, involving our field researchers plus visits by the PIs. Camping at a central location and kayaking will be central to the field work. We are looking at 2015 as our pilot year to see how field work will be conducted with our field teams and data collection. After being transported to their study region by boat, the teams will be self-sufficient for 1-2 weeks at a time with kayaks and small zodiacs.
Update from January 2015
We’re gearing up to start in the spring of 2015, tackling 30 islands. We conducted a cluster analysis of our ~1500 candidate islands (based on geographical and environmental variables) and have identified 5 main study “nodes” that will be used as central locations from which to travel to and sample neighbouring islands. Logistics are integral to sampling 30 islands. and are building our database for each island and sharing data with other Hakai programs. It’s good to start with modest and doable goals. We will examine some islands at the extremes of where we would predict we will detect effects in terrestrial biodiversity from marine subsides. Time for some cluster analysis of all of our geographic variables! We will be regrouping early in the New Year to choose our candidate study sites.