Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley
Mississippi River at Pakenham

Lanark County Forest Habitats

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Which forest is healthier? Lecture report by Christine Hume

Which forest is healthier? If you selected the first one pictured below you are on the right track. At the recent Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) talk “Coarse Meaty Debris: The Significance of Large Dead Animals in our Forests” given by Dr. Paul Keddy, we learned that a forest that has a healthy mixture of living trees, fallen decomposing trees, and dead standing trees is a healthy forest ecosystem. The talk focused on the deciduous forests of eastern North America.

forest with coarse woody debris Keddy (800x525)

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Many of the forests in this area were cut by the end of the last century, so most of the ancient old growth forests are long gone. Slowly our deciduous forests have come back; some of the key indicators to help judge the health of these forests were discussed. The presence of diagnostic species such as spring ephemerals (e.g. Trillium), Wood Warblers and Salamanders are good signs. Additional indicators include: more big trees, canopy composition, a diverse herbaceous layer, wildlife trees, woodpecker nesting trees, and coarse woody debris. The woody debris is a major source of biological diversity, allowing ferns, mosses and fungi to thrive.

It is important for landowners with forested property to understand the benefits of maintaining and managing biological diversity. We learned that it is beneficial to a wide range of plants, animals and insects to let a tree that falls in the woods—just lie there. A general rule of thumb is to leave 8 fallen trees per acre—the bigger the tree the better!

Dr. Keddy then noted that as he was preparing the talk and thinking about the benefits of “woody debris” – the phrase “meaty debris” came to mind. The talk next focused on the importance of “coarse meaty debris” (animal carcasses) and the contribution it makes to a healthy forest. Of particular interest to me, was the description of the simple study conducted by Dr. Keddy and his wife Cathy on their property. On a beaver pond they set up a man-made carcass—a pile of trim (meat and bone scraps) from their local butcher. Then they recorded detailed field notes and observations over a period of 3 – 10 days noting which birds and mammals came to feed on the “carcass”. We were very surprised to learn that the first bird that came to feed on the meaty debris was a tiny little chickadee. It was feeding on the fat of the carcass. Next in the carcass line-up was a couple of crows, then turkey vultures, then a large gathering of crows and ravens; several coyotes and so on. It was a powerful demonstration of the number of species that will feed on carcasses and may depend on the availability of ‘meaty debris’ for survival.

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The first bird to visit and feed on the ‘artificial’ carcass was a tiny chickadee. Photo Cathy Keddy

Another study that was conducted in Algonquin Park was presented— the ‘meaty debris’ in this instance included deer and moose carcasses. Species that eventually found the carcasses included: ravens, turkey vultures, fox, black bear, otter, and wolf. Black bears are known to be carrion feeders. There is a huge array of species that feed on carcasses. They are a centre of biodiversity. The bodies are cleaned up—animals may tear, grind, pick, gnaw and disperse pieces of the carcass. Anything remaining goes back into the soil. After a few weeks there is nothing left. Quite fascinating really!

It was also interesting to learn about the 68 species of burying beetles. The beetles bury small carcasses; lay their eggs in the carcass and their young then feed off of it. And then Dr. Keddy presented some examples of how humans can interfere with the circle of life – and keep it from running smoothly.

Given a total deer population for Ontario of 400,000, (estimated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), the range of deer i.e. covering about 40% of the area of the province, and a natural annual mortality rate of 10%, the natural deer carcass density would be approximately 1 carcass/10 km2. The annual removal of potential carcasses through hunting (60,000 – 70,000, estimated by OMNR) is high relative to the 40,000 animals that naturally become “meaty debris.” The removal of deer by hunting results in a steady drain of carcasses, nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium from our forests. This probably has a significant negative impact on all the species that feed on carcasses.

And going back 10,000 years Dr. Keddy briefly discussed “megafauna” and the big carcasses of that era, now missing, including: woolly mammoth; sabre-toothed cat; giant ground sloth and more. The cause of the demise of these giant creatures at the end of the last ice age is widely debated. We saw photos of hand-chiseled spearheads that were found along with the remains of some of these gigantic mammals. It is suspected that our human ancestors became a bit too skilled at hunting and likely were largely responsible for exterminating the megafauna.

This talk really made me think of the circle or web of life – and how interconnected and interdependent the trees, plants, mammals, insects are on each other.

How can we contribute to keeping our forests healthy?

Find out what is being done with road kill that is collected? Instead of it being incinerated or disposed of, can some be distributed in managed forests to support a healthier ecosystem? Can some be put where naturalists can observe and learn the effects of meaty debris?

Increase public awareness that dead trees and carcasses in the woods are an essential part of nature— a “good thing,” not something to be offended by— they will be cleaned up by nature itself.

Resources: To learn more about our forests and the Managed Forest Program, check the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website at http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/. If you are interested in volunteering and helping with forest management projects, refer to information provided by OMNR, the Ontario Forestry Association (http://www.oforest.ca/) and the Eastern Ontario Model Forest http://www.eomf.on.ca/ .  For more information about the research work of ecologist Dr. Paul Keddy, please visit his website at http://www.drpaulkeddy.com/

 

 

Opening a can of worms - Lecture report written by Linda Mosquin

As a gardener I have dug up many earthworms in our flower and vegetable gardens and have long considered the earthworm to be a friend, always marveling at its ability to break up, aerate and improve the soil. Or, as our Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s speaker Dr. Paul Gray of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources(OMNR) more largely described them, as “. . . ecological engineers famous for their ability to ingest and integrate soils through different layers, for their contribution to agricultural productivity, for their role as food for wildlife and for use by anglers as fish bait.” Many animals eat earthworms…. think crows, gulls, skunks, flickers, robins and others. In Ontario the business of exporting worms to the United States is valued at 110 million dollars a year and involves a migrant work force picking worms at night. And with agricultural fields and pastures in Ontario using more than 5 million hectares of soil, the earthworm would appear to be a seemingly benevolent creature.

3 Worm Press Story photo 2 (960x1280)

Indeed, the lowly earthworm helps the economy, but as Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) Paul Gray recently told an MVFN audience, the evolving earthworm story in North America is much more complex. He is co-author of the 2012 report: Implications of a Potential Range Expansion of Invasive Earthworms in Ontario’s Forested Ecosystems.

Indeed, the earthworm helps the economy, but as our speaker pointed out, with warmer climate change due to humans burning fossil fuels, the evolving earthworm story in Canada/North America is more complex and darker. Native Ontario earthworms, where they existed, are believed to have been eradicated with the Wisconsin glaciers 10,000 years ago and southern native species did not manage to re-colonize this area. Thus our forests developed in the absence of earthworms until they arrived with soils (for ballast) and plants brought here by European settlers. So at present 17 European non-natives and two North American (non-native to Ontario) earthworm species thrive in the province. Some of these earthworms are invasive and with our warming climate it is becoming more apparent that there is a potential for range expansion of these worms in Ontario’s forested ecosystems. Already much damage has been done to the forest habitat around the Great Lakes.

Gray presented a number of detailed charts depicting the warming trend for climate change in Ontario. The International Panel on Climate Change models show the warmest trends of between 9-10 degrees, in the northern latitudes, and 4-5 degrees in our area by the end of the century. Earthworms can be killed by freezing but they have developed systems to avoid this happening. As climate warms they will continue to move forward into our northern forests.

Earthworms are classified into three ecological groups, namely: endogeic, these are rich soil feeders, topsoil dwellers, have no pigmentation, make horizontal burrows, and are small (approx.7.5-12.5 cm). Epigeic earthworms are top-litter feeders and dwellers; they are pigmented, make no burrows and are the smallest (at 7.5cm). Anecic earthworms are larger (12.5-20 cm) earthworms which are litter and soil feeders and dwellers, dorsally pigmented, and make extensive permanent vertical burrows.

Given the different strata of the soil the different earthworms groups reside in and their burrowing habits, it is no surprise that the impact on forests from earthworms is greatest when all three kinds of earthworms are present. As they move into a forest one can see the edge of the healthy, rich, thick horizon zone meeting the edge of the ‘denuded’ soil caused by earthworms eating up much of the available organic material. Organic layers are lost, protozoa are eaten, micro-arthropod eggs are damaged and micro-fauna are preyed upon. Plant communities are weakened and often destroyed. Invasive earthworms do most damage to hardwood forests, such as those consisting of maple, basswood, red oak, poplar, or birch species. So a forest that once had a lush understory ends with a single species of native herb and essentially no tree seedlings. Over time (spreading 5 to ten meters a year) earthworms change the forest soils from a fungal to a bacterial dominated system which hastens the conversion of leaf litter to mineral compounds, starving the plants of organic nutrients. This change in soil eliminates seedlings, ferns, and wildflowers. There is evidence emerging that changes caused by alien earthworms can even eventually affect small mammal, bird and amphibian populations and increase the impacts of herbivores like white-tailed deer. Invasive plants such as buckthorn and mustard garlic can establish a roothold in a diminished ecosystem. These species reduce and destroy habitat for native species and are a serious threat to biodiversity and the health of our forests. Once established, earthworms are virtually impossible to eradicate.

Much of Paul Gray’s presentation on earthworms is based on American information since most of the research has been done there, although one of the best known books on earthworms, “The Earthworms (Lumbricidae and Sparganophilidae) of Ontario” (1977) was written by a Canadian, John W. Reynolds.

Gray described the findings from a multi-species invasion of earthworms at a site in Timmons he worked on in 2011. Nineteen species were identified at this site. Along with other researchers, he has developed a ranking system for the risk posed by these species as a preliminary ‘Invasion Index’ for earthworms in Ontario. Categories included in the ranking system are abundance, distribution, reproduction, transportability as bait, most northerly isotherm (temperature) and pH tolerance. Earthworms like a neutral pH but can exist in a wide range of acidic soil. As the soil becomes less acidic they will find it easier to establish themselves. The species were ranked low, medium or high for invasion potential. The full details of their findings are contained in the OMNR report released in 2012: “Implications of a Potential Range Expansion of Invasive Earthworms in Ontario’s Forested Ecosystems: A Preliminary Vulnerability Analysis” which Gray co-authored with others and which was released in 2012. The speaker had copies of this excellent report at the lecture and it is also available online at the OMNR website http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/ClimateChange/Publication/STDPROD_092882.html.

How do earthworms travel into forested areas in Ontario? With human help of course! Fishermen dumping bait near forested areas, gardeners moving compost, road building, or ATV tire-treads or truck tire-treads which have adult worms and cocoons (egg cases), could all start an earthworm invasion into forested areas. There are some simple things you can do to prevent their further spread. For example, people should take unused fishing bait home and freeze the container for at least a week before discarding the contents, avoid dumping compost anywhere except in your own garden, and wash ATV or other soil-holding vehicle tires before transporting the vehicle. In Minnesota, where extensive research on earthworms has been done it is illegal to dump worm bait.

More research in Ontario on managing invasive earthworms, especially with our warming climate, would be useful. Regulation and education could help prevent alien earthworms from invading Ontario forests. Another route to scientific research that is very much supported by Gray is citizen science. He would be happy to help organize training and seek support for citizen groups that would like to become involved in collecting data about invasive earthworms. If you are interested in starting or joining such a group consider contacting Dr. Gray at To help citizens become informed on earthworms there are various sites on the internet which offer additional information such as http://www.naturewatch.ca/english/wormwatch/ and http://www.nrri.umn.edu/worms/default.htm

 

3 Worm Press Story photo 1 (1280x960)

Paul Gray (right) of the Applied Research and Development Branch, OMNR, in lively discussion with MVFN President Ken Allison (left) and member Neil Carleton after his presentation on earthworms. Photo Pauline Donaldson

 

Rideau Valley Field NaturalistsInformation contact: Judy Buehler – (613) 326-0106;
e-mail:

Trees and the Environment topic of next RVFN meeting

By Judy Buehler
Rideau Valley Field Naturalists

‘Give me some acorns and a shovel and I will repair the planet…,” says Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

Diana will be speaking at the Rideau Valley Field Naturalists’ meeting on Sunday, February 3rd where she will talk on native trees of eastern North America. Before our ancestors arrived, native peoples held some trees sacred and used some for medicinal purposes. Over the last century, a lot of our forests have come down. In order to fight global warming, these forests must go back up.

Beresford-Kroeger, a scientist and author specializing in classical botany and medical biochemistry, was raised in Ireland and now lives near Merrickville. Her work, ‘Arboretum America: A Philosophy of the Forest’ won the American National Arbor Day Foundation Media Award for exemplary educational work on trees and forests. She is currently working on ‘Arboretum Borealis’, a sister book, about the great northern forests and their importance in the global system.

The general public is invited to join the RVFN for their meeting at 2 p.m., Sun., Feb. 3, in the All-Purpose Room at the Perth and District Indoor Swimming Pool on Wilson Street at Sunset Boulevard. There is a small admission fee of $5.00 for non-members.

For more information about the RVFN, contact Judy Buehler at 326-0106.

Links for information and assistance for landowners managing forests and woodlots recommended

by OMNR’s Linda Touzin at MVFN lecture January 18, 2007      

MNR-District Offices, Stewardship Coordinators, MNR internet (www.mnr.gov.on.ca)

Ontario Woodlot Association (www.ont-woodlot-assoc.org)

Eastern Ontario Model Forest (www.eomf.on.ca)

Landowner Resource Centre (www.lrconline.com) Ontario Forestry Association (www.oforest.on.ca)Forest Gene Conservation Association (www.fgca.net)

Conservation Ontario (www.conservation-ontario.com   

 The signs of a healthy forest were described by Linda as having a diversity of species appropriate for the eco-site, vigorously growing native trees, ‘forest values’ protected from timber harvest operations, having a variety of types and ages of trees and habitat features while also having demonstrated careful logging practices.”

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
January 29, 2007
by Howard Robinson

Linda Touzin Meets the Challenge for Best Forestry Practices While Protecting the Watershed

See Linda’s Recommended Links for information on how to keep your woodlot healthy

Linda Touzin from the MNRThe Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) continued its lecture series of talks related to the “Mississippi Valley Watershed”. On 18rd January the lecture was well attended, by woodlot owners and others, with Linda Touzin presenting valuable and interesting information on “Managing forests to protect the watershed”.
The Mississippi Valley, Ms. Touzin said, has a very high percentage of wooded area compared to other developed parts of Ontario. It must be well managed in order to acquire wood products in a sustainable fashion without severely impacting the environment including our watershed.

There is much evidence of a cleaning effect for streams that pass through forests. It is hard to put a value on streams, wetlands and other kinds of ‘natural capital’. On the other hand it is easy to understand the economic value of woodlands and wood as a natural and renewable resource continues to increase in value.

The Mississippi Valley is in the Mazinaw-Lanark crown forest management unit and is the most southerly such unit in Canada . One third is Crown land and the rest is private. A sustainable harvest is guided by an extensive forestry plan covering a 20 year period with a view looking beyond 100 years. A detailed plan, which may take 2.5 years to produce, includes a lengthy consultation process and public input. Healthy collaboration with all concerned is a key part of the plan, with concerns generally met through guidelines based on science and core values.
While the plan is for a sustainable harvest, the operational plan and ‘silviculture system’ used have many considerations for protection of the environment and its watershed. Road building and logging must avoid damage to the watershed from run off, soil erosion with its excess nutrients and operational degradation. Heavy machinery around the watershed is avoided and a 30 metre minimum buffer is left near watersheds. Depending on the incline to the water and soil type, this buffer is increased.

Most harvesting is done on a partial cutting system where there is a general ‘thinning’ of trees of various ages suitable for wood products. The forest is left to regenerate with an ‘acceptable growing stock’ i.e. mix of age and trees known to help improve the forest and value of the resource. Danger trees may be taken down but care is also taken to identify all ‘forest values’ such as nesting sites, cold-water streams, vernal pools, or rare species which will be left with a ‘no-cut’ buffer. Harvesting is not done during the nesting season. Clear cutting done over ~ 17% of the area currently, involves primarily short life tree types that may be predominant in an area (e.g. Birch) and which will regenerate.

Linda demonstrated her excellent knowledge and experience as a Registered Professional Forester and answered many good questions from both MVFN members and others interested in private woodlot management. Linda stressed that sustainable forest management can be practiced by private landowners using the same best practices used by OMNR on crown lands. The information and tools are readily available and with public involvement in public processes we can all make a difference.

The signs of a healthy forest were described as having a diversity of species appropriate for the eco-site, vigorously growing native trees, forest values protected from timber harvest operations, having a variety of types and ages of trees and habitat features while also having demonstrated careful logging practices.

Finally, Linda advised those with wood lots to KEEP THEM, walk through all corners of your property making an inventory, keep good species, remove exotics, and whenever and wherever possible increase your woodlot or connect it with others. Make a plan for your woodlot and then choose consultants and tree markers accordingly, based on your plan and what you value most in your woodlot.

If you want to know how to keep a woodlot healthy or where landowners can turn for help, Linda’s recommended links are posted on MVFN’s website at www.mvfn.ca.

MVFN’s lecture series continues Thursday February 15th with Paul Hamilton of the Canadian Museum of Nature who will discuss “Water Quality”, 7:30 p.m. at the Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin Street in Almonte.

For more information please contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or , or visit www.mvfn.ca.

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MVFN's natural history talks take place on 3rd Thursdays, Jan-April and Sept-November, at  Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, ON. All welcome!

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