Jade Harvey, Stoke on Science columnist. (Revelstoke Review)

Jade Harvey, Stoke on Science columnist. (Revelstoke Review)

Stoked on Science The A-Z: A is for adaptation

Jade Harvey

Stoked on Science

A is for adaptation. I like to think of us Revelstokians as being quite adaptable.

We’ve adapted to social distancing in our stores, adapted to losing the summer fest and even moderately adapted to the diversion/roundabout dance route around town, albeit through gritted teeth.

Adaptation in nature is the reason we are all here.

The reason that despite enormous geological, climatic, atmospheric and oceanic changes over time, our ecosystems have stretched, moved and diversified to allow the complexity of our lives to continue on.

When long-term climate shifts have happened before, species have adapted.

They moved their long term homes further south to avoid cold periods or shifted their migration times forward or back to escape more precipitation arising from warmer temperatures.

It’s happening now.

Species ranges of flora are bumping upslope as temperatures increase in the alpine, birds migratory patterns are changing, fish are attempting to spawn at different times to find the cool, clear waters they require.

Scientists are working hard to understand just how vulnerable our ecosystems in the Columbia Basin are to climate change happening now and predicated changes in the future.

This vulnerability depends on the level of exposure to changed conditions, (increased temperatures, decreased stream flows, increased drought) the sensitivity of a system to change and the adaptive capacity to recover or adjust following change.

It’s challenging to measure this because some impacts of climate change will likely change fairly linearly and gradually (e.g. average temperature) whilst others reach a threshold or tipping point and then dramatically change (e.g average water temperature in glacial fed streams).

The averages do not reflect the increased variability and extreme events we’re seeing as the signature of climate change.

The impacts of climate also interact with non-climate pressures to affect the environment in complex, non-linear and often unpredictable ways.

For example, at the ecosystem scale, increased fire disturbance, combined with warmer temperatures and spread of invasive weeds may lead to an ecological regime shift when a forest fails to regenerate after fire and instead reestablishes as a ecologically simplified grassland, dominated by exotic, non-nutritious species.

It’s adaptation but not with a positive outcome. It’s like trying to bake a cake with gluten free flour for the first time.

In place of the usually fluffy disc you usually get after baking, instead this time, with the whoosh of hot air from the open oven door you are greeted with a hard, dense, inedible rock that resembles cake that has been fossilized for millennia.

The 2016 study by the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, called Climate Change Vulnerability of B.C.’s Fish and Wildlife: First Approximation, found that the increasing unpredictability in weather and resources would benefit our local generalist species, those already adapted to unpredictable environments, such as coyotes, crows and bullfrogs.

Most specialized species, however, will face extreme stressors.

This includes most amphibians, alpine and riparian (wetland) dependent mammals, insects, marine birds and cold water fish.

So adaptation can mean and be created in different ways.

There’s the autonomous adaptation of species and ecosystems that has been happening for several billion years quite happily without us, the assisted adaptation whch is the necessary work we now need to do to help species and ecosystems adapt (protecting wetlands, ensuring continuous natural ecosystems remain linked), and there’s the adaptation of human communities.

That’s us, team. Revelstoke is adapting well it seems.

We’ve seen a movement of growing our own local food,

We’re seeing infrastructure and building design improving to be more energy efficient.

We’ve got air quality monitoring developed so that we can be knowledgeable about air quality on smoky days and protect those most vulnerable in our community.

We’ve got this. Open discussion, informed decisions and commitment to working together as a community to adapt to climate change and become more resilient is possible.

The Columbia Basin Climate Source has some great good news stories about the work we’re doing as a community and ideas for how we can do even better. Check it out.

If we can adapt to a summer of roundabout diversions we can adapt to anything.

Jade Harvey holds a BSc 1st Class HONS in Physical Geography. She is the director of Stoked on Science – a local science and outdoor education company where she delivers Science and Environment education programs in Revelstoke and across the Columbia Basin. For the past 10 years she has written and delivered science workshops and field trips in schools and she now creates after school recreation programs for the City of Revelstoke. You can find her obsessing over rocks, annoying passers by by telling them the age of local rocks and trying to show people her rock collection.

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