Ashley Final Blog Reflection
During this trip to Yellowstone we saw a lot, more than to average person does. Along with not only seeing animals, we also had to opportunity to hike to the last standing acclimation pen, which is a location not labeled on the average map. The great thing about this trip and the people who were on it, is every day we thought like biologists, and land managers, the careers that we are all hoping to have one day. In that, we thought critically about the influences and benefits that the reintroduction of wolves has had on Yellowstone and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Wolves are a top predator and key stone species, which means they help regulate and balance all the species interactions below them. Before wolves were reintroduced, the elk population was greater than the environments carrying capacity, resulting in plant species struggling to grow, increased erosion on river and stream banks, and smaller mammals to struggle finding food because they were being out competed by larger herbivores. When the wolves were reintroduced, they were brought in from Canada, were the wolves were used to hunting elk. Once the wolves became acclimated in the pens and were comfortable with their surroundings and biologists were comfortable that they wouldn’t run back to Canada, they began hunting elk. Now that elk populations are back in a stable range, more plant species have been able to grow and spread their range.
Another thing we talked about while on our trip was climate change and pika demographics. On the first day of our trip, we went to a new pika location to survey and hopefully see, hear, and locate pika, their scat, and hay stacks. Due to high winds and recent snow we did not see any pika or their hay stacks, but we were able to locate their scat, which reassured us that they were living in the area. Knowing that they were present was important for the demographics because pika are a indicator species. This means that they are sensitive to climate change as they cannot survive in temperatures of 70 degrees F. The climate biologist that spoke to us about the topic, revealed that the western United States where the climate is typically warmer throughout the year is becoming warmer, while the eastern half of the United States is decreasing in temperature. The research that him and his colleagues have gathered suggests that the temperature is changing by 1 degree every year. That may not sound like a significant change, but in reality it can mean life or death for an indicator species such as pika.
Overall I think everyone who went on the trip learned a lot and can say we are better educated on Yellowstone’s ecology for having not only taken the class, but also for having been able to go to the place we were learning and reading about and seeing it all up close. That is truly the greatest thing about this class, is being able to see and be apart of the research and interactions between the animals that take place in Yellowstone.