Research and monitoring
Waterton Lakes National Park
Listed below are some of the inventory, monitoring, research and resource management initiatives being carried out in Waterton Lakes National Park, including a number of multi-agency initiatives.
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Parks Canada and the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo are working together on a three-year program to protect the endangered half-moon hairstreak butterfly in Waterton Lakes National Park. Parks Canada is collaborating on this conservation and restoration project by contributing almost $290,000 and in-kind support to the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo.
The half-moon hairstreak (Satyrium semiluna) was listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2006. The species’ only habitat in Alberta is an area known as the Blakiston Fan in Waterton Lakes National Park. This area is a floodplain consisting of grasslands and wildflowers located east of the Entrance Road between the Hay Barn day use area road and the road to the horse stables.
After a successful pilot program in 2019, Parks Canada and the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo are pursuing long-term population monitoring of the half-moon hairstreak butterfly and collecting genetic material to assess the possibility of wild-to-wild translocations from other populations in British Columbia or Montana, U.S. Prior research suggested that the Alberta population may be a different sub-species than the populations in British Columbia due to biological and behavioural differences.
This program will also greatly improve our understanding of the secretive life history of the half-moon hairstreak, unveiling the duration of its life stages, survival rates, larval behaviour, interactions with ants, and egg over-wintering conditions. Other conservation activities include assessing and restoring the butterfly’s habitat, and managing invasive plants.
Project leaders: Robert Sissons (Parks Canada) and Natasha Lloyd (Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo)
Sponsor: Parks Canada and the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emerging disease that is devastating populations of bats while they hibernate. The disease has now been documented both to the east (Ontario) and west (Washington) of Waterton, creating an urgent need to get baseline information on the distribution and relative abundance of bat species within the park.
Before White-nose syndrome began to decimate bat populations, little was known about bats in the mountain national parks. As a world leader in conservation, Parks Canada developed its own national bat monitoring protocol consistent with the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat) and is working closely with Environment Canada and other partners to ensure that our information will help inform larger conservation initiatives and the recovery of endangered bat species.
Parks Canada staff are using acoustic recording devices to detect and identify bats in areas throughout Waterton Lakes National Park. We are also assessing their winter use of the park and are partnering with biologists in Glacier National Park in Montana to monitor spring and fall bat migrations along the Belly and Waterton river travel corridors.
Project leader: Helena Mahoney
Sponsor: Parks Canada
The abundance and diversity of plants is one of the many reasons Waterton Lakes National Park is so special. Parks Canada staff monitor plant life in the park to assess its ecological integrity (overall health)
Parks Canada staff monitor plant life in the park to assess its ecological integrity(overall health).
It’s important to monitor for changes in plant communities. Long-term vegetation monitoring is known as condition monitoring. Parks Canada staff repeatedly visit selected spots to collect important plant information. The types of information include species presence, ground cover, and density for native and introduced species. Parks Canada ecologists can use this data to determine how the vegetation changes over time. Drastic changes or even slow changes may affect fish and wildlife, water quality and soil health.
The Fescue Across Borders project is based on the importance of working together with our neighbours to protect the foothills fescue grasslands. One of the goals of the program is to control the spread of invasive species. Parks Canada staff actively control invasive species and monitor how effective their efforts are.
This type of vegetation monitoring is also known as management effectiveness monitoring. Researchers repeatedly visit selected areas where invasive species control is taking place and record what they see. Information from previous year’s control efforts are analyzed to measure the effectiveness of control methods and where improvements might be made.
Project leader: Jason Eerkes
Sponsor: Parks Canada
Northern leopard frogs made Waterton Lakes National Park their home, before they vanished. This frog, once widespread, started to disappear across Alberta in the 1970s and until recent translocation (introducing a species from an already wild population) efforts, had not been seen in Waterton since 1980. Extensive surveys of historic breeding sites and suitable habitat throughout the park were conducted in 2003. No sightings were made. The cause of their disappearance is unknown.
Northern leopard frogs are listed as a species of special concern under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA) and are designated as threatened under the Alberta Wildlife Act regulations.
With the cooperation of Grasslands National Park, Parks Canada started translocating northern leopard frogs to Waterton in 2015. Over two years, scientists collected 12 frog egg masses (approximately 42,000 eggs) from sites in Grasslands where the frog is abundant, and translocated them to three carefully selected ponds in Waterton. The eggs matured into northern leopard frogs and successfully bred a new generation of juvenile frogs in Waterton Lakes National Park in 2017 and 2018. This is a significant step toward re-establishing a self-sustaining population in the park. These efforts will continue for several years in pursuit of that goal.
Immediately following the September 2017 Kenow Wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park, the translocated frogs’ status was uncertain. Northern leopard frogs forage for insects on land and it’s likely some were killed by the wildfire in upland areas. Due to the hot and dry summer season, most of the frogs were probably close to their aquatic habitats during the fire. We know northern leopard frogs survived readily enough to breed in at least two locations in 2018 despite the Kenow Wildfire. Parks Canada confirmed their presence through on the ground observations and remote acoustic monitoring (audio recordings).
Northern leopard frogs, an important native species, once played a vital role in the park’s complex ecosystem. These, and other amphibians, are good indicators of the health of freshwater ecosystems.
Parks Canada’s northern leopard from initiative is one of several efforts to improve the species’ status in Alberta over the years. Lessons learned from our own and others’ efforts are giving the current reintroduction efforts the best chance of success.
The northern leopard frog reintroduction project is part of a Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) project, Rescue the Fescue, in Waterton Lakes National Park. CoRe projects are taking place throughout Parks Canada places with the overall purpose to achieve measurable conservation gains in a manner that engages and benefits society.
Project leader: Kim Pearson
Sponsor: Parks Canada
Many of the park’s wildlife are rarely seen, which makes monitoring for changes in numbers and distribution challenging. We are using motion-triggered cameras and occupancy modelling to monitoring wildlife in Waterton.
The community of Waterton is located in a critical pinch point between Upper Waterton Lake and the adjacent steep mountains. Cameras are also being used to determine how wildlife are travelling through this critical travel corridor as they move up and down the Waterton Valley.
The goal of the project is to provide information to aid in making decisions regarding wildlife movement through this area.
Project leaders: Rob Found and Kim Pearson
Sponsor: Parks Canada
Parks Canada has added a new tool in their integrated management of non-native plants. Starting in 2012, two species of weevils have been repeatedly introduced into Waterton Lakes National Park to control spotted knapweed at multiple release sites. One species of weevil targets plant roots and the other attacks seed heads. This biocontrol method is a long term strategy to lower the density of the invasive spotted knapweed. We continue to monitor the establishment of weevils on an annual basis. These insects are one more tool, in addition to manual and chemical methods, that Parks Canada are using to control spotted knapweed.
In 2015, a species of root weevil was introduced as another biocontrol species. This species targets the invasive plant known as hound's tongue. Initial results from other areas where this weevil was released in the province show promising results. Parks Canada continues to monitor the effectiveness of this new approach in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Project leader: Roderick Watt
Sponsor: Parks Canada
Research and monitoring efforts show a high loss of whitebark and limber pine in Waterton Lakes National Park. Whitebark and limber pines in the Canadian Rockies are threatened by a variety of factors. These include an introduced blister rust, fire suppression, mountain pine beetle and associated replacement by more shade tolerant trees, and by rapid global climate change.
Whitebark and limber pine are keystone species, that provide food and habitat for birds, bears and small mammals, as well as shelter to establishing plants. Parks Canada staff are actively working to protect and restore these species. We protect potential blister rust resistant seed trees from mountain pine beetles, and collect their seeds. Each fall, park staff and volunteers will plant the seedlings that have been grown from these seeds.
In some cases, Parks Canada are also using carefully planned prescribed fires to open the canopy in targeted areas to prepare them for planting.
Project leader: Robert Sissons, Parks Canada
Sponsors: Parks Canada, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
The Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick are pest and disease vectors in western Canada. Ticks are collected from a number of locations and habitats, including Waterton Lakes National Park.
The project will determine numbers of these two species throughout their geographic distribution and relate this to environmental variables. This will allow future evaluation of continued range expansion and changes in population density.
It will also be useful to produce risk maps for ticks and tick-borne disease transmission. Laboratory tests will determine the extent of genetic differences among tick populations, which may provide insights into differences in biological characteristics that influence transmission of the pathogens.
Project leader: Tim Lysyk
Sponsor: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Decades of fire suppression in the park has had many ecological consequences, including the loss of native grasslands through encroachment of aspen and shrubs. This has cascading effects through the ecosystem.
To meet our restoration goals, we continue to actively reintroduce carefully planned and controlled fires to the grasslands to restore grassland communities. We are also monitoring the severity of fires, response of grasslands to elk browsing, and the effectiveness of the prescribed fires in meeting restoration goals.
Project Leads: Matt Rance and Cristina Eisenberg
Sponsors: Parks Canada and Earthwatch Institute
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