Spirit Island on Maligne Lake in Jasper's National Park

 Photo: Christian Abend

Charles Darwin and islands go hand-in-hand. Darwin’s understanding of the natural world prepared him well for his fateful exploration of the Galapagos Islands and the landmark discoveries that followed. The obscure and unique species he encountered baffled him. He must have wondered, how could a marine iguana, giant tortoise and incredibly high variety of finches, all with different beak sizes and shapes, exist on these remote islands surround by miles of water in all directions?
Over the course of many years, he began to unravel some of science’s most pressing questions, and in turn develop hypotheses that stand today as some of our best interpretations of island ecology and adaptive radiation. 

Spirit Island and the Galapagos Islands are similar in that they are inhabited by a proportion of the “mainlands” plants and animals, which over the course of time disperse via wind, water or with the help of a travelling bird or other mobile animal to colonize available habitats, and if the circumstances are such, this “pioneer species” may eventually become established. This small, but epic island in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies is no exception. Each plant stemmed from a fortunate wind that allowed a handful of lucky, future trees to land here, where they found a world unimpeded by competitors.

Over the course of time, and countless attempts and successful dispersals and colonizations, this island community has taken it’s contemporary form - A truly unique subset of the greater ecosystem embedded in the shallow soils of Spirit Island, a tiny oasis tucked away from it all in Alberta’s Jasper National Park – the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies with over 615 miles of hiking trails that crisscross the park’s 2,774,500 acres of protected wilderness, home to nearly 70 species of mammals including the woodland caribou, Hoary marmot, Gray wolf and the elusive lynx, a nomadic cat known to never walk over the same patch of forest twice.