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The Mountain Is Calling


Photographer: @taylormichaelburk
Location: Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta
 The Vermillion Lakes, a crown jewel of the Banff National Park, established in 1885, holds the title as Canada’s first and the world’s third oldest national park, established just 13 years after the establishment of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone. Banff National Park encompasses some 2,564 square miles of jagged mountain peaks, sweeping forests of White Spruce, Aspen, Douglas and Balsam Fir, the Castleguard Caves, Canada’s largest cave system, and more than a thousand glaciers, some of which nourish and sustain the Vermillion Lakes. Here lives one of nature’s most savvy engineers and famously cunning animals, the beaver. Scientists have long considered these crafty rodents a keystone species, which describes an animal that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Simply put, just a handful of individuals can have an enormous influence on the structure and function of their respective habitats, making them vital components of the ecosystem. If beavers, wolves, salmon or elephants, all regarded as keystone species, are removed from an ecosystem, it’s as if the keystone of a stone arch (the origin of the term) is removed. This results in a collapse or significant modification of the ecosystems constitution. You might ask what exactly do beavers do besides fall trees, build dams and their stick huts? Well, each of these propensities have cascading effects on an ecosystem, namely in the creation of new habitats. A dam creates ponds and a shallow tailwater on the downstream side of the dam, and floods meadows and floodplains, which adds much diversity to the landscape. And, a more diverse landscape means a more diverse species composition. Their stick fort creates a mid pond microhabitat that provides shelter for juvenile fish and creates foraging habitat for birds. Their timber harvesting creates patches in the forest canopy, which increases the diversity of a stand (both in age class and species) and creates a more complex shoreline, which surely has a multitude of ecosystem effects.  When studying ecology, we’re constantly reminded that there’s much more than meets the eye! #naturalistnotes
By Charles Post