Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kritika and Felicia's grassland Blog

Nature Preserved!

Figure 1.  Map of Nose Hill. Photo by KS.
 What is the visible difference between urban areas and rural areas? Greenery,

Nature, and preservation of natural land. Many may think that the previously stated characteristics are have no  place in a city such as Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but they would be thinking wrong.  There once were vast pieces of green grasslands in the region we call western Canada.  Nowadays that is not the first, second or even third trait we use to describe western Canada. Words that do come to mind are oil sands, growing population, and industrialization.  A place which has been left to pay tribute to the natural ways of life in Calgary is Nosehill Park. Nosehill Park has one of the most significant urban grassland ecosystems in western Canada. With over 11 square kilometers of preserved land, Nosehill Park is located in the Northwest quadrant of Calgary, Alberta at the intersection of John Laurie Boulevard and Shaganappi Trail as indicated in Figure 1.  An interesting fact about this location is that constructed suburban communities and main roads.
     To appreciate and inform ourselves of the ecology of this land, in a group of 5, we divided and explored the ecosystems of Nosehill Park: grassland, forest, and pond. I personally, with my peer Felicia, took the task of informing ourselves of the grassland ecosystem in Nosehill Park, and this task was not an easy one.

Figure 2.  Walking to Nose Hill grasslands.  Photo by KS.

     We started not knowing much about Nosehill as a piece of land but quickly learned about the diversity in plant species that is supported by Nosehill, this diversity can be experienced if you view our vodcast at the end of the blog. For the diversity, we chose to focus on the plants that grow in nosehill’s grassland by identification through preservation, a process you will read about more in depth later through the blog.   An aspect that we knew directly affected the growth of plants and diversity is soil, so the second testing that was conducted for the grassland biome was testing of the soil nutrients with a soil sample collected from the transect and aquarium testing kits.

Figure 3.  Our transect.  Photo by KS.

Figure 4.  Grass. Photo by KS.

Figure 5.  Low growing Wild rose.  Photo by KS.

      Our experience of Nosehill was a physically harsh yet intellectually exciting one, our day began early morningof September 20, 2010, dressed in proper gear (fleece jacket, rubber boots, nets, etc.) we strolled as a group to the intersection of John Laurie boulevard and Shaganappi Trail, where across the busy street was and still is a fenced-in park by the name of nosehill park. Then inside the park (see Figure 2), dodging the puddles made from the rain of previous night, we began hiking up the hill to where we randomly chose our transect. In one transect there were countless plants observed, some of these plants were obtained and captured in zip lock bags for further identification in the lab. The transect created, as seen in Figure 3, was 10.0 m by 1.0 m and the plants collected were from a rectangle from the transect with the size of 0.5 m by 1.0 m. Also removed from the rectangle in the transect was a soil sample with a mass of over 500 g.
     Looking at the grassland ecosystem at Nosehill Park, it can be observed that all of the plants properties of the plants that we preserved to the descriptions of plants provided in field guides, we identified the six most visually abundant plants from our transect. The plants we identified are listed below with their pictures.
Figure 6.  Snowberry leaves.  Photo by KS.

are fairly short in height and close to the ground. Using shears we collected samples of different plants and took them back for further analysis. Although most of the plants in the grassland ecosystem looked the same, we found a large variety of different plants, especially grasses. To preserve these plant samples we collected and pressed the plants for several days, and then taped each sample onto a separate piece of paper to be identified. The purpose of this preservation process is to remove all the water from the plants while preserving their original colors and structure. To identify these plants, a series of different field guides were used. Some were provided by the City of Calgary while others were from Sir Winston Churchill's Library. One specific source that we used to identify the plants was from the Friends of Nose Hill Society website, which is an organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of this park. Comparing
Figure 7.  Pasture Sage.  Photo by KS.

Figure 8.  Smooth Brome.  Photo by KS.

Figure 9.  Parry Oat Grass.  Photo by KS.

Figure 10.  Crested Wheat Grass (Agropyron cristatum).  Photo by KS.
     To understand the process by which we found the soil nutrients in the soil sample from the transect at nosehill park listen to the podcast Felicia recorded . The results of the soil testing are in table 1 after the podcast.
Nutrient Test
Trail 1
Trail 2
Just Below 20mg/L
Just Below 20mg/L

Table1: The results for soil nutrients measured using Nutrafin testing kits for phosphate calcium iron and ammonia. The nutrient with the lowest concentration is phosphate and the nutrient measured to have the highest concentration in the soil is Calcium.

     Another important aspect that ties well with Nosehill Park and its preservation process is the human impact on the park and the soil. Since 12 communities surround the park, much of the run off is absorbed by the soil and the run off is also responsible partly for the nutrients taken up by the roots of the plants. In usual and natural circumstances the run off consists of oxygen, nitrates, nitrites, phosphates, sulfates, carbonates and water.  This is rare in parks such as nosehill, because of the disposal of chemicals in the communities such as Edgemont. Some of these chemical substances are detergents, cigarettes, and hormones. These substances increase the abundance of some elements in the soil while other element levels either decrease or remain the same, for example detergents and shampoos increase the level of sulfates in the run off, which directly increases the level of sulfates in the soil.  This could be a benefit for the plants or a disadvantage, depending on the level of sulfate available to the soil beforehand. In the case of hormones, the hormones enter the soil and therefore enter the plants. The hormones may affect the growth of the plants and make the natural growth cycle irregular, and these plants are then consumed by the wildlife at nosehill such as deer, coyotes, and squirrels. The affect of the hormones on the wildlife is similar as the affect of hormones on plants, the hormones could trigger irregular growth by suppressing the natural hormones of the organism, also the hormones can affect the ovulation cycle in animals by creating hormonal imbalance, this imbalance creates a difficulty for reproduction, which results in a decrease of population. Another human impact on the park is the abuse by the humans of the park, such as littering, and not abiding by the rules of the park.
To finish our blog on nosehill, we would like to show you a video Felicia and I made at nosehill, we hope you will enjoy!

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