Friday, December 3, 2010

GRASSLANDS by Joy, Craig, Stephanie, Stanley, Mariam, Gregory

On September 22, 2010 we went to Nosehill Park. Our purpose of going there was to find how people have impacted Nosehill Park, more specifically the grassland area of Nosehill Park. Human impact can be measured in many ways, but we decided to measure how people have impacted the natural park by seeing the levels of phosphate, nitrate, ammonia, and pH in the soil. Thus we took soil samples from the grassland area and tested them for their phosphate, nitrate, ammonia, calcium and pH levels and compared them to the levels we found in two different fields located just up the hill in Edgemont that are regularly maintained.

Sampled Area
Concentration Phosphate (mg/L)
pH level (pH
Concentration of Nitrate (mg/L)
Concentration of Ammonia (mg/L)
Nosehill Park
School Field
Soccer Field
Table 1. Soil tests taken on samples retrieved from Nosehill Park,
a school field and a soccer field, September 22, 2010.
Phosphate is one of the main ingredients in fertilizer. Phosphate helps plants grow stronger roots and allow them to produce seeds. Seeing that Nosehill Park has less phosphate than the two fields might be because the parks are fertilized which may mean that fertilizer runoff from the areas around Nosehill hasn’t dramatically affected it.

pH is the measure of the acidity or basicity of a solution.  If the soil is too acidic, then plants will not thrive in that environment.  On the other hand, if the soil is too basic, then plants won’t thrive there either.  Acidic soil is typically caused by a natural force, rain.  But seeing as Calgary doesn’t receive to much of that, Nosehill should have a pretty non acidic soil pH level.  The pH at Nosehill, as well as our two other fields was 6.  With the neutral pH being at 7, we found that the soil at all 3 places is one of the best environments for plants to survive. 
Nitrates helps plants grow above ground. We found no nitrates in the soil samples. Originally we thought this was weird because plants need nitrates, but then we came to the conclusion that we found no nitrates in the soil samples because the plants in all three places had taken up and used the nitrates in the ground.

Ammonia is decomposed matter that has gone through the process called ammonification. We found that Nosehill Park had more ammonia than the two fields. This may be because at Nosehill Park, nobody picks up the dried leaves and such, therefore they are left to decompose, resulting in more ammonia in the soil at Nosehill park. In the contrary, the fields may have less ammonia because people rake up the leaves and decomposing matter rather than letting it decompose and turn into ammonia.
We found it kind of strange that there would be more ammonia at Nosehill, but there was the same concentration of nitrates in all three places. Since ammonia turns into nitrites and then nitrates after that, wouldn’t there be more nitrates if there was more ammonia? Then we realized that there would be more nitrates at Nosehill Park because there is more ammonia, we just don’t see it in our test results because the plants used up the nitrates. That means that the plants at Nosehill Park get more nitrates and therefore grows more because nitrates help plants grow about ground.
Through the soil tests, we have come to the conclusion that Nosehill Park is indeed affected by humans since we found such similar results in the tests. We originally thought that Nosehill was either going not be impacted by humans because it is a natural reserve, or significantly impacted by humans because of all the run off from communities higher up. We thought that because the two fields are regularly maintained, they would therefore be fertilized for optimal growth of plants.  Nosehill would then be unfertilized though maybe receiving doses of fertilizer from runoff.  However, our results are somewhat shocking as we see that soil from fields that are fertilized, mowed, and maintained is not much different than the soil we retrieved from Nosehill, though the differences that we found could be what set apart a natural park and a maintained park.

                  Gale, j. "Phosphorus." Water Resource Characterization DSS - Phosphorus. North Carolina State University, 1976. Web. 26 Oct 2010. <

            Pat, . (Photographer). (2009). Nose hill park, calgary, alberta. [Web]. Retrieved from

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Forest Soil, by Rebecca

Healthy soil is the key to all forests. No healthy soil means no healthy plants can grow from it. When you do not have healthy plants, you do not have a sustainable environment for animals, let alone an ecosystem that can thrive. So if that is the case, what is healthy soil? How does it affect a forest biome?
From Nose Hill Park in Calgary, Alberta, samples of a small forest transect have been taken. These results allow people to understand how soil and its health can affect the biome. To begin though, we must first understand what characteristics define soil as healthy. Healthy soil carries in it certain nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate that plants rely on in order to grow. These nutrients are extremely important in plant development and helping fight off diseases. By taking a sample of the soil from the transect in Nose Hill Park, it can be identified just how much of each important nutrient the soil has. From this it can be learned how healthy the soil is and how much the biome relies on it.
Nitrate is one of the three major nutrients in soil. In order for the soil to be healthy it needs to contain a certain amount of nitrate. This helps with the growth of plants and fighting off any diseases that the plant may encounter. The soil sample from Nose Hill Park, after being tested, showed that it contained 7mg/L per 100mL. Nitrate is available to plants when the pH of the soil is greater than 5.5. In the tests it was concluded that the pH of the soil was about 6.5. Therefore from that data it is evident that the soil contains a healthy amount of nitrate.
           Phosphorus is essential in soil as it is used by plants for photosynthesis; animals that obtain it through the plants use it for energy transformations. A lack of phosphorous in an ecosystem results in stunned, sickly, and wilted looking plants, these plants then go on to produce lower quality of flowers and fruits. By looking at the plants in the Nose Hill Park transect, they all appear to look healthy giving the impression that phosphorus in abundant in the soil. Further testing shows that the soil in the transect contains 0.10mg/L of phosphate, an ideal amount for a healthy ecosystem. On average, phosphorus is most available for soil with a pH between 6 -7; the soil tested contained a pH of 6.5, right in the middle. This further suggests that there is an ideal amount of phosphorus in the soil, making it perfectly healthy.
Potassium is found in many different organisms; most of the time these organisms get their potassium from the soil. In order for soil to remain at a healthy level there must be potassium. Potassium regulates the opening and closing of the stomata in a plant. While the stomata is vital in water regulation, the potassium helps reduce any water loss from leaves and increases the drought tolerance. As noted by the healthy plants in the forest transect, it is very clear that there must be a healthy amount of potassium in the soil so that the leaves can thrive.

So what is healthy soil? Healthy soil must contain certain levels of Nitrate, Phosphorus, and Potassium. Without these nutrients it can have damaging effects on plants and can cause difficulty in fighting off any diseases. Based on the results from tests of soil from a transect of a forest on Nose Hill, the soil is concluded healthy.

"Temperate Deciduous Forest Biome",, 11/4/00
This website was helpful as it mentioned all of the factors that contribute to a healthy forest ecosystem. It provided key points, and pictures to go with them. I would rate this a 4/5.

The world biomes website gave factual information on a forest ecosytem that allowed us to relate it to the forest ecosystem on Nose Hill Park. However this website was not as helpful as Soil pH, because it did not focus on our main topic. I would rate this website a 3/5.

C. Spector, Soil Science Education. “About Soil pH,”
This website was extremely helpful. It provided us with most of the information we needed to help draw a conclusion to our research question. This website included helpful diagrams and facts on soil nutrient levels. I would rate this website a 5/5

Nose Hill Pond Blog, by Callum

Nose Hill Blog.

While at Nose Hill I was really intrigued by the hill its self and the rest of the physical geography. In addition I wondered how the geography and the way people are using the land are affecting the water quality of the pond.
So my research question is: How has physical geography and human land use affected the water quality of the pond.
In order to understand how these factors affected the pond at Nose Hill I needed to take a look at some other ponds in areas with different geography and forms of land use. I took samples and observations of geography from s slough in northern Breaspaw and the Duck Pond at Butterfeild Acres.

Site 1.Nose Hill Pond:

          This pond is located in the far southwest corner of Nose Hill Park. It is at the bottom of the hill. While it is at the bottom of nose hill the pond’s elevation is still comparatively high. If we wanted to get to the very bottom of the hill we would end up in the Atlantic Ocean, but in Calgary, we would be in the bow river valley. Looking more closely at the pond we see that there are a number of gullies leading down to the pond on the north side and there is a dyke between the pond and John Laurie Boulevard to the south. On both the east and west sides there are hills. These geographical formations basically form a basin that collects all the runoff from the western area of the hill and the eastern areas of Edgemont.
Figure 1. Pond Located in southwest
corner of Nose Hill Park.
This photo is looking to the northeast.
I took a water sample and did a battery of tests on it. The results were

pH.                                          8.2
General Hardness (GH)        100ppm
Carbonate Hardness (KH)   70ppm
Calcium (Ca)                          40ppm
Iron (Fe)                                0.00mg/l
Phosphate (PO4)                   0.00mg/l
Nitrite (NO2)                          0.00mg/l

Figure 2. My testing supplies.
These tests were designed
specifically for aquariums,
the same type that we use in the lab 
at SWC.

Figure 3. The slough in northern Bearspaw is very shallow as we can see in this photo. This image was captured from the southeastern corner of the pond. It curves around the hill in the right of the picture.
Site 2. Bearspaw Slough:
This pond is situated in the mixed woodlands and rolling hills that we see all over the foothills of Alberta. This particular pond is flanked by hills on two sides. On the other sides there are open areas slightly higher than the pond. One leads to a slight downhill and the other a slight uphill that takes you slowly up toward the east. While this pond acts in a similar manner to the one on Nose Hill, its drainage area is much smaller. It is restricted to the hills and hilltops within close proximity to it. The pond is also considerably shallower than the pond at Nose Hill.

As at the other pond I took water samples and conducted the same tests.

pH                               8.4
GH                               240ppm
KH                               140ppm
Calcium (Ca)              60ppm
Iron (Fe)                    0.00mg/l       
Phosphate (PO4)       0.0mg/l
Nitrite(NO2)               0.0mg/l

Site 3. Butterfeild Acres Duck Pond
This pond is quite a bit smaller than the other two ponds surveyed. In addition it is fairly close to the top of a hill. On the east side there is about 80m before the top of the hill. On the east there is a flat, slightly down-sloping area. The south side has a fairly steep hill that leads toward a road. On the north side is a hill, but the pond is only 30m from the crest. With this placement close to the top of the hill, the runoff should be minimal and with the slope on the south side, there should be good drainage away from the site. As with the past two I did the same tests.

pH                                           7.8
GH                                           340ppm
KH                                           310ppm
Calcium (Ca)                          140ppm
Iron (Fe)                                0.00mg/l
Phosphate (PO4)                   Above 2.5 mg/l
Nitrite(NO2)                           0.01mg/l
Fig.3. This is the results from my phosphate
 test. Here you  can see that the phosphate
levels are quite elevated.

           So you may be thinking, ‘what is this kid doing. He has just told me all the data, but that does not answer his question. When is he going to answer his study question?’
Well to find the answer to my question you will just have to listen to my podcast and watch my vodcast, because without them you have just read all this for nothing.

Nose Hill Grassland Blog, by Soomin

On Tuesday, September 21 our Biology 20 class took a trip to the second largest park in Calgary, Nose Hill. Where the name originates from is unknown but one of the stories say that a Canadian explorer asked the name of the hill, and the aboriginal translator replied that it was called “Nose” ill because it resembled the nose of their chief. The park itself is just as interesting as its name. For one thing, it is massive. Even when you drive beside it, it almost seems endless. To be exact, Nose Hill is 1127 hectares in size (City of Calgary, 2004). It is even bigger than some of the smaller countries of the world. Nose Hill is also filled with many different types of habitat, with grassland being the main one. When our class arrived we could see ponds, some spots of trees, and fields and fields of grass.

Figure 1.0: An overview of Nose Hill 

Grasslands in North America are endangered, so they’re very important to preserve. Grasslands cover about 87.1 % of Nose Hill (Parks Operations, 2010). This means that Nose Hill is primarily grassland. Since it takes up such a significant portion of the park, there must be a reason why. Most people can take one look and say, “That Park is mostly grassland,” because it is obvious to see. Not all people know why. Our group looked into the conditions and different factors that allowed large grassland habitats to exist in Nose Hill.  
Figure 2.0: A welcoming/caution sign also includes a map.
            Nose Hill is home to many animal and plant species. The plant samples that we preserved and identified from our transect (10m x 1m) included species such as smooth brome, white sage, Canada thistle, Canadian gooseberry and parry oatgrass. From our research, it was found that these plants preferred the grassland soil. Nose Hill is covered by a unique type of soil called Chernozem. It has a dark color, one of dark brown to black. It also has 7-15% of humus (Wiki, 2010) in it which makes ideal growing conditions. Chernozem is known to be mostly found in Canadian prairies and very suitable for grasses. When a soil test was done with soil samples from the Forest habitat and the Grasslands, it showed a considerable amount of difference in the mineral levels. More minerals in the soil contribute to more grass growth. The reason that there are more nutrients in the soil has partly to do with the grasses. When grasses with a shorter life cycle dies, they add to the layer of humus and contribute to more grass growth. In a forest, trees live for a long time and even after they die, decompose very slowly.

Type of habitat
Phosphate(PO43- (s))
Calcium (Ca(s)) (mg/L)
Nitrate (NO3- (g))

Table 1.0: Soil test results in varying types of minerals comparing Forest and Grassland habitat, taken from transect 1m x 10m in Nose Hill.

Figure 4.0: A picture taken of a plant sample,
the Canadian gooseberry, in the transect at Nose Hill.

Another reason that grasslands are able to take up most of Nose Hill is their ability to spread out and survive. Many of the grasses growing in the grassland habitat, such as the most common Canada thistle, are invasive weeds that spread out quickly in a large range. They are tough plants that are even able to steal nutrients from other plants. Perennial grasses and herbs that live in Nose Hill have very strong underground roots and stems that allow them to survive under a lot of conditions, even a fire. Nose Hill has fires occurring often that can be fatal to forests, but not to grasslands. They are fire proof because of their underground root system and can recover very quickly.
Nose Hill Park’s grassland is an important ecosystem as it supports many species living in that area. Nose Hill’s grassland should continue on being preserved as it is today, so it does not disappear like the other grasslands of North America. The factors that allow grassland to take up so much space in Nose Hill should be taken into consideration when trying to preserve it, because if the factors are gone, Nose Hill will be gone with it. It was amazing to find out the actual reasons that make Nose Hill primarily grassland, since we never gave it much thought. In our minds, it was always just there. Nose Hill’s grassland taught us that it is able to exist still today in such a big area because of its characteristics that keep it going.

Nose Hill Pond October 31, 2010, by Nick

            Nose Hill Park is one of the biggest in the Calgary area. It is made up mostly of grassland, but there are a few areas in which there are ponds. So how do humans impact the nose hill pond?
            As I walk down the path leading up past the pond, I find that I am much higher up than the pond. I am in fact, walking on a levy, built to store runoff from the community of Edgemont, which is up the hill, from getting to the core of the city of Calgary. I come to the conclusion that this is the sole purpose of this pond; it was not built to house wildlife.
Figure 1.  A Catail.
            As I walk down to the waters edge I think back to the other ponds in Calgary. There are plenty of them, but all of them all have one thing in common: none of them are completely natural. All the ponds have, in some way, been altered by people. Be it as simple as litter accumulating due to wind, or being thrown there by lazy citizens, or as complicated as being created by us, serving a sole purpose, such as entertainment. The truth is, there are none, or at least very few, ponds that have been left untouched by people.
            The fact that there are no ponds that have not been tampered with be people comes as a shock to me. This is something that should have been protected, unaltered, kept as Mother Nature had left it for us, something to be left as is. These ponds were not created so that we could alter or destroy the perfectly balanced ecosystem.
Figure 2.  The pond is deceptively perfect.
            When I finally make it to the edge of the pond, looking out over the expanse of water, I see no signs of human interference. But a closer look at the pond reveals lots of interference. I found a chip bag sitting in the mud. I also found what appeared to be tracks in the mud, possibly made by an ATV. This is a problem in my mind; as actions like these degrade the soil, slowly filling in the pond with soil from the banks.
            Another problem that I have with some of the interactions we make as people is that they ruin the scenery. Walking around the bank, I find many pieces of rotting wood. These perfectly cut pieces of wood look completely out of place amongst the tall grass, like a stain on a perfectly white shirt. Garbage can also leach out constituents, which can often be toxic, or at least foreign to the ecosystem. These chemicals can be extremely harmful to the environment.
Figure 3.  Tracks from what appears to be an
I guess the point that I am trying to make through all of this, is the impact that we as humans

have on our environment. The impact we as humans have on the pond ecosystems of Alberta

are great. First of all, we created most of the ponds; therefore we have created a number of the pond ecosystems in Alberta. Also, some actions we take have a destructive effect on the
pond, possibly degrading the soil. Finally, garbage can leach out harmful chemicals that can
destroy the environment. So in summary, Humans have a great effect on the pond, especially

Figure 4.  A photograph taken under water
about a metre from shore.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Grasslands, by Maggie and Becky

At first glance, Nosehill Park looks pretty desolate. There’s just grass with a few areas of trees. But when you venture into the park you start to notice that this blank canvas is actually a masterpiece in disguise. Within this protected park, there are 3 very distinct biomes: Pond, Forest, and Grassland. The last one was studied by Becky T. and Maggie H. of Dr. Pike’s and Ms. Wilson’s Biology 20 period 4 class.
We were going on this field trip in order to answer a research question. Our group’s research question is “what are the symbiotic relationships seen in Nosehill Park?”
First of all, what is a grassland biome like typically?
Grasslands are characterized as areas dominated by grasses rather than large shrubs or trees. The determination of which species of grass grows better in a particular grassland ecosystem, the factors greatly include temperature, precipitation, and soil conditions.
              Specifically, Nose Hill is classified as temperate grassland due to the fact that Calgary is a city in the middle of the prairies. Temperate grasslands, more specifically, are known for having grasses as the dominant flora. Trees and large shrubs are absent. The climate that is typical of temperate grassland is they have hot summers and cold winters with a moderate amount of rainfall. Much like the soil sample that was taken by us in Nosehill, temperate grasslands have deep and dark soil with very fertile upper layers. We found numerous plants that were in the process of decomposition (like that of the plant pictured to the left) which greatly influences the health of the soil.
         What you expect to be a field of grass is really a composition of various species of not only grasses but wild thistle and other wild grasses and flowers (as well as a berried plant shown on the right). There are numerous examples of symbiotic relationships.
On the day in which we took our samples from Nosehill, the weather varied as the day went on. Though we were only there for 3 hours, the temperature changed greatly which is not atypical of a temperate grassland biome. (see Figure  3)
Various mammals inhabit the temperate grassland biome. Typical animals that we saw were deer, hawks, owls, orb spiders (see Figure 4), and pocket gophers.

What is a symbiotic relationship?
         A symbiotic relationship (or symbiosis) can be defined as an interaction between different species.

         These interactions can further be classified as mutualism, commensalism, or parasitism.

          First off, mutualism is any relationship between individuals of different species where both individuals benefit. An example of mutualism in Nosehill is between the pocket gophers and plants. These organisms benefit from each other because when gophers build their tunnels underground, it allows more oxygen and other nutrients to enter the soil, making the soil healthier and more fitting for plants to thrive.
            Secondly, commensalism, which describes a relationship between two organisms where one benefits and the other, is not harmed nor does it benefit from this interaction. Commensalism in Nosehill can be found between the thistle and spiders. This is an example of commensalism because the spider benefits because it’s a place for the spider to capture prey while the thistle neither benefits nor harmed.
             Lastly, parasitism, which is a relationship between two organisms in which one organism benefits while the other, is harmed. In Nosehill Park, this type of interaction can be seen commonly; especially among the plants due to the nature of the thistle. Thistles are an invasive species in which they take away nutrients as well as space from other

Human Impact on Grasslands of Nose Hill, by Jason Ma

"You never know how precious something is until you finally lose it." This famous saying expresses how I felt after one of my research studies on the grasslands of Nose Hill. Although Nose Hill has an area of 11.3 km squared, it is one of the largest urban parks in Canada and in North America. This is horrendous in the fact itself. A natural area as small as 11.3 km squared is now the largest or second largest park on an entire continent! However this wasn't what gave me a sense of despair. It was during one of my Adopt a Park activities provided me with a realization of the devastation of human impact to the Nose Hill grasslands.

First of all, to give everyone a better understanding of the beauty and importance of Nose Hill's grasslands, let’s take a look at the wild life and vegetation. The grasslands were dominated by native plants such as Rough Fescue-Parry Oat grass, Rough Fescue - Golden Beans and Western Wheat Grass. As for the wild life, there were 151 species of vertebrate wildlife reported to occur in Nose Hill Park in 1993 conducted by Kansas Et Al. This list included 127 bird, 22 mammal and 2 amphibian species. Also it was noticed that native Rough Fescue grassland, are the primary breeding habitat for the largest number of bird species. Hence you can see there was great biodiversity in Nose Hill's natural ecology.

Nevertheless as the City of Calgary's population boomed, thousands and thousands of people now use and used Nose Hill as a recreation site. The magnificent Nose Hill Grasslands have and has been dramatically affected by human activities. It was recorded that as of 1997, an average of 5,426 persons per week visited Nose Hill Park during summer. It can be logically assumed that the numbers in 2010 are multiple times greater. These cyclists and dog walkers have and have caused the introduction of invasive species,
An exponential decrease in the population of wildlife species, fragmentation and alienation of rare habitats and finally higher mortality rates.

Currently the Grasslands occupied by native plants comprise of 452.8-ha which is 46.2% of the Park’s grasslands. The majority of the grasslands (53.8%) are now invasive or non-native grassland communities. These invasive species includes: Bluegrass (203.6-ha), Western Wheatgrass – Bluegrass phase (157.3-ha), Smooth Brome (114.8-ha), Smooth Brome-Quack Grass (43.1-ha), and Alfalfa-Wheatgrass (8.8-ha). It’s absolutely frightening that in less than a few decades of human interference that the primary vegetation in Nose Hill's Grasslands is composed of invasive plants from Asian and Europe. However whats worse is that anthropogenic introduction of this invasive vegetation has directly impacted the animals of Nose Hill. It has been noted that the lowest bird species richness was observed in non-native grasslands especially in the Western Wheatgrass –bluegrass phase plant community. Furthermore the invasive vegetation has brought destruction upon the natural fescue grass habitats, causing many species to relocate to other areas.

Another massive anthropogenic effect on Nose Hill was the habitat fragmentation as well as alienation that the rough trails cyclists and dog walkers made as they randomly roamed the Park. The creation of hundreds of trails around the park greatly disturbed the livelihood of natural wild life. Fragmentation of habitat occurs when large contiguous patches of native land are broken up into smaller, isolated pieces (Noss and Csuti 1997). Fragmentation can take the form of blocks of land or linear strips. These fragments of habitat render the wildlife to be immovable and subjected to isolation in its local area. This Initial exclusion occurs for species that occur only in the areas subject to development. These are usually animals with a very narrow distribution occurring in only a few patches of suitable habitat. Isolation

Of habitats through barriers to movement can then occur, effectively reducing habitat availability. In addition wildlife may avoid using habitat that is floristically and structurally intact because of the presence of human activity and associated sensory disturbance. This is known as habitat alienation. Due to habitat alienation and fragmentation, species like the Swainson's Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Short-eared Owl, Common Night Hawk, Sprague's Pipit, Baird's Sparrow, Long tailed Weasel, American Badger, Wandering Garder Snake and the Red-sided Garder Snake are now classified as scarce or rare. This isn't too surprising since bio indicators like the American Badger and the Sharp tailed Grouse, which are very sensitive to human disturbance hasn't been spotted for over a decade.

Finally another major problem that dramatically increases the mortality rate of wildlife is the dogs. As cute and loyal as our canine friends may be, they are incredibly troublesome in Nose Hill Park. They chase and disturb the natural community so often that almost all of the sensitive species of wild life has to relocate or face being chased to death. In fact some dogs will even kill and prey on little rodents such as mice and gophers.

After learning of all these terrible effects of human impact, my environment club and I decided to visit Nose Hill Park and do a litter pick up as part of Parks Calgary's Adopt a Park program. The litter pickup that day validated some of the habitat destruction and loss that people are causing. First off, there were fields and fields of invasive species. Then the thirty four students picked up over 60 pounds of trash in merely an hour! When I saw the overly stuffed bags of garbage, the disappointment and frustration was overwhelming. Yet this just comes to illustrate the disastrous effects human impact on Nose Hill. Despite the work the City of Calgary has been doing to minimize and mitigate the anthropogenic effects, we must all take action! Doing simple things such as being part of the Churchill Environment Club and going to the park to pick up litter or even just to educate your family and friends can accumulate to make a real difference.

Jason Ma