Monday, April 4, 2011

Are You Kidding Me?

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Once again, researchers have spent vast sums of taxpayers' money on studies that didn't need to be conducted in the first place. We already had all the information, it was just a matter of arranging it into a coherent report. Two of my all-time favourite money wasters on studies are:

Is smoking addictive? (Duh! Just ask any smoker or me when I was quitting!)
Are vans harder to see around on the road than passenger cars? (Duh x2! Just ask any driver or me!)

Now comes the study on whether old-growth forests protect critical habitats. Send me the money allocated for the study and I can answer that one with information already gathered by scientific communities.

The mind-blowing results of this study is "yes". Old-growth forests are necessary if some species are to survive. The "research" (and I use the term loosely) is as follows:

Large old trees - and particularly the cavities in them - are vital in providing habitat for many6 varieties of bird and animal species; yet, there is a worldwide shortage of such habitat, according to a new study. The study examined the tree holes that birds and mammals use for nesting in Canada around the world.

Most animals can't carve out their own tree holes and rely on those already formed by damage and decay - a process that can take several centuries.

Tree holes are created either quickly by woodpeckers and other such birds; or, more slowly as the trees age, decay and die, a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia found.

Birds like owls, songbirds, and parrots; and, mammals such as flying squirrels and opossums make homes in tree cavities because they offer a safe environment for sleeping, reproduction and raining young. Insects, snakes and amphibians will also make use of tree holes.

Researchers found that in South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia more than 75% of the holes used by birds and mammals were created by damage and decay.

"When wildlife depends on decay-formed cavities, they are relying on large living trees," says lead researcher Kathy Martin, a professor in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC and also a senior research scientist with Environment Canada.

"Most trees have to be more than 100 years old before decay cavities begin to form and often several centuries old before large cavities or many cavities develop in one tree."

In North America however, the team found that woodpeckers and other excavating creatures are responsible for creating up to 99% of tree cavities used by birds and mammals for habitat. Therefore, in North America the tendency is that fewer mature trees are used as habitat, since they are less reliant on the process of decay. In Canada and North America the tree of choice for almost all excavators is Trembling Aspen according to the study.

"The best aspen trees tend to be larger trees that are still alive; but, with some decay in the heartwood, so that woodpeckers can excavate holes in these trees. Most woodpeckers prefer hard trees with soft spots of decay," says Martin.

The good news is that in much of Canada, forest operations tend to save the older Aspen trees for wildlife.

"So, the story is one where cavity-nesting wildlife species are doing pretty well in the managed landscape. A conservation and management success story," Martin says.

The research was carried out between 1995 and 2010, monitoring 2,085 tree holes in both mature and logged forests near William's Lake in British Columbia and two other temperate forests, one in Poland, the other in Argentina. The study highlights the need for the conservation of older growth forests, particularly in areas that are more dependent on the process of tree decay to provide habitat.

"In much of the world, forest policies focus on stipulating the lower diameter limits of trees that can be harvested," the study said. "Such policies help protect young trees but unfortunately promote harvest of large old trees, the very trees needed by cavity-nesting vertebrates."

The study calls for the requirement of forestry companies to conserve a sufficient amount of old trees" for wildlife and to ensure a long-term supply of such trees through careful forestry management. "The value of these large living trees needs to be recognized and we need to ensure that a supply of these trees is retained, especially in tropical forest systems where decay-formed tree holes last for many years and support a lot of wildlife," Martin says.

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