Want to Work With Wildlife?

Ter­res­trial wildlife have al­ways fas­ci­nated Carolyn Cal­laghan. She’s spent years track­ing wolves in the wild and lately she’s been study­ing how farm­land could make a big dif­fer­ence for pol­li­na­tors. Want to fol­low in her foot­steps? Keep read­ing!

Wild - - NEWS - Il­lus­tra­tion by Tara Hardy

Con­ser­va­tion Bi­ol­o­gist for Ter­res­trial Wildlife

When did you know you wanted to be a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist?

Carolyn Cal­laghan (CC): I de­cided to be­come a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist when I was 11 years old. I was es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in study­ing wolves. Their so­cial nature in­trigued me, es­pe­cially be­cause they live in fam­ily groups and co­op­er­ate to hunt and raise their pups. I stud­ied wolves for fif­teen years, in Al­go­nquin Park in On­tario and in the Rocky Moun­tains of Alberta and Bri­tish Columbia. Dur­ing the win­ters, my field crew and I fol­lowed their tracks in the snow to find out what prey they were eat­ing. Dur­ing the sum­mers, we ob­served the wolves at their dens to see how many pups were born. We trav­elled through­out the back­coun­try by ski­ing, snow­shoe­ing, bik­ing, hik­ing and some­times by horse­back. It was a lot of work but re­ally fun too. We learned a lot about how wolves sur­vive in the moun­tains.

Since then, you’ve been work­ing on a big project at the Cana­dian Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion on how farm­land can make a big dif­fer­ence for pol­li­na­tors. Can you tell us a bit about that?

There are many nat­u­ral habi­tats for wildlife on farms in Canada, such as wet­lands, forests, and grass­lands. Many wildlife species use th­ese habi­tats, and some of th­ese species are ben­e­fi­cial to the farm­ers, such as the in­sects that pol­li­nate cer­tain crops.

We are en­cour­ag­ing farm­ers to keep some of their nat­u­ral habi­tat. Of­ten th­ese lands are not suit­able for grow­ing crops, so keep­ing th­ese habi­tats is not dif­fi­cult. How­ever, we’re see­ing many hedgerows (a line of trees in a farm field) dis­ap­pear to make room for mod­ern farm ma­chin­ery. With their loss comes a de­crease in wildlife. We are hop­ing that gov­ern­ments will en­cour­age farm­ers to keep some habi­tat on their farm. We are also en­cour­ag­ing gov­ern­ments to ban a type of pes­ti­cide known as neon­i­coti­noid be­cause they are very harm­ful to pol­li­na­tors.

What kind of pol­li­na­tors would ben­e­fit from nat­u­ral habi­tat on farm­land?

There are thousands of pol­li­na­tors! There are over 800 species of wild bees alone in Canada. Add the many hun­dreds of hov­er­flies, moths, but­ter­flies, and bee­tles, and you have an en­tire army of pol­li­na­tors. Many species do their part for pol­li­na­tion, but the heavy hit­ters are wild bees and hov­er­flies. All pol­li­nat­ing species would ben­e­fit from nat­u­ral habi­tats on farm­land. Th­ese habi­tats pro­vide a place for their nests, plenty of food, and pro­tec­tion from rain and cold weather. Nat­u­ral habi­tat on farm­land are ecosys­tems in them­selves, com­plete with a com­plex web of preda­tors, prey and scav­engers.

Why are pol­li­na­tors worth saving?

If we do not sup­port habi­tat for our pol­li­na­tors, they will de­cline and then they will not be able to do their very im­por­tant job, which is to pol­li­nate flow­ers. With­out pol­li­na­tors, we would not have much of the food that we en­joy, such as most fruit, seeds, and veg­eta­bles. Even pro­duc­ing milk and yo­gurt re­quires pol­li­na­tors be­cause the food that is fed to dairy cows, such as al­falfa, needs to be pol­li­nated by in­sects. We also would not have wild flow­ers, and it would be a sad world with­out them.

Have you met any farm­ers who are try­ing hard to make life a lit­tle eas­ier for pol­li­na­tors? What were they like?

Yes! I love work­ing with farm­ers. They are some of the most gen­er­ous, kind hearted peo­ple I have known. Farm­ers are nat­u­rally con­nected with the earth be­cause they work out­doors ev­ery day. They see the birds, the deer, and the in­sects on their land. I have heard so many sto­ries about wildlife from farm­ers. Farm­ing is a way of life. It is a lot of hard work with­out guar­an­tee of in­come at the end of the day, so they are in the pro­fes­sion for the life­style of work­ing out­doors and mak­ing an hon­est liv­ing. Some of th­ese farm­ers are work­ing hard to make sure there are pol­li­na­tors for their crops. They are plant­ing strips of wild­flow­ers or are re­tain­ing the forests on their land. Oth­ers avoid us­ing pes­ti­cides so that they do not harm the ben­e­fi­cial in­sects. Th­ese farm­ers are sup­port­ing pol­li­na­tors, who in turn sup­port the farm­ers by pol­li­nat­ing crops.

If one of our WILD read­ers wanted to be­come a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist, what should they study at school?

There are col­leges across Canada that of­fer wildlife or ecosys­tem man­age­ment, and all uni­ver­si­ties of­fer pro­grams in bi­ol­ogy or ecol­ogy. When I was young, one of my least favourite sub­jects was math. When my teacher learned that I wanted to be­come a bi­ol­o­gist, he told me I needed to work hard in math. At the time I didn’t un­der­stand why, but once I be­gan col­lege, I re­al­ized that he was com­pletely right. So for any WILD read­ers who want to be­come wildlife bi­ol­o­gists, I sug­gest you work hard in math! It gets eas­ier with prac­tice, and ev­ery­one can learn to think log­i­cally and see the beauty of math­e­mat­ics.a

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