Sunday, August 21, 2011

Montreal Expedition: Around the Americas in an afternoon

Hello again! Emily, Alena and Hope here. In addition to being a great place to conduct research, the Biodôme in Montreal is a fantastic place to visit. The Biodôme is a branch of the Montreal Nature Museum. It was built in the velodrome that housed the track cycling events during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Today it is an educational attraction that showcases models of four different ecosystems and the species that make them unique.

After a full morning working with the wolffish, we toured the Biodôme. The walk through begins in the tropical ecosystem. This room is kept between 25 and 28˚C (77 and 82.4˚F) and at a relative humidity of 70% during the day; visitors in the winter months probably welcome the respite from the cold! Several species of birds and tree frogs roam free along the path, and golden tamarins and sloths hang out in the trees.

A capybara, the world's largest rodent
Emily and Hope have super hearing

Next is a marine ecosystem, the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This habitat has two levels; the first is an underwater view of a 2.5 million liter tank that houses many species of fish, including several resident wolffish! Above the water, sea birds swoop overhead and small conifers and lichens cover steep granite cliff faces. An intertidal pool is filled with sea cucumbers, urchins and sea stars, and one lone, handsome Atlantic wolffish. While wolffish in the wild live deep in the water, the shallow intertidal pool provides visitors with a better look of this smaller specimen.

Alena and Hope took a trip to the Gulf of St. Lawrence
An Atlantic wolffish on display! This guy resides in the intertidal pool where visitors tempt him with their fingers. But he knows where his food comes from; he recognizes the aquarist who feeds him.

From the St. Lawrence coast we traveled north to a Laurentian maple forest. Here there were several charismatic mammals on display: river otters slide down a gently sloping stream, a beaver splashes in a freshwater pond, porcupines climb trees and gnaw on twigs and tree bark, and two lynx pace along a cliff and watch visitors with wary yellow eyes. This habitat is controlled to change with the seasons and reflect the actual conditions outside. Now, in the summer, everything is green and lush, but soon the leaves will change and fall, and in the winter the plants will go into dormancy until the spring.

Two lynx in the Laurentian Maple Forest

Finally we did some pole-hopping in the subpolar exhibits, where two analogous but distinct ecosystems are represented. These two habitats display birds that play and splash in the water: notably Atlantic puffins from the Labrador Coast, and penguins as would be found on an island between the tip of South America and Antarctica.

The sub-Antarctic habitat houses four species of penguins.

A puffin in the ecosystem representing the Labrador coast in the sub-Arctic exhibit.

For an afternoon at the Biodôme, we were transported to amazingly different ecosystems across the Americas. More soon...

-Alena, Emily, Hope, Randi 

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