Meet Allison Dennert, Raincoast’s new Quantitative Salmon Ecologist
Allison has joined our Wild Salmon Team to advance ecologically sustainable salmon management.
Allison Dennert has joined our Wild Salmon Program team as a Quantitative Salmon Ecologist. She will conduct scientific research and applied conservation initiatives to advance ecologically sustainable salmon management in BC and support the recovery of at-risk populations.
Allison is currently finishing her Doctorate in Biology at Simon Fraser University in the Earth2Ocean Research Group. Her research examines the role of nutrients from spawning Pacific salmon in terrestrial ecosystems, and she is passionate about coastal wildflowers and their pollinators. As a part of her doctoral work she has spent several years living and working in Haíɫzaqv Territory in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, boating to salmon watersheds and whale watching on the way to work. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of British Columbia in Biology, with a specialization in Marine Biology.
We posed some questions to Allison to help you get to know her and give you a look at what she will be working on in the next few months.
Can you tell us about your background and what got you into studying salmon?
I grew up in BC, spending summers flipping over rocks in the intertidal and learning about sea snails. I was also lucky to spend my youth at an outdoor education summer camp, which sparked my passion for ecology and conservation. During university, I spent my spare time doing public outreach with kids at summer camp and at local museums. I went on to work in research labs and museums, studying everything from seagrass to sculpins.
Almost a decade ago, I had the privilege of working in Bristol Bay for part of a summer. It’s the most productive salmon ecosystem in North America, and sees a world-renowned return of sockeye salmon. At the time, I wasn’t interested in salmon. Instead, I was studying the evolution of the small, freshwater-dwelling cousins of salmon in the Salvelinus genus. But when I arrived, I couldn’t help but be dazzled by the tens of thousands of crimson sockeye returning to spawn. A collaborator of mine described the sockeye return as the ocean’s greatest gift to life on land. From then on, I was hooked.
So you are just about to finish your PhD… So exciting! Can you share more about what you are researching?
I study the salmon forests of our coast, and how nutrients from the sea influence life on land. More specifically, I’m interested in how the vast amount of marine-derived nitrogen that salmon deposit when they die fertilizes coastal ecosystems. Millions of salmon carcasses are deposited onto the forest floor every spawning season by flooding and large carnivores, and this can affect the way that plants grow and reproduce. I’ve discovered that plants growing along streams with more salmon grow larger and denser leaves, and that salmon carcasses deposited in estuary wildflower meadows can cause more flowers to bloom and more pollinators to visit those flowers. Even the iconic salmonberry plant produces more berries on streams with more salmon!
I’ve been so fortunate to spend several field seasons living in Haíɫzaqv Territory (Bella Bella) during my PhD, surrounded by granite-lined fjords, coastal wolves, grizzly bears, and whales swimming by my kitchen window. Captaining our research vessel, Keta, and learning how to fix boat engines in one of the most beautiful regions of the province has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I’m deeply indebted to the Haíɫzaqv Nation and the incredible people in the region (many of whom are Raincoasters) who care fiercely about salmon and everything that depends upon them.
Now that you have joined Raincoast, what project or focus area are most excited about digging into?
I’m really excited to contribute to the conversation around sustainable ecosystem-based management for salmon. So much of the resource management conducted in western science focuses only on the species being managed, and not on the many species that may depend on them. Ecosystem-based management allows us to consider the many people, fauna, and flora that depend on salmon for their livelihood and lives.
From your perspective, why is ecosystem-based management important to wild salmon recovery and conservation?
Having seen the sometimes far-flung ways that salmon influence their surroundings (seriously, salmon and bees?!), I think it’s important that we consider all that salmon do for us when making management decisions. Now is the time for paradigm shifts and bold decisions in salmon management.
What, in your opinion, is the coolest thing about salmon?
I think that the neatest thing about salmon is how resilient they are. They evolved more than six million years ago, and have seen some radical environmental change during that time. For example, during the last glacial maximum almost 50% of their current North American range was covered in ice and global sea levels were over 100 metres lower than they are today. While climate change (and a myriad of other threats) is imposing challenging conditions for salmon both in freshwater and at sea, their resilience gives me hope.
When you are not working to support salmon, what do you do for fun?
My absolute favourite place to be is outside. I love gardening, running, hiking, skiing, and camping. When I’m inside, I’m often scheming for more ways to spend time outside, although I do enjoy public radio, a good book, time with family and friends, and petting other people’s cats.
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