Extreme Ecology

Extreme Ecology

Imagine living in a three-season tent, in the Arctic Tundra, for an entire summer. During the long, northern days, passionate ecologists show you how the local plants and animals have adapted to this extreme environment. Grizzly bears and caribou regularly wander past your camp. And at night, the sky explodes with the fluorescent colours of the Aurora Borealis.

This is how Alexandra Taylor first became hooked on the field of ecology. “I was still an undergraduate student attending the University of Alberta,” Alexandra recalls. “I took a course on Arctic ecology and found it fascinating that animals could survive the extremes up there. So when the opportunity to join a northern research team presented itself, I was really excited.”

That summer, Alexandra traveled to the Yukon, near Kluane National Park. She joined Pika Camp, where researchers were studying how climate change was affecting plant-animal interactions. Alex’s role was as a junior field assistant, but that never stopped her from making the most of her experience.

“I was surrounded by passionate people who loved what they did and were amazing mentors. No matter how busy they were with their own research, they always took the time for me – that has really stuck with me,” shares Alexandra.

Another part of the experience that has stuck with Alex is the animal encounters. “We had twelve grizzlies walk past our camp that summer, though none of them had any real interest in us. I also got to see my first caribou, and the only wolverine I’ve seen to date!”

The innovative studies that Alex was a part of went on to be published in academic journals. The research, which is continuing today, brought new attention to the significant impacts of climate change on the Arctic regions – which are being affected much faster than temperate regions.

The northern research experience also inspired a new career path for Alexandra. “It’s amazing,” she gushes. “Almost ten years later, being able to recall this time, when I was in such beautiful and raw wilderness, inspires the work I do today, and the passion I have for wildlife and conservation.”

Today Alexandra is a Wildlife Ecologist for environmental consulting company Golder Associates Ltd. She has led her own research studies in the Arctic ecosystems of Norway, Sweden, and the Yukon. Alexandra also volunteers as a mentor in the Cybermentor program, inspiring the next generation of girls to pursue their own extreme careers.


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