Published by York Foundation in York University’s Student Awards Newsletter, July 2009 (See Original Source)
Chris Saker is passionate about conservation—particularly when it comes to woodpeckers. The PhD candidate within York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies researches woodpeckers and their role as barometers of an ecosystem’s health. “Woodpeckers are a bigger part of the ecosystem than meets the eye,” says Saker. His recently-completed master’s thesis examines how pale-billed woodpecker numbers indicate biodiversity in the Las Nubes rainforest in Costa Rica.
Las Nubes, a 124-hectare reserve that was donated to York University by Dr. Woody Fisher, is part of the largest remaining pristine rainforest ecosystem in Central America. Saker spent six months there and is focusing his doctoral research on what happens to the tree cavities— “apartments” in Saker’s parlance—created by pale-billed woodpeckers. “Other creatures such as possums and toucans will make great use of a woodpecker’s cavity, either after the woodpecker has abandoned the home or been bullied out by another animal. I want to study the natural succession of these cavities. It’s an area of the environment we don’t understand very well.” He says if woodpeckers and their apartments disappear, so too will other animals.
Saker will continue making trips to Las Nubes for his own research and to work as a teaching assistant to undergraduate students enrolled in the Las Nubes fi eld course. Saker’s on-going research has been made possible through several scholarships and awards, including the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation and the Kenneth M. Molson Foundation. “I can’t emphasize enough how far even a little bit of money goes in the life of a graduate student,” says Saker, gratefully.
Most recently, he was the recipient of the John A. Livingston Ecological Conscience and Nature Advocacy Award, named for the late Canadian conservationist who was also a professor emeritus at York. Saker says, “Winning this award is truly one of the most honoured experiences of my life. Livingston is one of my heroes. I look up to him so much.”
The John A. Livingston Ecological Conscience and Nature Advocacy Award was established by Livingston’s wife, Ursula, honouring his passion for the natural world. It is available to a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies whose academic interests reflect those of John Livingston.