Barometers of Environmental Change
(By Mary MacKay, The Guardian, 18/03/10)
Insects are the canary in the coalmine in terms of warning signs in the fragile ecosystem of the Canadian Arctic. And now a group of professors and students from UPEI, McGill University in Montreal, Que., and the University of Toronto (UofT) in Ontario is set to seek out and study insects, spiders and their arthropod relatives to determine the effects of climate change in the north, which is under immense environmental pressure.
Click here to read the rest of the article published in the PEI Guardian
“I still can’t believe I’m going to the arctic this summer to work on this incredible project”, says Christine Roussel, an undergrad student at the University of Prince Edward Island. “I’m going to collect dragonflies, and compare what I find to what people found in the arctic from many years ago”. Christine was recently interviewed by a reporter from the Charlottetown daily paper (the Guardian), and her enthusiasm was infectious. She explained that insects are moving north in response to climate change, so residents of northern communities are seeing some insects for the first time. “Imagine seeing a dragonfly for the first time in your life! Would you be scared?”.
Christine is one of 6 students participating in the Northern Biodiversity Project aimed at sampling 12 northern localities over the next two years to look at diversity and adaptation of northern insects. The students are a special part of this project, and will each carry out research on some aspect of the overall project. They will travel in teams to 6 locations this summer, and another 6 next summer, and spend two weeks collecting in each place. Insects will be collected in the same way at each place, then will be sorted and distributed to whoever is “in charge” of that particular group. Then other teams of students will “mine” information from the incredible number of specimens and records from an earlier project, the Northern Insect Survey (1947-62), many of which can still be found in the Canadian National Collection of Insects in Ottawa.
The sampling doesn’t start until summer, but there is a team of people working behind the scenes this winter to make sure that the summer will go smoothly. Logistics are always interesting in arctic work, and travel to 6 localities each summer give at least that many chances for things to go wrong. The main project activities through the winter, therefore, have focussed on these logistical details…recruiting our students and grad students, applying for permits for collecting throughout the arctic, and organizing the travel to exotic locations like Moosenee, Goose Bay, and Ellesmere Island. These have been very ably taken care of by Meghan Larivee and Karine Duffy at McGill, under the supervision of Chris Buddle.
Our big focus now is a training session to be held at the end of May at Mount St. Hilaire, near Montreal. At that point we’ll finalize our sampling protocols and make sure we’re all trained in them, and then we’ll scatter briefly, before meeting up again as teams to head north to sample.