Category Archives: Field Season 2010

The NBP “YouTubes its entomology”

Every year, the Entomological Society of America holds a YouTube Your Entomology contest in association with its annual meeting. This year, NBP team member Sarah Loboda submitted a video that she created after her 2010 field season in Schefferville, QC. It’s been featured on this blog before, but it warrants another viewing (it’s just that awesome!) We may be biased, but we’re pretty sure this is a winning entry. Good luck, Sarah!

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A biting fly update

Patrick Schaefer, an NBP PhD student working at the University of Toronto, recently published an article entitled, “An update on the biting fly component of the Northern Biodiversity Program” in the winter 2011 Biological Survey of Canada Newsletter.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Preliminary results from the 2010 season suggest that the northern biting fly fauna is far from homogeneous – even on a relatively limited geographical scale. … Furthermore, there is tantalizing evidence that at least some biting flies may be shifting their distributions northwards in response to a changing climate. If this is true, it could have important implications for the hosts of these bloodsucking species.

You can read the rest of this really excellent overview of the more Dipterish components of the NBP program (and enjoy some wonderful photographs of the field work) by clicking here to be redirected to a pdf of the newsletter.

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Reference:

Schaefer, P. 2011. An update on the biting fly component (Diptera: Simuliidae, Culicidae, and Tabanidae) of the Northern Biodiversity Program. Newsletter of the Biological Survey of Canada, 31(2): 41-49.

 

 

The Arctic Circle

On Tuesday, January 10, Crystal Ernst delivered a talk entitled, “Arctic Arthropod Ecology and the Northern Biodiversity Program”, at the annual general meeting of the Arctic Circle, a group of Arctic researchers and aficionados that meets monthly in Ottawa, Ontario.

The talk provided some background information on the importance of arthropods to biodiversity and in ecological research, and some examples of recent changes in the biodiversity of arthropods in northern Canada were explored. There was a discussion of the history of arthropod collection efforts in the Arctic, including the Northern Insect Survey of the mid-1900s. The presentation finished with an overview of the research being undertaken by the Northern Biodiversity Program and some interesting data coming out of an 8-week study of the beetle fauna in Kugluktuk, Nunavut (part of Crystal’s PhD research).

The 45-minute presentation was very well received by an enthusiastic audience of 50+; many thoughtful questions were asked at the end (and again after the meeting had been formally concluded!). Crystal was grateful for the opportunity to work on her lecturing skills with such a receptive group and has been invited to return with an update at a future meeting!

NBP is on YouTube!

Sarah Loboda, from McGill University, has created an incredibly entertaining compilation of video footage shot while she and the rest of Team Goose conducted sampling in Schefferville.

Check it out!

Back in the lab: sorting the samples

From Terry Wheeler, McGill University:

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Field work is the glamour event of projects like ours, but every good day of collecting generates a huge amount of work back at the lab. One of the lab rooms at McGill University’s Lyman Entomological Museum has been transformed into Sorting Headquarters for the NBP and that’s where most of our energy has been focused this fall. Almost every available inch of counter space in the room is lined with microscopes, lights, vials, sorting trays, and boxes of carefully arranged labels.

sorting tray

Tools of the trade

A study such as ours, with multiple collecting methods and sample sites, can collect enormous numbers of our target groups of insects and spiders, but those trap samples also come complete with many other insects, leaves, seeds, soil, dirt and more. That means that every one of the thousands of samples we brought back from the field must now be sorted at the microscope, to separate the spiders, flies, beetles, wasps and aquatic insects for our individual projects. Each sample is carefully divided up into separate vials for each of our target arthropod groups. It’s long and hard work – six weeks of field collecting means several months of sorting and processing samples – but this is our first chance to get a sense of how the patterns look across our sites. Even at this early stage we are starting to see differences between the Malaise traps from Moosonee (hundreds of horseflies), and pan traps from Kuglugtuk  (lots of specimens of an unidentified yellow fly that we don’t see in the eastern samples). The Lake Hazen samples are quick and easy to deal with (there’s not much diversity that far north), but a single Malaise trap from one of the boreal sites can take more than a full day for one of the students to sort through.

Tabanid tray

Horsefly soup: halfway through a sample

This sorting is just the first stage in processing our samples from Year 1. Once everything is sorted to order (spiders, flies, beetles and the rest), the second round begins. Each student will sort their own group of interest to finer levels of resolution – family, genus, species – as we move toward the species-level identifications necessary to see ecological patterns at fine scales. Many of the flies, beetles and wasps will be mounted on pins; the softer-bodied spiders and aquatic insects will stay in ethanol. Specimens preserved in ethanol will also be used for DNA barcoding, to unlock the genetic diversity of the northern arthropods.

Sarah at scope

Sarah tackles a sample

At our current pace, it looks like this first round of sorting will be wrapped up by the end of the fall term. Seeing that last bag of samples come out of the freezer will probably be a welcome Christmas gift for the Sorting Crew.

Final report for field season 2010

Well, it’s official:  field season 2010 has come to an end.  Our teams did an incredible job traversing the eastern regions of northern Canada, working in 8 communities in 5 provinces and territories.   A mind-boggling number of specimens have been collected, along with important environmental data.  Now the real work begins!  Before we talk about the next stage of the project, some of our team members have provided some snapshots of their final days in the North.  I think it’s safe to say this summer was one that won’t soon be forgotten.
  
Sarah Loboda on Lake Hazen
Hazen is a dream for anyone who likes to be isolated in a tent on an amazing site; Hazen was a dream for me. I felt so lucky every second I was there even after a few days of work because to work in Arctic is a great opportunity!  This ecosystem is breathtaking. It felt like a privilege to see it. Ellesmere Island is almost the size of Great Britain but with only one thousand people on it I would say (because of military bases). It was exactly what I needed : free space for my free time. 

sara2 

I spent all my free time hiking around. My best hike was with PhD students I met on the camp. We left the camp at 10 pm. We followed Skeleton Creek and climbed the crete on the hill between Blister Hill and McGill Mountain. It was perfect!  Funny to hike at night time.  McGill Mountain was a challenge, probably the most difficult mountain I climbed.  There was no trail but so many rocks. Every step you make, you fall half a step because of rolling stones.  Meagan was amazing. We call her “the mountain goat”. She was so fast; she arrived 45 minutes before us! On the top, there was a box with a journal to put your name and your comment. And surpris: a student from Alberta put a bubble bottle to make bubbles on the top of the mountain ! What a great idea 🙂 and what a view. It was the only place where I saw both extremities of the giant lake. Bigger than what I imagined before going. And the other side was spectacular too, a lot of mountain with glaciers. It was too cold (around zero) to stay on the top…but I kept a picture of the view in my head.  What I did in Arctic was unforgettable: meet people with incredible background, hike and drink water from glaciers and see mystic animals like muskox and arctic wolves. When you go once, you just want to go back to see more.
Patrick Schaefer on Iqaluit
The final stretch in Iqaluit was amazing. The weather really picked  up after Chris left, and we had some warm days at 22oC. This was  approaching the historical high temperatures of 23oC for Iqaluit.  These days were spent going on long hikes doing  opportunistic collecting, and finding snow patches for photo ops. One of the more interesting finds was another hornet’s nest inside a Caribou skull!   Unfortunately, the last few days were quite a bit colder. Since I  study biting flies, I was probably the only one upset by the lack of  mosquitoes on those days. Overall, I found the summer temperatures to be more agreeable up north than those of my home town of Toronto,  where the temperatures will get to the high thirties and low forties with 100% humidity.  We spend these last few days taking in out terrestrial traps, sampling for aquatic insects and making ready for our departure. We are very grateful to Jamal Shirley, from the Nunavut Arctic College for all his help and for kindly agreeing to run a malaise trap for us throughout the rest of the summer. This will allow us to get an idea of any seasonal changes in the insect community that we might have  missed as the summer comes on an end in the north. We also prepared a small collection of local beetles, wasps and butterflies for the Nunavut Arctic College. These specimens were collected by children participating in a summer science camp and they had a great time in the process!  Luckily our departure from the north and arrival at our various home universities went smoothly. I am looking forward to examining the insects we found this year, and next year’s field season.
Donna Giberson on Lake Hazen
Lake Hazen is known to be an “arctic oasis” that is considerably warmer and lusher than many other arctic localities located much further south, and while we were there we experienced highly variable weather… everything from near freezing and 30 knot winds to calm and beautiful days in the high teens and low 20s.  The site had an earlier than usual start to the season this year, so by the time we arrived, many of the flowers had finished blooming, and the season seemed well advanced.  The lake still had a lot of ice on it as well, but all the ice disappeared while we were there. 
 

Jul 26 view of Hazen camp from lake

Hazen Camp (Lake Hazen, Nunavut)

We stayed at “Hazen Camp” which is maintained by Parks Canada, and consists of a number of all-weather shelters for park staff.  Visiting researchers set up tents in the camp area, and are also allowed to use the a kitchen shelter with a propane stove and a way to get out of the weather while we cooked.  Several of the shelters date back to the 1950s and have been refurbished by the park.  Some new sleeping shelters were actually constructed while we were there this summer.  Access to the site is by Twin Otter out of Resolute Bay, and it is an incredible 3.5 hour or so flight to get there.  The landing is a bit exciting, with a very bouncy runway.
 
The terrain was generally very dry though, and was dominated by Dryas (white mountain avens) hummocks that were quite difficult to walk on.  The area is quite mountainous, with ice caps and glaciers that feed streams that empty into the lake.  Valleys in the mountains behind the camp are fed by melting permafrost in the active layer, and there were tundra ponds and sedge meadows in most nearby valleys.  Our main sampling sites were set up in one of these valleys, called Skeleton Valley, in the hills behind camp.  We didn’t venture too far from camp (only a few km) for our sampling, as we had to carry everything by foot, but the students enjoyed some of the spectacular hiking in the area.  We were also able to tag along with a helicopter that was on site doing work for Parks Canada to get across the lake to sample the river and surrounding areas that flows out of Lake Hazen.  

Jul 26 Meagan and Sarah on hill above ruggles river

Meagan and Sarah sampling above Ruggles River

After nearly two weeks of sampling, which included the aquatic sampling, the setting up and regular servicing of the pitfall, pan, and malaise traps, as well as extra pan trapping in multiple habitats and considerable opportunistic sampling with the sweep net, we had one of the nicest days of our time there to pack up our gear and wait for the plane to take us out.  It was a bittersweet day; it was hard to leave such a gorgeous spot, but the team was pretty tired after their intensive summer, and anxious to get back home.    

Jul 22 view of skeleton valley and lake hazen

A view of Skeleton Valley and Lake Hazen

Hazen was an amazing experience, and I’m glad I had the chance to work there.  Now we have to buckle down and sort samples to find out what we found!
Crystal Ernst on Kugluktuk:
The last few weeks in Kug were an exciting whirlwind of activity.  Final trap collections were conducted and trapping equipment was removed and packed for the journey back home.  Amidst this work, some amazing things were happening with the youth of Kugluktuk; kids of all ages were getting excited about bugs and science! 
A great opportunity to work with Kug youth presented itself when leaders from a visiting Actua Science Camp allowed me to spend a day with their campers.  We talked about the importance of insects in their community and then headed outside to see what kind of bugs we could find.  The kids had a blast turning over rocks for spiders, trying out “real scientists’ ” equipment (sweep nets and aspirators), and gleefully tucking creepy-crawlies in their own vials. 
Science camp kids

Campers and leaders from Actua Science Camps

I was delighted when, upon returning to the community centre, they immediately turned to the field guides, microscopes and hand lenses  I’d brought, eager to discover the identities of their critters.  The perfect conclusion to the day was when one little girl whispered confidentially, “I’d like to be a scientist when I grow up!”
 
Classes at Kugluktuk High School resumed in August, providing me a chance to work with some older students.  During the first week of school, students participate in week-long mini-courses on various subjects.  I worked with two teachers to develop a course on northern insects and climate change.   I gave a well-received talk and collection method demonstration for their very keen students, and then spent two days in the field with them.  On the second day, the students’ newly acquired skills were put to the test: we travelled out on the land to one of my trapping sites, where they carefully gathered the contents of pan and pitfall traps, set up malaise traps, and practiced sweep-netting.   These traps were left in place, and the students continue to collect their contents weekly – this will provide data for nearly an entire summer season in Kug!  Since my departure, the high school students have visited the primary school to teach the younger students about their experiences.
cooperation

Students work together to collect a yellow pan sample.

Last but not least, my stay in Kug coincided with the final leg of the journey undertaken by Canadian high school students aboard the CCGS Amundsen, the coast guard ship that hosted ArcticNet’s Schools on Board program.  These students, who hailed from high schools across northern Canada, joined up with some of the local students and spent the day with me on the Coppermine River, sampling aquatic invertebrates in the rapids.  It was a beautiful day, and we had great fun spooking ourselves with the large black and yellow stone flies hidden under rocks on the shore. 

SOB crew

The gang from Schools on Board and Kug High School at Bloody Falls

Meagan Blair on Lake Hazen:
Entomological field work at Lake Hazen was a success and the view at this arctic oasis was absolutely amazing!  Despite some weather related travel delays (both on the way there and back), the trip went very smoothly.  Aside from insect collection, some personal highlights of the trip were: arctic camping, hiking Mount McGill, and gazing….from a distance of course….at the magnificent musk oxen.  Now that we are back in the lab processing samples, I cannot wait to see what we collected from this pristine environment.

NBP in the blogosphere

Word about the NBP is certainly spreading!  

We were contacted by the webmaster of Naskapi News, a blog devoted to topics of interest to the Naskapi people, who live in the Schefferville (Quebec) area.  You may recall that Team Goose was sampling in Schefferville earlier this month…

 

Please visit the Naskapi blog to check out their great feature on the NBP!