Tag Archives: Laura Timms

Assessing five decades of change in a high Arctic parasitoid community

By Christopher Buddle

As my colleague Terry Wheeler mentioned on his blog, our Northern Biodiversity Program team is thrilled to see post-doc Laura Timms‘s paper about Arctic parasitoid wasps published in Ecography!  Our team worked on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, in 2010, and compared parasitoid wasps to historical collections from the same site that were made in 1961-65, 1980-82, and 1989-92. Parasitoid wasps are at the top of the insect food chain: they lay eggs inside or on top of other arthropods and the wasp larvae emerge after consuming their hosts – a gruesome but very common lifestyle for many types of wasps.  Species at higher trophic levels, such as these parasitoid wasps, are often the first to respond to new environmental pressures, including the climate change that is occurring rapidly in Arctic systems.

Some members of the Northern Biodiversity Program working in the Yukon in 2012. (l-r, Chris Buddle, Laura Timms, Crystal Ernst and Katie Sim)

Some members of the Northern Biodiversity Program working in the Yukon in 2012. (l-r, Chris Buddle, Laura Timms, Crystal Ernst and Katie Sim)

Laura identified a LOT of wasps, recorded the type of host attacked (e.g. plant-feeding hosts versus hosts that are predators), and the body size of two species of wasps that were commonly collected in all time periods.  We found no clear pattern of change in most aspects of the parasitoid wasp community on Ellesmere Island over past 50 years, even though temperature and precipitation have increased significantly during the same period. However, there were some signs that parasitoids of plant-feeding insects may be more affected more than other groups: one common parasitoid species that was abundant in 1960s hasn’t been collected since then, and the community in the 2010 study contained fewer parasitoids of plant-feeding insects than previous studies.

Laura takes it as a good sign that no major changes in the ecology of the high Arctic parasitoid community have been observed, but isn’t taking it for granted that the community will remain unaffected for long.  At 82°N, Ellesmere Island is relatively isolated, but other research has found that parasitoid communities further south are changing dramatically (Fernandez-Triana et al 2011).

Laura has the following comment about our work: “We hope that our findings will be used as baseline data for ongoing monitoring on Ellesmere Island”, said Timms.  “We know so little about these high Arctic insect communities, we should learn as much as possible about them while they are still intact.


Timms, L., Bennett, A., Buddle, C., & Wheeler, T. (2013). Assessing five decades of change in a high Arctic parasitoid community Ecography DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2012.00278.x

Fernandez-Triana, J., Smith, M., Boudreault, C., Goulet, H., Hebert, P., Smith, A., & Roughley, R. (2011). A Poorly Known High-Latitude Parasitoid Wasp Community: Unexpected Diversity and Dramatic Changes through Time PLoS ONE, 6 (8) DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0023719


Successful pseudoscorpion hunting in the Yukon

By Chris Buddle, McGill University

The Arctic Pseudoscorpion Wyochernes asiaticus

I am heading back home after a simply amazing field trip to the Yukon Territory. As mentioned in a previous post, one of the goals of the trip was to collect more specimens of an Arctic pseudoscorpion Wyochernes asiaticus (Family Chernetidae) – a Beringian species known from Siberia, Tibet, and the Yukon. This species survived the last great glaciation event in North America by living in unglaciated regions of the northwest, including parts of the Yukon. In 2008 I had collected this species under rocks beside high elevation and high latitude creeks and rivers in a few locations in the Yukon. On this trip, my goal was to collect more specimens to further assess the distribution of this Beringian species, and to gather more life-history information including estimates of size and fecundity. Because of the relative rarity of pseudoscorpions, few data exist that describe life-history parameters of these arachnids.

Despite some rather wet and cold weather for a lot of the trip, the pseudoscorpion collecting was completely successful – we were able to collect hundreds of specimens, from the south end of the Dempster Highway (approximate latitude 64.3 degrees N) all the way up into the Northwest Territories (>67 degrees N). We collected specimens under rocks in more boreal regions, as well as the upper headwaters of high elevation creeks – some of these less than a metre wide. Here is an example of one of these northern, high elevation creeks in the Northwest Territories, just beyond the Yukon-NWT border:

An Arctic, high-elevation stream in the Northwest Territories: pseudoscorprion country!

To give you some idea of the ease of collecting, here is an example of what you might find when flipping over rocks beside the creeks:

Several Wyochernes asiaticus (Pseudoscorpiones) females (with yellow eggs visible)

I was also able to capture some video of these pseudoscorpions – as far as I am aware, Wyochernes has never before been videotaped, so this is the FIRST EVER movie of this species!

Our larger research goals included more than pseudoscorpion colleting, and I was in the Yukon with a wonderful team of scientists, including my graduate students Crystal Ernst, Katie Sim, a post-doctoral researcher Dr. Laura Timms, and an entomology professor from the University of Manitoba, Dr. Barb Sharanowski. We all had different objectives and goals for the Yukon trip, and over the next couple of weeks. I will post some more research stories from this field-work to give a sense of the scope of our research efforts in the Yukon.

The research team at the Arctic circle (Laura, Katie, Crystal, Barb & Chris)

Originally posted at Dr. Buddle’s Arthropod Ecology blog, here: http://arthropodecology.com/2012/07/19/successful-pseudoscorpion-hunting-in-the-yukon/

Team Knife in Cambridge Bay

From Laura Timms on behalf of Team Knife; they’ve returned to the south since this update was written:
Team Knife is half way through our last stop for the summer: Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Cambridge Bay is located on the southern end of Victoria Island, on the Queen Maud gulf in the Northwest Passage of the Arctic Ocean. When we arrived on July 6th the Bay was still covered in ice but with all the sun and ‘excessive heat’ (17 C the day we arrived) it has been quickly melting. In fact the last large pieces of ice disappeared yesterday while we were out collecting. Cambridge Bay is home to an old DEW line station and soon to be home to a new federal government funded High Arctic Research Station.

"Excessive heat"??!?!


Research station

Our work here is going very well – we have finished our first servicing of the traps, the vegetation protocol, two sweep samples, and 10 of the 12 aquatic sites. Our traps have been full of spiders, beetles, crane flies, midges, and all sorts of smaller things that we can’t wait to go through back home under the microscopes. Patrick has been especially good at spotting cocoons and caterpillars of the arctic woolly bear (Gynaephora groenlandica) on the tundra. This species can take up to seven years to complete its life cycle, cramming as much eating and growing into the short arctic summer as it can before going into dormancy for the rest of the year. Some of the cocoons we have found are full of puparia of tachinid flies instead of the moth – these parasitoids lay their eggs inside the caterpillars and consume them from the inside out, emerging just before the caterpillar pupates. Laura is currently rearing the cocoons in our hotel room, hoping to get some adult moths and parasitoids for our collection.
We have also had encounters with some of the larger fauna around here, having spotted several chatty arctic foxes, some muskoxen, a lemming, a seal on an ice floe, and many of the over 100 species of birds up here. One of our encounters with the local wildlife was a bit too close for comfort: both of our ATVs were dive-bombed in succession by some very territorial terns as we were driving on a beach east of town the other day. Luckily we were wearing helmets!

Musk Ox

As the weather is continuing to warm up, the vegetation is becoming greener, and the black fly larvae are getting bigger, we are looking forward to continuing to explore the area and do more collecting. The road to Ovayok Territorial park is currently washed out, but we are crossing our fingers that we will be able to get there at some point before the end of our trip. And we are hoping to not spend too much more time with ATVs and/or team members stuck in pockets of wet clay that are almost impossible to escape from!

Update from Team Knife

Life in the ‘knife has been busy and exciting!

We’ve been enjoying a lot of hot and sunny weather.  Our trapping efforts have led to some nice catches, the aquatic sampling has gone off without a hitch, and we’ve had excellent opportunities to explore interesting and novel sites for some opportunistic collection.  We’ve also been enjoying the hospitality of the very friendly people of Yellowknife.

A few days ago, after a rather muggy session of trap servicing on the Ingraham Trail, we found ourselves wandering down a narrow, bumpy gravel road in search of access to the Cameron River, near Prelude and River Lakes, for some aquatic work.  The road ended in a very sandy clearing in the forest.  Not realizing that Big Red was only in 2W drive, we quickly wound up stuck in the sand.  This little misadventure was ultimately incredibly fortunate: several hours later we had successfully sampled the river and were enjoying lemonade on the porch of a generous family whose nearby waterfront property had served as our sampling site. Charlotte, Rowena, and their mother Penny spent the afternoon with us as we sampled.  The girls, both very keen on science, got to watch entomologists at work and proved to be excellent tour guides, pointing out good sampling nooks. 

Meagan and Crystal sorting aquatic specimens with Penny and Rowena, our hosts

Meagan and Crystal sorting aquatic specimens with Penny and Rowena, our hosts

Patrick with Charlotte, who knows everything about beaver logs!

Patrick with Charlotte, who knows everything about beaver logs!

That night we treated ourselves to the world-famous Yellowknife dining experience at Bullocks Bistro.  Renowned for their fish and chips, it was an evening of tasty food, get-it-yourself beverages (“here are the glasses, there’s the tap”), colourful proprietors and over-the-top decor.  Definitely worth the splurge!

Team Knife outside Bullocks after a delicious meal
Team Knife outside Bullocks after a delicious meal

Crystal, Meagan and Patrick checking out Bullocks' decor

On Thursday, in search of some small streams and novel sites in which to sample EPTs and black flies, we took to the waters of the Yellowknife River in a pair of canoes.  Strong currents and winds made the trip challenging, but, as Patrick said at one point “It’s likely that no one has ever sampled this stream in the past, and it may never be sampled again”…in other words, it was worth the effort (the scenery was definitely an added bonus).

Meagan and Laura on the Yellowknife River

Meagan and Laura on the Yellowknife River

Laura investigating the beaver dam that dried up one stream our gps claimed we should have been able to find.

Laura investigating the beaver dam that dried up the stream our gps claimed we should have been able to find.

As if we weren’t busy enough, “Team Arthropod” stormed the Yellowknife Midnight Sun triathlon early (very early!) morning!  With Laura in the pool, Patrick on a borrowed mountain bike  (in hiking boots!) and Meagan taking the team to the finish line on the run section, Team Arthropod took first place in the team sprint category! 

Patrick did the biking leg, wearing hiking boots no less!

Patrick after the biking leg, wearing hiking boots no less!

"Team Arthropod" wins the team sprint at the Midnight Sun Triathlon!

"Team Arthropod" wins the team sprint at the Midnight Sun Triatholon!

We’ve wrapped up the day with sample processing, some sorting and equipment cleanup in preparation for the next leg of our journey, which will take us to Kugluktuk, Nunavut. We’ve all enjoyed our time in Yellowknife: it’s truly a fantastic place to work and play.

Team Knife is in the ‘knife

From Chris Buddle, PI:

The NBP team’s travels from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa went smoothly, except for the loss of some of our vials in a security check. Thankfully, in Edmonton, the marvelous Felix and Janet Sperling (fellow entomologists) were able to track down supplies for our team on short notice. They took time out of their Sunday afternoon to help us out, and our teams are very grateful! Entomological karma is strong…so good things will certainly come to the Sperling family.

The NBP team in Edmonton

Chris Buddle, Laura Timms, Crystal Ernst, Patrick Schaefer, and Meagan Blair arrived in Yellowknife Monday morning (June 6).

Yellowknife is a terrific northern city – although it is not a large town, it feels like a big city because of all the amenities and services. We quickly settled into our hotel, and then proceeded to drive our rental truck (BIG RED) out to a few potential sites to scout out potential locations to set our terrestrial pan & pitfall traps, and our Malaise traps.

Driving Big Red through the rolling rocky roads north of Yellowknife

Along the way we also found some good locations to collect aquatic insects. We are confident that we will be able to set out some terrestrial traps tomorrow (7 June). Although it was a cool day (8 C), the sun was shining and we were pleased to see some small wildlife Camponotus and Formica ants, Pirata wolf spiders, some flies, moths and butterflies) and some larger wildlife (a pair of bald eagles, two foxes, and more than a few ravens).

Chris and Patrick inspect the substrate for aquatic invertebrates in the river at the end of the road; the sites marks the start of an ice road used during colder months

We are excited to be out in the field, and are certain that Yellowknife will prove to be a productive place to collect, and the town seems warm, friendly and welcoming.

Meet The Team: Laura Timms

Laura Timms is the NBP’s postdoctoral researcher.  She now works out of the Lyman Museum under the supervision of Terry Wheeler and Chris Buddle.  Laura will be working in Yellowknife and Cambridge Bay this field season.
I joined the NBP after completing my PhD (2010) in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto, where I studied the ecological impacts of the gypsy moth on native forest caterpillars and their parasitoids. I also earned my MScF (2005) at U of T, researching the within-tree distribution of another introduced forest insect, the emerald ash borer. My research on the gypsy moth focused on the long-term ecological impacts of species invasion, addressing the question of what happens to an existing food web when a new species is introduced. Overall, the results of my doctoral research indicated that native forest caterpillar communities were mostly resilient to gypsy moth invasion. This was a surprise to me, and inspired me to pursue questions on the impacts of other types of disturbance on insect communities. Cue the NBP!
My research with the NBP focuses on the Ichneumonidae, a family of parasitic wasps in the order Hymenoptera. Ichneumonidae is one of the largest families of organisms on earth, with over 60,000 known species in 38 subfamilies. There is a great deal of variation within and between the subfamilies in regards to host groups, life history strategies, appearance, and biogeography. In general, ichneumonid richness peaks at higher latitudes than most other animal groups (at around 38-42 degrees) and drops off at a slower rate heading north than it does heading south. This portion of northern biodiversity remains largely unstudied, however, despite that fact that ichneumonids play a number of important ecological roles and that the impacts of climate change on ichneumonids and other parasitoids may represent a magnified view of the impacts on lower trophic levels. Broadly, my research addresses these issues by looking at patterns in ichneumonid diversity across our sample sites, and comparing present day diversity to historical data.
I started working with the NBP in September, and so missed out on last year’s field work. But I’m very excited this year to be heading way further North than I’ve ever been before – to Yellowknife, NT and Cambridge Bay, NU!