WHIRLING DANGER: ALBERTA FISH UNDER ATTACK + FASTER PACE: CITY CRITTERS RUSHING EVOLUTION
Gathering moss in Haida Gwaii
TRACKING NATURE High-tech answers to age-old questions
THEIR FUTUREâ€¦ AND OURS NOVEMBER + DECEMBER 2017 VOLUME 23, NUMBER 5 PM #40062602
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30 November + December 2017 Volume 23, Number 5 WildlifeMagazine.ca
Caribou on the Brink
Once unimaginably abundant, this “umbrella species” is at tremendous risk. What we do now and for the next few years will either save or doom this extraordinary creature By Sharon Oosthoek Photos Peter Mather
Hidden in Plain Sight
Young photographer and explorer Matthew Cicanese’s images capture invisible worlds filled with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes, all right under our noses. You just have to know how to see them By Matthew Cicanese
30 Wild Tech ON THE COVER Caribou Photo: Donald M. Jones NOV + DEC 2017
Using the latest advances in technology, conservationists are discovering new and important things about creatures in their habitats, be they in the ocean depths or high up in the wild blue yonder By Kerry Banks Illustrations by Damien Vignaux CANADIAN WILDLIFE 3
Back 37 Field Guide
Like its ubiquitous Christmas cousin, Canadian Holly offers a splash of colour to the winter gloom (without the nasty sharps)
By Mel Walwyn
6 In Focus
38 Birding by Bird
Over the winter, red foxes tend to do better on their own in Ontario’s sprawling Algonquin Park
Having hummingbirds flitting about your yard is a treat, but careful what you feed them. You might be killing them with kindness
9 Out There
The one-eyed sphinx moth’s stealthy camouflage includes a surprising and effective “look”
By David Bird
40 Book Review
Keeping you up-to-date on what’s happening in research, in conservation and in the wild right now
Gifting a young child an appreciation for nature is a key part of a healthy start — and what better way than through a good storybook?
Compiled and edited by Kat Eschner
By Leah Collins Lipsett
12 Bigger Picture
Whirling disease has been devastating salmon around the world. Now it is here in Canada
42 Urban Wildlife
A fascinating new meta-study confirms that the fast pace of living in a city speeds up species adaptation
By Alanna Mitchell
By Matthew Church
14 Local Hero
One man’s 10-year campaign to save toads inspired a song and brought people together
News, events and updates on conservation, education and engagement projects from the Canadian Wildlife Federation
By Isabelle Groc
16 Wild Things
This amazing moth survives for years in the hostile and frigid environs of the High Arctic
46 View Finder
Looking back at the time I captured the most northern bird’s nest ever reported
By Jay Ingram
By Wayne Lynch
Editor Matthew Church Art Director Steven Balaban Publications Manager, CWF Fred T. Ouimette Contributing Editor Wayne Lynch Proofreader Judy Yelon Copy Editor Stephanie Small Translator Michel Tanguay French Proofreader Marie-Christine Picard
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The Canadian Wildlife Federation is dedicated to ensuring an appreciation of our natural world and a lasting legacy of healthy wildlife and habitat by informing and educating Canadians, advocating responsible human actions and representing wildlife on conservation issues. For donations and program information call 1-800-563-9453, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
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Newfoundland and Labrador
Andrew Bouzan, Brian Taylor
New Brunswick Charles LeBlanc,
Quebec Serge Larivière, Rodolphe La Salle Ontario Kerry Coleman, Debbie Rivard Manitoba Brian Strauman, Randy Walker Saskatchewan Heath Dreger, Clark Schultz Alberta Doug Butler, Wayne Lowry British Columbia Brenton Froelich, Mark Hall Northwest Territories Gordon Van Tighem Yukon Eric Schroff, Charles Shewen
AFFILIATE MEMBERS Alberta Fish & Game Association, B.C. Wildlife Federation, Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs, Manitoba Wildlife Federation, New Brunswick Wildlife Federation, Newfoundland & Labrador Wildlife Federation, Northwest Territories Wildlife Federation, Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers & Hunters, Ontario Federation of Anglers & Hunters, Prince Edward Island Wildlife Federation, Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, Yukon Fish & Game Association. CWF SENIOR STAFF CEO
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Looking Back at Our Year
t the Canadian Wildlife Federation, 2017 has been a year of some great highs and lows. We were proud to join with Canadians to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation through a series of bioblitzes as part of BioBlitz Canada 150, which was one of 38 official Canada 150 signature projects supported by government. Thirty-five bioblitzes were held in provinces and territories across the country, where scientists and members of the general public joined together to identify and record every species they could find in a specific area, creating Canada’s “nature-selfie.” Also, our Hinterland Who’s Who program released a series of new videos showcasing some of the iconic wildlife that played an important role in the country’s history, such as the beaver, Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon. We were excited to be part of the Canada 150 celebrations to mark this milestone year. Sadly, however, this fall, we lost a friend and longtime CWF board member Pierre Latraverse. Pierre was an ardent conservationist who brought his expertise in Quebec conservation issues to the national level and acted as a catalyst to promote and support national conservation and education initiatives. At our annual awards banquet in June, we were pleased to present Pierre with CWF’s Roland Michener Conservation Award in recognition of his tremendous contributions, which were highlighted in the September/October issue of this magazine. Pierre had a passionate commitment to conservation in the St. Lawrence region, where this past summer we lost so many right whales. Eleven of the 14 right whales that died this summer were found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This is an area that has not been regularly surveyed for right whales, though some observations have been recorded. This year, however, many aerial surveys were done to look for right whales in the gulf and to help guide future activities. As Kerry Banks points out in his article “High-Tech Conservation” on page 30, there is a lot of knowledge to be discovered through the use of newer technologies that allow us to explore and learn more about difficult-to-chart wildlife movements and behaviours. For the past two summers, CWF has been part of an exciting project called WHaLE (Whale, Habitat and Learning Experiment). Our partners
placed gliders (self-piloted underwater drones) equipped with hydrophones (underwater microphones) into the Atlantic Ocean with the goal of detecting where the whales are. When the hydrophones hear a whale, information about the type of whale and location is transmitted back to the Whale, Fish and Particle Lab at Dalhousie University. It is hoped that in the future, this information can be sent to shipping and other vessel traffic to reduce the risk of collisions. This type of progress is encouraging and can lead to better wildlife management and decisions. Canada 150 provides us with an opportunity to celebrate conservation successes, examine current challenges and opportunities, and chart our path forward for a country rich in wildlife, habitat and biodiversity for generations to come. As we close out Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, at the end of November CWF will host a National Conservation Summit. It will bring together people with a broad range of perspectives on wildlife: environmental groups, Indigenous leaders, hunting and angling organizations, academia, industry and government, all working to create innovative actions that will help chart a promising future for conservation in Canada. On behalf of the CWF board of directors, staff and supporters across Canada, I wish you the very best of the holiday season.
Rick J. Bates CEO, Canadian Wildlife Federation
CANADIAN WILDLIFE 5
In Focus RED FOX
This red fox (Vulpes vulpe) was photographed in Ontarioâ€™s Algonquin Park by Christopher MacDonald. Generally monogamous, pairs of adult foxes separate during the winter, particularly when hunting is poor. They come together again in early spring for breeding and denning. While extensively trapped and hunted in the past, red fox populations have rebounded in recent decades and are found in every province and territory.
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Celebrate Canada’s 150th with
In honour of the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, Hinterland Who’s Who has been releasing special videos about some of our most iconic wildlife and their impact on our country’s history and culture. The last featured species is the Snowy Owl! There are few creatures that symbolize the beauty and ruggedness of Canada’s Arctic as well as this majestic white bird. While it is well adapted to life in -50°C, some individuals will migrate to southern Canada for the winter months. Throughout history, the Inuit peoples of Canada have shared territory with Snowy Owls, and because of that, these owls appear in their legends, art and traditions.
To discover Canada’s North American Bison, Pacific Salmon, Atlantic Cod, Right Whale and Beaver, and to view some of our videos in Indigenous languages, visit HWW.ca!
2017 has been a great year to celebrate Canada and its amazing natural heritage! Stay tuned for more from Hinterland Who’s Who in 2018!
This project was undertaken with the financial support of: Ce projet a été réalisé avec l’appui financier de :
One-eyed sphinx moth SCIENTIFIC NAME Smerinthus cerisyi
REGION Wooded valleys in southern Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia CONSERVATION STATUS Secure WAYNE LYNCH
WHY SO SPECIAL Uses false eyespots to intimidate predators
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COOL FACTS This large, secretive moth spends the day resting on a tree trunk, relying on its cryptic coloration to blend with the texture of the bark and camouflage it from the discerning eyes of hungry songbirds. When gently prodded or threatened, the moth snaps its forewings forward to reveal two conspicuous eyespots on its hindwings. To heighten the impact of this startling display, the moth rocks the tip of its abdomen up and down. The sudden appearance of two large eyes that move menacingly towards an intruder is unnerving to humans and would presumably spook a small songbird. If the deception fails, the moth is doomed: it has no other means of protection and it is too slow to escape.
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Mako Difference: learn more about threats to this speedy shark and what you can do to help conserve them
OVERFISHING MAY BE HURTING THE MAKO SHARK Using satellite telemetry, researchers in the North Atlantic followed 40 mako sharks over three years. What they found suggests fishing limits should be set for these fast-moving, highly migratory shark species. Compounding the effects of overfishing is that mako are also often caught as a byproduct of fishing for other species. “The fishing mortality rates we observed were well above those previously reported for mako sharks in the North Atlantic,” the researchers wrote. For more information, visit dfo-mpo.gc.ca.
Meet a few of Canada’s provincial trees and the species that call them home CHRIS AND MONIQUE FALLOWS/NPL/MINDEN PICTURES. CONNOR STEFANISON/BIA/MINDEN PICTURES.
In the Wild
WESTERN RED CEDAR (British Columbia) You’ll find the western red cedar (Thuja plicata) along British Columbia’s coast and on the west side of the Rockies. These aromatic trees are home to cavity-nesting birds such as hairy woodpeckers, tree swallows and chestnut-backed chickadees. In winter, some of these birds migrate to new trees in more temperate climes. WHITE SPRUCE (Manitoba) The white spruce (Picea glauca) may be Manitoba’s provincial tree, but it grows in forests across the country. Porcupines spend winter feeding off woody plants — including the bark of young white spruce trees. When white spruce are not nourishing porcupines and providing winter shelter for other animals, they are sometimes found decked with ornaments: they are also a common Christmas tree species. BALSAM FIR (New Brunswick) The balsam fir (Abies balsamea) can be found in Central and Eastern Canada. The needles of the balsam fir are an important winter food for moose. But sometimes the quadrupeds get too hungry — they have been linked to an 11 per cent loss of forest in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which has led to calls to reduce the number of moose in the park. Balsam firs are another popular Christmas tree species.
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Spiny softshell turtles' snorkel snouts come in handy: they seldom venture far from water
Secret softshell turtle release Spiny softshell isn’t the name of a cute cartoon character — it’s an endangered species of turtle (Apalone spinifera) found in southwestern Ontario and Quebec. In an attempt to make this species a little more numerous, conservationists released 6,000 spiny softshell hatchlings along the Thames River near London, Ontario. This is the second time hatchlings have been released in the Thames: last year, 4,000 were set free in the river, as part of a longer-term campaign. Kaela Orton, a species at risk assistant at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, told the CBC’s Colin Butler that efforts have made a real difference. “We work long hours during nesting season to save as many of these little guys as we can, and seeing all that hard work paid off is pretty incredible,” she says. For more information, visit thamesriver.on.ca.
OBSERVE INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN DAY December 11 | internationalmountainday.ca Celebrate mountains by looking out for your community’s event or taking the opportunity to learn more online. Check out internationalmountainday.ca for resources. WINTER IS A GREAT SEASON FOR A TRIP TO YOUR LOCAL PARKS inaturalist.org Even if you’re not up for snow camping or don’t have the resources to travel somewhere that allows it, you can still have a wonderful day trip to a local park and learn about local wildlife. Bundle up, grab a smartphone and help document biodiversity with the iNaturalist app while you’re at it (inaturalist.org).
Bee prepared with a new registry Got a bee problem at your home or workplace? A new national bee registry might help you find a solution that’s good for the planet and for your property values. Launched by Abell Pest Control in collaboration with the University of Guelph’s Honey Bee Research Centre, the Canadian Pest Management Association and the National Pest Management Association, the online honey bee registry will connect homeowners with beekeepers. That way, the bees can be relocated to a safe new home rather than be killed. “We’ve been working quietly to develop a network of beekeepers who can come and relocate swarms,” says Michael Heimbach, Abell’s director of business development and marketing. For more information, visit abellsavesbees.com.
Traditional knowledge shapes Canada’s largest protected area
Tallurutiup Imanga, also known as Lancaster Sound, is now slated to become Canada’s largest marine conservation area — a victory for the Inuit people who have been pushing to see it protected for decades. The area would protect 110,000 square kilometres of Arctic Ocean near the mouth of Hudson Bay. Its boundaries are shaped by traditional Inuit knowledge of the area, which is an important hunting ground. “This area is the cultural heart of the region; these waters thriving with marine life have supported the lives of the Inuit since time immemorial,” P.J. Akeeagok, president of the Qikitani Inuit Association, said in a press release. For more information, visit qia.ca and pc.gc.ca.
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EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT ANIMAL ENTANGLEMENT AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT IT blog.cwf-fcf.org | plasticoceans.org Jump aboard ongoing campaigns to reduce ocean animal entanglement in plastic waste. Visit blog.cwf-fcf.org for more information about the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s push to cut down on plastic disposables. And consider whiling away some of the chilly winter hours by hosting a screening of the documentary A Plastic Ocean. See plasticoceans.org to learn how.
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A nasty disease is devastating salmon stocks around the world. Now it is here in Canada and thereâ€™s little anyone can do By Alanna Mitchell Illustration by Wenting Li
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he scourge had already run through much of Europe and the United States, parts of Africa, Asia, and even New Zealand by the time it struck Canada. On August 23, 2016, came the dreadful confirmation that whirling disease had been found in this country. And not just anywhere, but in Johnson Lake, the headwaters of the mighty Bow River and the heart of Banff National Park, crown jewel of Canada’s park system. It’s awful for the salmonids — fish in the salmon family — particularly rainbow trout. When they are infected young enough, their tails turn black, their skulls and spines look like they’ve been crushed in a vise, and they spin around in spirals as if in a mad dash to catch their own tails. And then most of them perish. The disease has no known effect on human health. Whirling disease is caused by the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis, which first injects itself into the guts of tubifex worms, living within them for as long as three months. Finally, the parasite ripens up into spores. At that point, it bursts forth from the worm into the water on a mission to find fish. Armed with self-propelling spears to puncture the fish’s skin and hooks to hang on for dear life, the parasite heads straight for the young fish’s nervous system once it has gained entry, and then for the cartilage. But although in most cases the young fish dies, the parasite does not. As the fish’s
DESPITE YEARS OF RESEARCH AND HEROIC EXPERIMENTS, SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO ERADICATE WHIRLING DISEASE. THE EFFECT HAS BEEN DEVASTATING body rots, the parasite lies in wait in lake or river sediment, patiently on the lookout for another tubifex worm. When it finds one, the cycle starts all over again. If this gives you the impression that the parasite is relentless, you’re right. Despite years of research and heroic experiments, American scientists have been unable to eradicate it, forced to watch as the parasite
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has insinuated itself into watersheds across the United States. Sport fisheries have been devastated in some states, to the tune of 90 per cent trout loss in parts of Montana and Colorado. The parasite has also infected hatcheries and fish farms. In fact, there is some evidence that the very first case, found in Germany in 1893, came from hatchlings imported to Europe from the United States. Some American hatcheries have simply been forced to close down when the infection coursed out of control. That rapaciousness has characterized its assault on Canada. Within a single year, the infection has marched across Alberta. From Johnson Lake to the Bow and Elbow river systems, then the Oldman watershed and all the way to Waterton National Park in the province’s south. Then the Red Deer River system. One by one, Canada’s iconic western waters have succumbed: Spray River, Cascade Creek, Carrot Creek, Jumpingpond Creek, Crowsnest River, Stoney Nakoda First Nation. Park rangers in Banff have tried to get ahead of the parasite by killing every last fish in Johnson Lake. Officials in Alberta and with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have warned that while the parasite does a superb job of spreading itself, humans can also play a role if they transport infected live or dead fish or their guts, or move infected worms, equipment or water. They are pleading with anglers and boaters to clean, drain and dry off any gear that touches water. Mud, they warn, is one of the truly excellent carriers of the parasite. Conscious that the disease is an attack not only on the fish but also on the cherished pastime of angling, Alberta has set up an action plan that involves much more testing, education and protocols for trying to limit the spread. But the main strategy is to catalogue where the disease goes and then wait it out. While trout in Montana and Colorado were decimated through the 1990s, the effects now seem to be abating, for reasons that defy understanding. In this era, the Anthropocene, when human-caused activities are affecting so many of the planet’s species, one of biologists’ duties is to look at disruptions through the lens of climate change. Is it a factor in whirling disease’s rampage across North America? Unclear. But it is clear that the parasites revel in the warmer waters that result from less snowpack in the mountains and higher air temperatures, both happening under climate change. And whether or not climate change is the direct culprit, the sad truth is that this outbreak is a textbook example of the sort of thing that is bound to happen more and more as the climate gets wonkier. Strap in, folks. The ride is getting bumpy.a CANADIAN WILDLIFE 13
A ROAD TO THE FUTURE Kent Ball: “Nature can bring people together when they are together to help nature”
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How Did the Toadlet Cross the Road?
One musician’s 10-year campaign to save toads inspired a song and brought his community together Text and photos by Isabelle Groc
hortly after he moved with his wife, Libby, to a small rural community in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in 1996, Kent Ball noticed small black dots moving on the road near his house during the month of August. He soon realized they were juvenile western toads migrating from the wetland where they were born to the forest where they live the rest of their lives. The annual summer migration was a dangerous journey for the tiny toads, as they often ended up being squished by passing cars. “I was driving like most people do in our neighbourhood,” Ball says now. “You stop and realize, ‘Oh these are living things.’ They are no competition to a tire on a vehicle.” Western toads (Anaxyrus boreas) are listed under the federal Species at Risk Act as “of special concern”: reports say they are at risk because of “habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, including intersection of seasonally used habitats by roads.” Ball, a 60-year-old cement truck driver originally from Moose Jaw, Sask., could not stand the carnage and decided to step in to save those toadlets, no bigger than a fingernail. “I have grandchildren. And I would like to think that in their adulthood, they too will be able to carry on protecting nature and giving it a hand.” He scooped up a few toadlets in an empty coffee cup and carried them across the road. Ball was not going to save all the toads with a coffee cup. The following summer, after doing some research and consulting with a local biologist, he put up wooden stakes in the ground, stapled fences to them, and funnelled the toadlets into ice
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cream buckets so he could carry them across the road in large numbers while he himself dodged traffic. Ball convinced local hardware stores to donate supplies and approached a sign-maker to help him make signs that would alert drivers to the presence of toads on the road. Summer after summer, rescuing toads during the week-long migration became Ball’s mission. He would arrive at first light: “If there were a lot of toads coming, then I would phone in to work and take the day off and I would man the traps for the day, and then the next day, and then the next day, until basically they had finished coming across the road,” Ball recalls.
“I HAVE GRANDCHILDREN. AND I WOULD LIKE TO THINK THAT IN THEIR ADULTHOOD, THEY TOO WILL BE ABLE TO CARRY ON PROTECTING NATURE AND GIVING IT A HAND.” Ball estimates he rescued 50,000 toads per year, half a million over 10 years. And each year, more people joined Ball in his efforts. “Eventually, people took notice of what I was doing and said, ‘Can we help you?’ They would get out of their cars, and actually come and help me. The neighbourhood got behind me, so I was no longer the only person running around saving toads.” In this rural area where people did not know each other, saving toads also allowed Ball to meet his neighbours and create a new sense of community. “It helped the whole community because people were joining together,” Ball says. “Nature can bring people together when they are together to help nature.” Ball is also a professional musician, and he says he was inspired by the toads’ unique sense of rhythm. “Toads hop, and a lot of hopping also goes on when you are playing music.” He describes having a dream of being on the road and fearing for his life as traffic whizzed by. When he woke up, he had a tune in his head. “I imagined myself as a toadlet sitting on the side of the road and trying to guess when the best time would be to hop across the road and get to the other side. I imagined that I better boogie and get across the road as quickly as possible.” The “Three-Toad Boogie” was born. “I hope that it is going to get people tapping their toes, and when they hear the song it is going to make them think of the western toad’s plight, and maybe people will get together and say, ‘Well, I am going to stand up, and I am going to help out.’”a CANADIAN WILDLIFE 15
How one amazing moth has evolved to survive in the hostile and frigid environs of the High Arctic
es, winter can be difficult. But rather than despair about the cold and snow to come, spare a thought for Gynaephora groenlandica, a moth that ekes out a living in the face of an extraordinary collection of wintry threats. Often called the Arctic woolly bear moth, this insect exists at extreme latitudes, up around 80 N, in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. “Exists” seems a better word than “lives,” given that it is in suspended animation for 11-plus months of the year for six or seven years straight. Much of that time, temperatures can be -40 C or even lower. These extremes of climate affect every stage of G. groenlandica’s life. Let’s start with the larval stage preparing for its first winter. Each year for the next several, this caterpillar, which actually resembles the familiar woolly bear caterpillar, will spend 11 months frozen stiff on the tundra. Ice crystals are
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an ever-present threat, but a suite of adaptations allow it to evade death, including the ability to supercool itself (allowing its body temperature to fall below the freezing point of water without forming ice) while using the breakdown of energy-generating mitochondria in its cells to manufacture glycerol, an antifreeze molecule. The pupa is sheltered, if you can call it that, by wrapping itself in a thin woven covering called a hibernaculum, usually out of the way of the prevailing wind attached to the side of a rock. But the slightest perturbation, like the unanticipated formation of ice crystals inside the insect’s cells, would be fatal. It’s a monotonous six or seven years: the caterpillar emerges first thing in the spring, feeds and then, even before the first day of summer, retreats back into a hibernaculum until the next year. Even these simple acts are tuned for survival. For instance, take that hibernaculum on
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: DANITA DELIMONT/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
By Jay Ingram
Wild Things the side of a rock, often in plain sight; why isn’t it buried in vegetation for cover and insulation? Because summer at this latitude is so brief that when spring arrives, a rock protruding from the snow will warm up faster than vegetation or the ground, ensuring that the caterpillar can emerge and feed as soon as possible. It’s not exactly a feeding frenzy. For one thing, moving around to feed in the chilly Arctic air causes Gynaephora to lose heat rapidly; the “woolliness” of its body hairs, although helpful, is no match for the deadly combination of wind and low temperature. Instead, the caterpillar spends most of its time positioned perpendicular to the sun, to gather as much solar energy as possible. But if heat is such an issue, why doesn’t the animal soak up the sun through July, during the comparatively warm Arctic summer? It is the price it must pay to survive its parasitic enemies. Both parasitic wasps and parasitic flies attack Gynaephora, and they are of that particularly gruesome kind — parasitoids — that lay eggs on or in the living caterpillar. (This doubles the hazards of movement: egg-laying parasites perch nearby and only land on the caterpillar when it stirs.) The eggs then hatch into small larvae that gradually consume the living tissue surrounding it, eventually breaking through the skin of the deceased host. These parasites become active in later June and July, but Gynaephora shuts down before then. This is an adaptation
that might be keeping the species alive, given that 75 per cent of the larvae are parasitized nonetheless. That early cessation of feeding and the necessity to bask rather than eat account for the fact that each larval stage takes 11 months. Each year it grows, then in its last year as a caterpillar, things change dramatically. It emerges in this final spring full-size and pupates. Adult moths then emerge from the pupae, mate and lay eggs, all in a few weeks. Three entire life stages take only two months after the initial stage lasted six years. After all this, the adults live for only a day or so: females, although winged, barely move from their pupal cocoon. Highflying males find them, they mate, and often the female simply lays her eggs right on the cocoon that had sheltered her, her job done. But even then, survival isn’t guaranteed. Those eggs that indolent females lay on the surface of their cocoons are exposed and obvious, and birds like snow buntings readily consume them. The eggs laid by females that drag themselves off the cocoon, or even flitter into the surrounding vegetation, are somewhat camouflaged and mostly escape predation. Later that same summer, the eggs hatch and the first tiny larvae prepare for winter, as the cycle continues. This is life beyond the edge, with threats at every turn, but Gynaephora hangs on, employing every single tactic available to it. It is an impressive life.a
LOUISE MURRAY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
THE CATERPILLAR EMERGES FIRST THING IN THE SPRING, FEEDS AND THEN, EVEN BEFORE SUMMER STARTS, RETREATS BACK INTO A HIBERNACULUM UNTIL THE NEXT YEAR... IT DOES THIS FOR 7 YEARS
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Caribou on the
Once unimaginably abundant, this “umbrella species” is at tremendous risk. What we do now and for the next few years will either save or doom this extraordinary creature
By Sharon Oosthoek Photos Peter Mather
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ON THE MOVE Barren-ground caribou in the massive Porcupine Herd in the Yukon travel between northern calving grounds and wintering grounds further south
THE STORY OF CARIBOU IS THE STORY OF US. SOME 35,000 years ago, as early modern humans struggled to eke out an existence in Europe, it was reindeer — as caribou are known there — that sustained us. Archeological digs show refuse heaps dating from that time made up almost entirely of reindeer bones. Between 12,000 and 17,000 years ago, caribou was such an important prey animal in Europe that archeologists call it the “Reindeer Epoch.” Closer to home, natural cycles of abundance and scarcity in the George River and Leaf River herds in what is now northern Labrador and Quebec led to periodic starvation among the Innu, the Cree and the Inuit. Today, caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are still essential for many northern Indigenous peoples, and not only as a source of food and clothing. Caribou play a central role in their creation stories, values and relationships with the land, and have done so for at least 12,000 years, dating back to when the glaciers retreated from North America. They are “very deep in the psyche,” says John B. Zoe, a member of the Tłįcho First Nation. “Our language and our way of life are all based on the caribou.” But with the precipitous decline of caribou across the country, that way of life is under threat. The Barren-ground caribou that make up the Bathurst herd where Zoe lives in the Northwest Territories declined from a modern-day high of roughly 450,000 in the mid-1980s to a low of about 18,000 today. Over the same period, the Indigenous harvest of that herd went from 14,000 animals in the ’80s to 300 in 2010 to essentially none today.
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“One of the things the decline of caribou does is it draws people away from the land,” says Zoe, who works as a senior advisor to the Tłįcho government. “We need to encourage people to follow the old trails — not necessarily for harvesting, but for awareness.” Anne Gunn, a caribou biologist who has spent more than three decades working with northern people and caribou, echoes his concern: “I can’t imagine what a loss of culture that must mean to kids growing up now. They have the most to lose,” she says. Gunn, who worked first with the Canadian Wildlife Service and then with the government of Northwest Territories, is now semi-retired. She remembers keenly the feeling of being suddenly surrounded by thousands of caribou: “You hear something, and sometimes you actually smell something, and then they are all around you. The landscape comes alive. You have a 360-view of moving bodies. And that’s gone,” she says. “I think as a biologist, if I were to fly over the empty tundra now, it would break my heart.” But most of us who live in southern Canada are not as invested as Gunn and Zoe. We are now so far from caribou country that we no longer need them. Or do we? “My view is we are more connected to caribou than ever,” says Jim Schaefer, a Trent University biologist who has studied them for more than three decades. “If we still have caribou at the end of this century, I’d be confident we’d solved a whole bunch of issues, not just the caribou conservation issue.” CANADIAN WILDLIFE 19
What Schaefer means is that caribou are an “umbrella species.” They are selected for making conservationrelated decisions, typically because protecting them indirectly protects many other species that are part of the same ecosystem. In the North for example, caribou are the centre of the food web. Among the largest and most abundant land mammal, they are prey for wolves, bears and other species that scavenge their carcasses. Caribou droppings are also essential for nutrient-poor northern soils. Cold temperatures mean decomposing plants take a long time to return nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus to the earth. But as caribou graze, their digestive systems efficiently break down plant matter. One animal can defecate up to 25 times a day, dropping more than 220 kilograms of pellets per year, an important source of key nutrients for the soil. Caribou are also central to life in northern lakes. They are a significant source of blood for breeding mosquitoes, without which the insects could not produce eggs. This is important because mosquito larvae feed on tiny algae and plankton and the larvae in turn feed fish and birds. Caribou that live further south, in the boreal forest and in the mountains, are no less an umbrella species than their northern kin. They prefer forests that are at least half a century old, habitat that suits many other plants and animals. While most don’t migrate the way caribou in the North do, they still need large landscapes to spread out and minimize the risk of wolves and bears killing their calves. The typical density of boreal caribou is about one animal per 16 square kilometres. “Caribou demand a big view,” says Schaefer. “This is not in keeping with our notion of 20 years being a long-term plan. We will not understand conservation of this animal until we scale up,” both in time-scale and geography. The bottom line, say caribou biologists, is that in places where healthy caribou populations exist, the land is probably
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BEGINNING TO END Caribou are essential for many northern Indigenous peoples, not only as a source of food: “Our language and our way of life are all based on the caribou”
also healthy, providing ecosystem services such as clean air and water, food and fuel — essential to life, including ours. But here is the problem: most caribou populations are not healthy. The animal that graces our 25-cent coin was once one of Canada’s most widespread wildlife species, found in over 80 per cent of the country. It ranged from Newfoundland and the Atlantic provinces to Haida Gwaii in British Columbia and from southern Alberta to Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. Today, their numbers and their range are significantly smaller. At least one population is extinct: the Dawson caribou, a small, pale animal that was last seen in the 1930s on Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off British Columbia. Other populations are fast heading in that direction. Quebec’s Val d’Or herd for example numbers just 18 animals, and Alberta’s Little Smoky herd is no healthier. Widen the lens, and the view is just as disturbing. In Alberta, caribou no longer roam in about 60 per cent of their historical range. They are also gone from 40 per cent of their British Columbia range. In Ontario, half of their boreal forest home has been lost to industry and development. In Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, they still lay claim to much of their original habitat. The problem there is not their territory so much as it is their numbers. Many herds have declined by 80 to 90 per cent over the past decade.
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CARIBOU ARE ONE OF SEVERAL MEMBERS OF THE deer family, along with moose and elk. They are generally smaller, though, and are unique in that both males and females sport antlers. Most adults have dark brown fur with lighter patches around the neck and rump, and white above each hoof. And as anyone who has stood close to a caribou can tell you, they produce a distinct clicking sound as they walk, which comes from tendons slipping over foot bones. Like their moose and deer cousins, they eat grasses, sedges, birch and willow leaves and mosses. But unlike the others, they also eat lichen, which means they can survive at high elevations and on the tundra. Biologists divide caribou into three rough ecotypes based on their preferred terrain: migratory tundra, boreal forest and mountain caribou. While all three are the same species and can interbreed, they each have different lifestyles, often referred to as “spacing out” and “herding up,” which are responses to predators — losing themselves in the landscape or in the herd. Tundra caribou, for example, live in herds tens of thousands strong and undertake one of the longest land migrations of any mammal, trekking hundreds, even thousands of kilometres across frozen ice sheets to spring calving grounds. Their numbers fluctuate on a natural cycle of roughly 40 years, linked to changes in weather, food availability and insect harassment. Boreal and mountain caribou don’t have the same natural population swings. Their lifestyle is also different. They lead largely sedentary lives in smaller groups. Boreal females usually calve alone, often on relatively protected islands or in muskegs, while pregnant mountain caribou head to higher elevations. Threats are different for each ecotype. The drop in migratory caribou numbers may be the most difficult to untangle because herds typically cycle from high to low numbers. As Gunn says, this can leave the impression that when numbers are low, they will bounce back as they always have.
It will take a great deal of political will for provincial and territorial governments to do the right thing, and will likely require the federal government to hold them to it. To ensure the right changes are made, Canadians will have to get involved too. Here is what you can do…
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ISSUES
THE BIG PICTURE “Caribou demand a big view,” says biologist Jim Schaefer. “We will not understand conservation of this animal until we scale up”
• Visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation (cwf-fcf.ca) to learn how it is working to develop sciencebased, land-use models incorporating wildlife conservation, industrial development and economic benefit in the western boreal forest. • Read the book Caribou And The North, A Shared Future, by leading Canadian conservationists Monte Hummel and Justina Ray, published by Dundurn Press. • Go online and search “COSEWIC status report on caribou.” This will take you to the federal government’s Species at Risk Public Registry, where you can get detailed info on the parlous state of caribou in Canada. • Download the new caribou report from the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement website: Understanding Disturbance Thresholds and Opportunities to Achieve Better Outcomes for Boreal Caribou in Canada. (It is not as dry as it sounds.)
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CALL YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS Be prepared. Be positive. Be patient. Make sure your elected representatives know about this issue and know you care and they should too. Your provincial or territorial members are in a good position to help make a difference. Contact your local MP and the federal minister of the environment and climate change. This is a national issue.
LOBBY INDUSTRY Write industry groups to let them know that they have a crucial role to play and that you are watching. Online, you can find provincial and national associations, like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Forest Products Association of Canada.
TALK, TWEET AND POST Talk to your friends, pass this article along. Get them to write letters too. Use your social media to amplify your effect. Help create the awareness that will help conserve this species and the precious boreal landscape they occupy. And remember, personal consumption translates into natural resource development pressures in caribou habitat. Consume responsibly.
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But when numbers are low, the caribou are less resilient to changes in the environment. In the North, where the migratory herds live, the environment is changing fast. Predation, parasites and hunting all contribute to caribou deaths, but hunting is the one we have the most control over, albeit in a complex and controversial way. Gunn puts part of the blame for caribou declines in the North on delayed action. She says wildlife managers did not lower quotas quickly enough in the face of new technology. “Hunting has changed with easier access through the use of roads, snow machines, even cellphones and GPS,” she says. “Managers were slow to adjust changes in harvesting to the number of caribou until it was too late.” Industrial development — especially mining — also has an impact on the caribou’s northern environment. Research on the Bathurst herd shows a shift in caribou distribution even 25 kilometres away from a mine. “That bullet is bigger than the one that comes out of a gun,” says Zoe. Climate change, meanwhile, is a wild card for caribou. Warmer temperatures in the North could mean more vegetation for eating. On the other hand, it could also mean more shrubs, which may be both good and bad. Shrubs cast shade on sun-loving lichens, but their root system is also linked to an increase in mushrooms, which caribou love. However, climate change will almost certainly mean more insect harassment, which interrupts feeding and drains a caribou’s energy. The more frequent freeze-thaw cycles that come with climate change can also coat lichen with a thin layer of ice that makes it harder for caribou to get to their dinner. Further south among the boreal and mountain caribou, the biggest cause of decline is habitat alteration. Logging, oil and gas infrastructure, hydroelectric development and mining, along with human settlement, are the main culprits. Logging for example destroys old-growth trees that harbour lichens. It also opens up new habitat for moose and deer that are attracted by tasty shrubs and saplings that thrive in clear cuts. Moose and deer in turn attract predators such as wolves, and logging roads and seismic lines make it easy for them to hunt caribou.
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Schaefer’s research shows boreal caribou are more likely than not to disappear within four kilometres of a road, including a remote logging road. The issue is that while wolves feed mainly on moose and deer, they will readily make a meal of any caribou that crosses their path. Moose and deer reproduce faster than caribou, and their populations can handle the predation. The caribou, not so much. That’s what is happening with the Gaspésie herd, an isolated population of about 90 mountain caribou south of the St. Lawrence River. “If we continue with business as usual, in 20 to 35 years, the Gaspésie herd will be gone,” says Martin-Hugues St-Laurent, a caribou biologist with Université du Québec à Rimouski. Those who study caribou say whether they recover depends on how willing we are to act, in both the short and long terms. This year, two short-term proposals stirred up controversy — one in Quebec and the other in Alberta. In April, the Quebec government proposed capturing the roughly 18 remaining members of the Val d’Or herd and transporting them to a zoo. Scientists publicly accused the government of not adequately studying whether the herd would disappear without this intervention, and environmental groups accused it of catering to the interests of forestry and mining. The proposal was shelved just two months later when the zoo withdrew its offer, citing public opposition. At press time the Quebec government was still mulling alternative approaches to saving the herd. Meanwhile, Alberta’s proposal to restore the dwindling Little Smoky herd by penning off a large tract of forest for pregnant cows was still on the table at press time. The herd, numbering roughly 80 animals, lives in oil and gas country “in the most disturbed range in Canada,” says provincial biologist Dave Hervieux. The government’s plan calls for protecting cows and calves from predators in a 30-squarekilometre enclosure, with the possibility of expanding to 100 square kilometres. Once they are old and strong enough, at about a year, the calves would be released. The maternity pen is part of a suite of interventions in Alberta that includes landscape rehabilitation and wolf culling (which is not without its controversy and detractors).
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CARIBOU ESSENTIALS Adapted from Hinterland Who’s Who online
ROOM TO THRIVE The biggest cause of caribou decline is human alteration of habitat: for logging, oil and gas, hydroelectric projects, mining and settlements
Most short-term solutions are focused on some form of reduced predation. In Alberta and British Columbia, where conservation plans include shooting wolves from helicopters, research shows increased caribou numbers. But the small number of follow-up studies suggests once the wolf cull ends, caribou populations resume their downward slide. In southern British Columbia, authorities have also experimented with moose culling in the hope that it might decrease wolf numbers, allowing caribou to bounce back. In 2003, the province increased moose hunting permits tenfold in a 6,500-square-kilometre area in the Columbia mountain range. A University of Alberta-led study showed that by 2011, moose had decreased by about 70 per cent, many wolves had high-tailed it out of the area and the survival rate of the largest caribou herd had increased enough to stabilize. The impact is similar to a direct wolf cull, “but is insufficient to achieve recovery, suggesting that multiple limiting factors and corresponding management tools must be addressed simultaneously to achieve population growth,” the study’s authors say. The answer, research suggests, is a two-pronged approach that limits predators — both animal and human — while also protecting and restoring habitat so caribou have enough space to recover. In other words, it’s no use protecting the animals if we don’t also limit our industrial footprint. The key word is limit, say biologists, not eliminate. “I’m not saying we should put the Gaspésie under glass,” says St-Laurent. “I’m from the region and I know people have to work. But we probably went too far with logging, and we need to step back.” Gunn agrees: “The North needs development. I’m not convinced it’s incompatible with caribou.” Recent decisions by territorial impact review boards, made up of government and Indigenous members, give her confidence. Development isn’t rubber-stamped, she says. In fact, boards have turned down some mine proposals, forcing them to come back with proven mitigation strategies, including the placement of roads. The next big push to conserve caribou habitat is expected soon. In July, Ottawa released a plan for the recovery of the boreal population of caribou, which is
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listed as “threatened.” The new plan focuses on protecting critical caribou habitat, a task that falls heavily on individual provinces and territories. At press time, governments were expected to publish individual programs designed to protect or restore to an undisturbed condition at least 65 per cent of the range of each caribou herd within their jurisdiction. (If they do not, the Federal government can intervene.) Scientists estimate that would give the herds a 60 per cent chance of being able to sustain their numbers, a slim margin for error. As Gunn points out, it’s a plan that calls for a 40 per cent chance of declining caribou numbers — an unacceptable risk, she says. So can we still save the caribou? Gunn pauses, choosing her words carefully. “If I were to say no, I would be damning the ability of the human community to respond to our own living world,” she says. “I have no doubt we have enough knowledge to halt the decline. It may sound Pollyannaish, but it will take collaborative work.”a
The caribou, or Rangifer tarandus, is a mediumsized member of the deer family, Cervidae, which includes four other species of deer native to Canada: moose, elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer; it is the same species as the reindeer of Eurasia. Only with caribou do both males and females carry antlers. There are about 2.4 million caribou in Canada. Despite the apparently large number, some populations have been determined to be at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (online, search COSEWIC). Historically Canadian caribou have been divided into four subspecies based on location, genetic makeup and evolution. Six years ago, Environment Canada commissioned a report rethinking species types and diversity. The study considered “phylogenetics, genetic diversity and structure, morphology, movements, behaviour and life history strategies, and geographical distribution” and concluded that there are 12 discrete types of caribou in Canada. They identified: Boreal caribou in the boreal forest from B.C. and the Northwest Territories to Labrador; Northern Mountain caribou of B.C, Yukon and Northwest Territories; Central Mountain caribou of central B.C. and Alberta; Southern Mountain caribou of southern B.C.; Barren-ground caribou of northern and northwest Canada; Peary caribou in the Arctic Archipelago; Dolphin-Union caribou of Victoria Island; Eastern Migratory caribou of northern Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba; Newfoundland caribou; Torngat Mountain caribou of northern Quebec and Labrador; Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou, the remnant of a population in the Gaspé Peninsula, the Maritimes, and northern New England; and Dawson’s caribou, which went extinct from Haida Gwaii in the 1930s. Caribou are well-adapted to winter. Their short, stocky bodies conserve heat, their long legs help them move through snow, and their long dense winter coats provide effective insulation, even in extreme cold and high wind. Large, concave hooves splay widely to support the animal in snow or muskeg, and function as efficient scoops when the caribou paws through snow to uncover lichens, a primary food. (The name “caribou” may be derived from the Mi’kmaq name for the animal, “xalibu,” which means “the one who paws.”) –Staff Visit hww.ca for a lot more information. CANADIAN WILDLIFE 23
Young photographer and explorer Matthew Cicanese, who is visually impaired, visited created capture invisible worlds filled with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes, all
Haida Gwaii last summer in search of exotic moss. The images he right under our noses. You just have to know how to see them
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a National Geographic explorer and professional documentary photographer specializing in extreme close-ups of nature at its tiniest, Matthew Cicanese’s work takes him all over the world. In August, he travelled to Haida Gwaii — his first trip to Canada. He came to work alongside Karen Golinski, who is a PhD and moss expert working at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and also affiliated with the University of British Columbia Herbarium. She was there searching for rare mosses to update status reports for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Together they spent 10 days exploring peat bogs and small, isolated offshore islands. They experienced the extraordinary landscapes and incredible biodiversity that thrives there due to isolation, heavy rainfall and mild temperatures (and the fact they missed glaciation during the last ice age). Often referred to as the “Galapagos of the North,” there are 150-plus islands with a total landmass of more than a million hectares that make up the Haida Gwaii archipelago, across the Hecate Strait from the B.C. mainland. Its many unusual endemic plants and animals on land and sea are at least partly the effect of the frigid nutrient-rich northern Pacific meeting warm offshore currents originating in Japan. Gwaii Haanas National Park occupies the southern third of the islands. The park is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring the oldest standing totem poles in the world.
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4 5 1. Bryologist Karen Golinski and her research assistant Spencer Goyette (far right) on the shoreline of Graham Island, the largest in Haida Gwaii. 2. East Limestone Island has been stripped of grass by Sitka deer (introduced in the 1890s as game), allowing a wide variety of moss to flourish. 3. A wide-angle shot on East Limestone shows moss’s typical lush coverage. Wavy-leaved cotton moss, Plagiothecium undulate, is in the foreground. 4. Moving in closer reveals the island’s rich plant diversity, including alpine haircap (Polytrichastrum alpinum) and fan moss (Rhizomnium glabrescens). 5. This extreme close-up of fan moss shows its splash cups, tiny bowls on the shoots that use a drop’s force to increase fertilization.
By Matthew Cicanese
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Many photographers say their cameras are extensions of themselves, but this is usually meant in a metaphorical sense; for me it is literal. Really, my journey to become a photographer and “National Geographic Explorer” began in a hospital when I wasn’t even a year old. I had developed penicillin-resistant pneumococcal meningitis and spent more than a month in intensive care. I survived with permanent damage to my senses, having my left eye reduced to peripheral vision only and complete loss of hearing in my right ear. Throughout my childhood, I faced many challenges regenerating my speech and motor skills and just going through adolescence with a different experience than most. Still, thanks to my CANADIAN WILDLIFE 27
6. A red velvet mite (Trombidium sp.) explores the intricate leaves of badge moss (Plagiomnium insigne), found throughout western North America. 7. Shot very close up, alpine haircap evokes spiral galaxies in miniature. A common moss, it is found in temperate to cool latitudes around the world.
8. Close up, Rhytidiadelphus loreus resembles a coniferous forest thousands of times larger. Known as lanky moss, it is found in North America and Europe. 9. The spherical capsules in the heads of fat bog moss (Sphagnum papillosum) each contain more than 150,000 spores that are explosively discharged. 10. In her continuing search for rare mosses, bryologist Karen Golinski examined hundreds of specimens during her August expedition to Haida Gwaii. 11. A view of sporophytes on Splachum ampullaceum, better known as cruet dung moss because in northern peatlands it grows on the scat of large herbivores. 12. Paydirt! Karen Golinski found this rare example of Daltonia moss (Daltonia splachnoides) on Moresby Island. It was last observed in Canada in 1971.
parents and family, I grew up like most kids. The main difference (aside from my disabilities) was my accessories: a dual hearing aid with a connecting wire, bifocal glasses and a huge, sticky eyepatch over my dominant eye (to try and strengthen my “weak” eye). My uncle gave me my first camera when I was 14; it changed how I saw and experienced the world. Coupled with my love for the outdoors and natural science — one of my favourite things was going on adventures with my big brother collecting insects in the forest surrounding our
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home — my camera became a way for me to compensate for the senses I had lost. In university, I studied environmental science, and by the time I finished my bachelor’s degree, I was keenly aware of the divide between natural science and the public. I was determined to bridge this gap, so I enrolled in the master of fine arts in experimental and documentary arts at Duke University. It was there that NOV + DEC 2017
I let my creativity flow and examined my journey and purpose of work as a documentary photographer. I focused my camera increasingly on the smallest and most-overlooked organisms. For me, there’s nothing quite like the experience of overturning a log on the damp forest floor to find an entire microcosm that can fit in the palms of my hands. I’ve always been fascinated with what I like to call “underdog species” — the minuscule, latent organisms that are only the size of a pinprick. Perhaps I feel this way because I consider myself an NOV + DEC 2017
underdog too, having conquered my childhood sickness to become a deaf-blind photographer. There is an eternally deep well of biodiversity, beauty and uniqueness to the microcosms that are hidden right before our eyes, and you never see the same one twice. All you need to experience these little worlds is curiosity, patience and a magnifying lens.a CANADIAN WILDLIFE 29
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Wild Tech Using the latest advances in technology, scientists and conservationists are discovering new and important things about creatures in their habitats, be they in the ocean depths or high up in the wild blue yonder By Kerry Banks Illustrations by Damien Vignaux
ance Barrett-Lennard recalls his first impression upon viewing drone-generated aerial photos of killer whales, mammals that he has been studying for 25 years. He was struck by their physical beauty and aura of familial tenderness. “When you look at them from above, you see they’re spending most of their time swimming so close together they could touch,” says the head of cetacean research at the Vancouver Aquarium. “This is how they maintain social bonds. It makes them look very fragile, in a way. When you see them maintaining that kind of proximity for reassurance and contact, they cease to be these great big, black-and-white things that can eat anything in the ocean and become these fragile animals we really do have to care for.” These photos, collected off the coast of Vancouver Island by researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium and the San Diego-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) using a small, specialized drone called a hexacopter, are giving biologists a unique glimpse of how these apex predators (Orcinus orca) share food, how babies nurse and how the various members of a pod interact during a conflict. Because the hexacopter carries an altimeter, researchers can also gauge the length and width of the orcas down to the centimetre, making it possible to track their health from season to season and determine if they are getting enough food. That’s a vital consideration, as these killer whales, of the ecotype known as “residents,” are seriously threatened. As of January 2017, only 205 were left in the northern resident population and just 79 in the southern group. The emerging role of drones in killer whale research is just one example of an ongoing revolution in digital technology that is enabling biologists to gather information about wildlife in ways that were simply unimaginable only a few years ago. An array of innovative high-tech tools not only enables the tracking of the animal movement across the land and through the air and sea, but can also measure changes in their bodies and environment. Scientists say this trove of data is leading to key discoveries that can drive better wildlife and habitat management decisions.
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The cutting-edge science includes tiny electronic devices that can track a songbird’s entire migration route, smart collars that can transmit real-time messages about an animal’s location, accelerometers that collect data on the energy expended by marine mammals as they forage for food, pingers that can be attached to fishing nets and emit a sonic pulse that causes cetaceans to echolocate and thus avoid entanglement, and high-resolution, motion-activated cameras that can record video and sounds made by wild animals in remote locales. This technology is opening windows into the secret lives of hard-to-study species. In 2016, a video shot in Tremblay Sound, Nunavut, showed narwhals (Monodon monoceros) knocking Arctic cod senseless by hitting them with their long tusks in quick, jagged movements, making the fish easier to consume. This behaviour, which had never been observed before, is important not only because it establishes a function of the narwhal’s mysterious tusk, but because it confirms where they eat in the summer. Identifying areas where they forage for food and calve can help conservationists better preserve their environment and the migratory routes of these mysterious whales, which are found almost exclusively in Canadian waters. CANADIAN WILDLIFE 31
In another dramatic application, researchers have begun using hexacopters to harvest mucus from the spume of belugas and humpback whales. The drone hovers about three metres above a submerged whale and then waits for the animal to surface and exhale. A sterilized plate sits atop the drone and collects the condensed vapour. The samples can be used to run diagnostics on everything from DNA, hormones, virus and bacteria loads to chemical and toxin absorption. This data is useful in establishing a baseline to compare how the whales’ health changes over time, especially if there is evidence of disease. The effect of drones on the animals they are observing is an ongoing area of study, but to date Barrett-Lennard claims, “We have not detected any adverse reaction from the whales to the presence of the drones or been given any reason to think they even recognize the drone as something interesting.” The affordability of drones and their ease of use give them clear advantages over the helicopters and small aircraft that have long been used to study animals from above. Not only are these methods more disturbing for wildlife, they can be dangerous for the researchers. According to a 2003 study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, 60 U.S. biologists died between 1937 and 2000 in aircraft accidents, far and away the most common cause of death in the field.
Ultralight geolocators in 2016 tracked an Arctic tern migrating from England to the Weddell Sea in Antarctica and back again, a round trip of 96,560 kilometres 32 CANADIAN WILDLIFE
David Bird, an emeritus professor of wildlife biology from McGill University and founding editor of the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems (as well as this magazine’s aptly named ornithology columnist), believes that drones have “absolutely amazing potential,” much of which has yet to be realized because of the tight legislation that surrounds them, including rules that limit their use to within an operator’s line of sight. To illustrate the advantages of drones in survey work, Bird notes a study conducted by one of his graduate students where a fixed-wing drone was used to count a colony of common terns on two islands in New Brunswick. The traditional method of counting birds in this scenario requires a chain of people to comb the island’s surface. “It stresses the birds; they’re pooping on you, pecking your head,” says Bird. Using a drone also provoked a response, but it was only temporary. “When we did it the first time, most of the terns left their nests. The second time, only half the birds departed. The third time, hardly any left.” In terms of accuracy, the two methods were close — the drone count was within 5 per cent of the human total. Even so, Bird admits that drones still have drawbacks. They don’t work in thick canopy or extreme weather, the blades can injure birds, and some birds will attack the drones, notably ospreys. “Ospreys are notoriously aggressive. I’ve been in a manned helicopter that they’ve attacked. They’re not afraid of anything.” The field of bird migration is another area that has benefited greatly from innovative technology. For decades, satellite telemetry tags were the gold standard of animal tracking, but even the smallest weighed about 10 grams, making them too heavy for the majority of birds. Then, in 2007, the geolocator changed all that. Weighing less than a penny, these tiny batterypowered wonders can be mounted on a bird’s rump and attached with a leg harness. They contain a sensor that stores data about light levels at regular intervals, allowing scientists to reconstruct a bird’s entire migratory route. The drawback is that they can’t transmit data, so they must be retrieved from the birds. Fortunately, most songbirds show great “site fidelity,” routinely returning to the same breeding spots each year. Gathering information about migration patterns is crucial for the conservation of songbirds whose populations have been plummeting in recent years. Prior to the advent of geolocators, biologists knew surprisingly little about these birds’ lives during the seven or eight months when they were migrating or ensconced in their southern haunts. The first studies involving geolocators were done by Bridget Stutchbury, an ornithologist from York University. She used the devices to track wood thrushes and purple martins as they travelled from Canada to the tropics. Her findings rebuffed several commonly held assumptions, including the notion that songbirds flew directly south with only short refuelling breaks en route. Instead, Stutchbury’s purple martins flew very fast for several days, covering as much as 450 kilometres per day in what she described as “a slingshot migration,” before stopping in Mexico for an extended vacation of several weeks. In the years since, geolocators have unravelled more of the mysteries of songbird migration. The revelations include the realization that males and females do not always migrate to the same areas, that spring migrations are faster than fall migrations, and that flyway routes vary from season to season depending on weather systems and favourable winds. Geolocators have also shed light on some astounding feats of endurance. In 2016, an Arctic tern was tracked migrating from Northumberland, England, to the Weddell Sea in Antarctica, a round trip of 96,560 kilometres. During its lifetime, the typical Arctic tern will fly some 2.9 million kilometres — the equivalent of four round trips from the Earth to the moon.
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NOV + DEC 2017
CANADIAN WILDLIFE 33
“Technology is opening our eyes to the natural world that these [whales] inhabit in three dimensions rather than simply the two-dimensional world that we see from the shore,” says UBC zoologist Andrew Trites Another long-haul champion is the Alaskan bar-tailed godwit, a 40-centimetretall wading bird that makes a mind-boggling, eight-day, 11,000-kilometre autumn migration across the Pacific from Alaska to New Zealand in one jump, with no stopovers to rest or refuel. A key detail gleaned from geolocator research is the importance of preserving stopover areas. Jeff Wells, science and policy director with the Boreal Songbird Initiative, a group dedicated to preserving Canada’s boreal forest as a habitat for migratory birds, says that these staging areas can be as vital as breeding sites. He cites the case of the red knot (Calidris canutus), a threatened shorebird whose numbers have dipped more than 50 per cent in the last 30 years, as an example of the pressing need to protect birds throughout their entire annual cycle. The red knot undergoes an epic, annual round-trip journey of 16,000 km from the Canadian Arctic to the southern tip of South America. Although the red knot is a gifted flyer, it needs a healthy diet to sustain itself on these marathons, and so even the smallest changes along the route can have a dramatic impact on its ability to survive. Wells calls this process of linking individual creatures and populations throughout their annual cycle “migratory connectivity” and maintains that “to identify threats, we need to know exactly where populations of our northern breeding birds go during migration.” As a new generation of tracking gizmos begin to fill in gaps of knowledge about the life cycle of our feathered friends, other gadgets are exposing what transpires beneath the sea. The devices used to monitor marine mammals include acoustic tags that send auditory signals to receivers on floating buoys or at fixed locations, mobile transceivers that can be carried by larger animals, and satellite pop-up tags that are monitored from space. The tags are affixed to marine creatures by live capture in the case of seals and sea lions or, with whales, by using long poles to attach them to their backs with suction cups or by firing tags from a crossbow or pneumatic gun into their dorsal fins.
34 CANADIAN WILDLIFE
Slightly smaller than a deck of cards, these tags have metal prongs and barbs that stick into the whale’s elastic skin and remain embedded for anywhere from one to three months before they fall out on their own. These tracking instruments document a range of information beyond simply where mammals travel, including the depth they dive, the angle of descent and the energy they burn looking for food. Fresh discoveries are also emerging. For example, satellite-monitored radio tags recently revealed that endangered humpback whales spend weeks lurking around underwater mountains during migrations. Scientists speculate that the seamounts may serve as feeding sites or gathering points to socialize with other whales, something that echoes the role of the stopover areas frequented by birds on their annual journeys. “This technology is opening our eyes to the natural world that these animals inhabit in three dimensions rather than simply the two-dimensional world that we see from the shore,” says zoologist Andrew Trites, director of the marine mammal research unit at the University of British Columbia. Interpreting and cataloguing the tide of incoming data is a challenge, but it offers new opportunities to understand the environments in which animals live and move, and to ascertain how those environments are changing. Trites says that the threat of climate change has given the work an added urgency. “There’s a rush on now to establish a baseline for these animals’ behaviour so that we’ll know in 10 years what has changed for them.” This spring, a new experimental animal tracking system called ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) was launched. The system uses solar-powered devices that transmit to the International Space Station. The first generation of tags weighs a mere five grams, but Martin Wikelski, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, and the managing director of ICARUS, predicts that within five years the tags will be small enough to attach to a honeybee. Certainly, a limiting factor with both tracking devices and drones has always been battery size. There is a constant trade-off between power and longevity — larger batteries allow the transmission of more information, but the larger size reduces the time they can operate. At present, drones must be recharged every 15 to 20 minutes, while satellite-based tracking devices can function from several days to several months. Considerable effort is now being put into finding ways to wirelessly recharge drones in mid-air and extend the life of tracking devices. Trites believes we will soon see the development of tags that run on rechargeable batteries or that are recharged by the animals themselves, either with their physical motion or their body heat. There is a certain irony to the realization that the cold sterility of technology, once most closely linked with the notion of asserting dominance over wildlife, is now opening a gateway for scientists to study wild animals in a more intimate and revealing manner. These new tracking technologies represent a departure from the pursuit-based research efforts of the past. This is a more passive approach, aimed at gathering information with minimal disruption of animals’ lives. This unfolding science is enabling the animals themselves to function as researchers, and allowing them to reveal the world they inhabit through their various senses. In a very real way, they are becoming living instruments, conduits of information in a developing global network that ideally will make it easier for human beings to protect both them and the planet. a
NOV + DEC 2017
A legacy gift that’s perfectly…
anting your memory to live on is perfectly normal. So is a planned gift to the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Celebrate your connection to wildlife in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary by making arrangements in your will to leave a gift to CWF in your memory. Your planned gift will provide critical funding for research, species recovery and important education initiatives. It’s a simple and thoughtful act today that reflects your commitment to a brighter future for wildlife.
These sample clauses provide general information only. You may also have significant benefits and tax savings for your estate by making a planned gift. Donors considering a future gift should consult with a financial advisor and lawyer.
SAMPLE CLAUSES TO GIVE TO YOUR LAWYER AND FINANCIAL ADVISOR • Specific Gift when you wish to leave a specific amount: I direct my Trustees to pay or transfer the sum of $__________ to Canadian Wildlife Federation Inc. to be used for the general purposes of said charity. • Residual Gift when you wish to leave a portion of your estate: I direct my Trustees to pay or transfer _____ % of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, to Canadian Wildlife Federation Inc. to be used for the general purposes of said charity. • Gift of RRSPs or RRIFs: I direct my Trustees to pay or transfer _____ % of my RRSP/ RRIF proceeds to Canadian Wildlife Federation Inc. to be used for the general purposes of said charity. • Specific Asset: If at the time of my death, I am still the registered owner of (number and name of shares) I direct my Trustees to pay and transfer such shares to ____________________, Canadian Wildlife Federation Inc. to be used for the general purposes of said charity.
Legal Name: Canadian Wildlife Federation Inc.
Charitable Registration #: 10686 8755 RR0001
For more information please contact: Jan Delman, Estate and Planned Giving Officer: email@example.com | 613.599.9594 extension 263 CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/planned-giving
NO M ry BEI INA de NG TI O ad lin ACC NS eJ N an EPT OW ua ED ry 31 ,2 01
Sure, itâ€™s an honour just to be nominated.
But winning is
AWESOME! F 2018 CW N VATIO R E S N CO WARDS A
Nominations are now open for the 2018 CWF Conservation Achievement Awards designed to honour Canadians who demonstrated extraordinary commitment to wildlife conservation and innovation.
For full categories and nomination details, visit
Books for kids. Page 40
Outdoors FIELD GUIDE + BIRDING + BOOK REVIEW + URBAN WILDLIFE
Canadian Holly Like its ubiquitous Christmas cousin, this shrub offers a splash of colour to the winter gloom (but without the nasty sharps)
Known to many as Canadian (or Canada) holly, this attractive shrub has quite a few alternative names by which you may know it, depending on where you live: black alder winterberry, deciduous holly, inkberry, swamp holly and fever bush. There is no better name though, no more Canadian name, I think, than “winterberry.” It is the fruit of the most Canadian season. The way these bright red berries on denuded branches stand out against a snowy backdrop is a welcome splash of bright colour amid the drab hivernal palette. Although its leaves don’t have the deep indentations associated with other species of holly, its binomial name, Ilex verticillata, comes from the Latin names for oak (ilex), which the foliage of other hollies resembles, and for whorled (verticillata), referring to the berries’ position around the stem. Growing to one to five metres tall — which is tall indeed — it can also form a dense thicket where conditions are wet. Like some but not all of its ilex cousins, it is dioecious (from the Greek meaning “two households”): there are separate male and female plants, with at least one male plant needed to pollenate the females. The plant produces globular red berries, about seven millimetres across, and small blossoms with five or more white petals. Its serrated, pointy foliage is dark
NOV + DEC 2017
HOLLY? GO LIGHTLY It is very pretty but it is also poisonous: that's why some cultures call it “fever bush.” Great for seasonal decor but keep it away from kids and pets
CANADIAN WILDLIFE 37
green with a high gloss. It is one of the subset of deciduous hollies: it loses its leaves each autumn. In doing so it becomes a distinctive and decorative addition to your somnolent garden. Cut and dried it is often used indoors as well.
Perhaps surprisingly, for something this disruptive to the system, winterberry plants historically have had numerous medicinal applications. There was a time when holly leaves and the bark were brewed tea to create a tonic, as well as a treatment for fevers. The bark was also made into a skin poultice to ease rashes and eruptions. And the berries were taken as a purgative intended to expel intestinal maladies and intruders. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that such remedies work at all, while there’s considerable proof they can be harmful. Do not use them this way. These folk applications have all been dismissed and supplanted by safe and effective medicines. Still, winterberry has its uses. As a decorative addition to your winter garden, the plant’s vivid berries offer a splash of colour at a dreary time. And indoors, over the holiday season they provide a refreshing and Canadian alternative to the traditional common European holly. —MEL WALWYN
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How Sweet It Is Having hummingbirds flitting about your yard is a treat, but careful what you feed them! You don’t want to kill them with kindness
By David Bird As I sit here at my desk writing this column, I am gazing out the window at the Anna’s and rufous hummingbirds flitting back and forth to our feeders. Sugar water in and sugar water out, right? Well, not so fast: feeding hummers is definitely a weighty responsibility, and moreover, among the ranks of hummingbird experts, there is controversy about how and what to feed them. It all has to do with water quality. Online I read comments from a woman in Quebec who boasted that she gets loads of ruby-throated hummingbirds coming to her feeders because she uses demineralized water in a 3:1 water to sugar solution. So I checked hummingbirdmarket.com, an excellent source of information on feeding hummingbirds based in Tucson, Arizona. It recommends tap water, which has been treated for human consumption by removing harmful bacteria, and to avoid using distilled, demineralized or purified water. Any minerals present in tap water in the form of trace elements can be beneficial to hummers (as they are to humans). Boiling your tap water, however, is a good idea because it will remove potentially harmful bacteria and microbes and also get rid of chlorine and fluorides, which are of no use to the birds (and even, possibly, harmful). Also, consider that a water softener in your home can add an excess of minerals and salts to the water, in which case you should be using water that is partially or totally filtered (by a simple pour-through filter like a Brita). Many folks use hot tap water to make their sugar solution, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is risky too. Using hot tap water for drinking or cooking is not healthy because it can pick up lead that may be present in your plumbing. Lead is just as unhealthy for hummingbirds as it is for humans.
There is some important advice for preparing a sugar solution for your hummers. Under no circumstances should you use artificial sweeteners, honey or organic, cane, agave or brown sugar. Sweeteners are controversial enough in the diet of humans; with the tiny body mass of a hummingbird, any negative effects would be multiplied. Honey is out because it rapidly ferments and can become a deadly toxin for the birds. The sugars mentioned above generally contain an overabundance of natural elements like iron and calcium that could be excessive for hummingbirds. Just plain white sugar is all you need, dissolved in water brought to the boil on your stove. As for the red food colouring that is so common in commercial products, avoid it. While the red components on the feeders can help trigger the amazing memories of hummingbirds to enable them to find and return to the food source, adding red dye to the solution is just a gimmick by commercial hummingbird food manufacturers. It does allow you to tell when levels are down, but it also masks the presence of fermentation, potentially causing you to leave a feeder up longer than you should. And while no proper scientific study I know of has shown that red dyes can harm birds, we know definitively that some are unhealthy for humans, and many wildlife rehabilitation specialists are concerned that red dyes might not be easily metabolized in hummingbird digestive systems. As for the experience of the Québécoise with lots of hummingbirds coming to her feeders, I would suggest that it is the extra-sweet 3:1 water to sugar ratio that is doing the trick, not the fact the water is distilled. Many websites on hummingbird feeding recommend starting off at 3:1 to draw them but going with a 4:1 ratio once the birds start coming in: it will be better for the little hummers. NOV + DEC 2017
As attractive as it is, Ilex verticillata is also poisonous, containing a toxin called theobromine, which is an alkaloid similar to the caffeine you get in cocoa or a cup of joe. Alkaloids are nitrogen-infused alkaline chemicals originating in plants: they are derived from amino acids, the essential foundations of proteins, which especially affect the nervous system. Theobromine and caffeine are similar in that they are related alkaloids, though theobromine is weaker in terms of its impact on the human nervous system and stronger in stimulating the heart: it raises your heart rate while opening up blood vessels. While the disruptive chemicals occur at their highest in the berries, the bark and leaves are also toxic. Copious quantities of these berries can result in dizziness, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, elevated pulse rate and low blood pressure, as well as drowsiness, particularly in children and small livestock. One can assume this is why it has traditionally been called fever bush.
Our biggest creatures, celebrated in new books MOOSE: CROWNED GIANT OF THE NORTHERN WILDERNESS The biology and natural history of the north woods’ largest land animal. Written and illustrated with exquisite photographs by Mark Raycroft. 160 pages in colour · paperback · $19.95
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WHALES, DOLPHINS AND PORPOISES Here is an intimate encounter with 90 species of cetaceans, by a world expert — and a passionate advocate for the future of whales. Filled with insights, stunning photographs and meticulous illustrations. A complete reference for whale enthusiasts. hundreds of colour photos · 300 pages in colour large format hardcover · $49.95
Made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.
At bookstores and online · Published by
Presents of Mind Instilling children with appreciation for nature is the first step to creating future activists and advocates — and what better way than through the power of a good story
The wonder of nature is best discovered young. Alongside splashing in puddles and catching bugs outside, that wonder can be complemented with a book. Many of us remember the impact of “the very last Truffula tree of them all” getting cut down in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, or the near-extinction of the Wumps moving us to tears in Bill Peet’s The Wump World. Instilling children with appreciation for nature is the first step to creating future activists and advocates — and what better way than through the power of a good story. These days books with an ecological bent are easy to find. Schools tend to gravitate toward fact-filled non-fiction, like the B.C.-based Orca Footprints series. Picture books like 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh and The Earth Book by Todd Parr introduce children to the environment one step at a time. And National Geographic’s many infographic-filled offerings are big hits with kids and teachers alike. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to return to storytelling to get kids interested — just as The Lorax has been doing for generations. If you want to connect a child to nature through a story this holiday season, these excellent titles offer something for readers of all ages. —LEAH COLLINS LIPSETT
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Where’s the Elephant? | Ages 3-6 Barroux (Candlewick Press) Where’s the Elephant? is about as far as you can get from an info-heavy fact book — it’s almost wordless. The simplicity is what lends this twist on a traditional seek-and-find book its weight. The reader is asked to find the elephant and its two animal friends. But as the colourful jungle they call home is deforested and a city takes its place, the animals have less and less space on the page to hide. A hopeful ending makes this a powerful read for the very young, with options for discussion with older children too. Its companion Starfish, Where Are You? gives a similar message about our oceans.
This Is the Earth | Ages 4-8 Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander, illustrated by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins)
Me and Marvin Gardens | Ages 10-13 Amy Sarig King (Scholastic Books)
The rich illustrations and lyrical text of This Is the Earth make it a beautiful present with a strong ecological message. Children aged 4 and up will be entranced by the history of our Earth and how humans have affected it. Shore and Alexander’s rhyming words and Minor’s illustrations don’t shy away from the negative but do culminate this time with humans living harmoniously in its midst: readers are left with the knowledge of how they can help save the Earth.
Magical realism combined with sound science makes this novel for middle schoolers both whimsical and down-to-earth. Concerned about the fate of the environment, particularly the trash-clogged creek on his family’s old property, sixth-grader Obe thinks he has found the answer when he discovers a new type of animal that exclusively eats plastic. Fans of Wonder and other “issue” books will find a lot to relate to in this new middle-grade offering from popular Canadian young-adult author King.
Sidewalk Flowers | Ages 4-8 JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books)
The Summer We Saved the Bees Ages 11-13 Robin Stevenson (Orca Book Publishers)
Wordless doesn’t always mean simple. In Sidewalk Flowers, Canadian poet JonArno Lawson weaves a multi-layered story of nature’s resilience in the city and of a child’s pure-hearted enjoyment of it. The book begins in a stark black-and-white urban scene and ends with a flurry of colours as the child picks flower after flower to give to those she encounters. Smith’s illustrations make this a perfect introduction to the wonders you can find in nature — without looking farther than your sidewalk.
Raised by hippie parents in small-town B.C., Wolf is no stranger to environmental activism. But when his school project about the plight of the world’s bees inspires his mother’s latest wild scheme — a coast-to-coast street performance tour with the whole family — Wolf wonders whether she’s gone too far. Can 12-year-old Wolf stand up to his parents when it comes to what’s right for his younger siblings while still saving the bees? It is part environmental narrative, part family drama.
Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age | Ages 8-12 David Zeltser (Lerner Publishing Group) What do you get when you mix Diary of a Wimpy Kid with Ice Age? A humorous climate change wake-up, of course! At least, that’s what Zeltser pulls off in this middle-grade novel with fun illustrations. It's about caveboy Lug, who is more interested in doing cave doodles than competing to catch the Biggest Beast. When Lug realizes his world might be facing an impending ice age, no one listens. Zeltser manages to draw comparisons to climate change while keeping the tone light.
World Without Fish | Ages 11+ Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Frank Stockton (Workham Publishing) This non-fiction graphic novel crossover is a perfect example of how new media can bring messages to young minds in a fresh way. World Without Fish lays out the concepts of overfishing, pollution and climate change with a clarity befitting its young teen audience. While there isn’t an overarching unified story throughout, the interspersed comics keep interest high while packing a lot of information in. Not surprising from an author of multiple bestselling non-fiction works for adults.
NOV + DEC 2017
BORN TO KILL: THE DEEP PSYCHOLOGY OF PREDATION + CLOUDY DAY AT THE BEACH? THAT’S A GOOD THING
RESTORING PRAIRIE BUFFALO, PROTECTING THE CULTURES + FROM GRAVEL PIT TO MARKET GARDEN
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
Save That Bear
HOW A GRIZZLY YEARLING GOT ITS SECOND CHANCE
We See Stung! Why are honeybees dropping like flies?
On the trail of the elusive lynx
Hamilton 2.0 How an industrial heartland became a home to eagles
Why Antarctica’s glaciers are “sleeping giants” + When dragonflies looked like real dragons
WHERE DID THEY GO?
How a world champion free-diver is making waves in shark conservation
They are a species unto themselves and we’ve got the science to prove it
The search for the Bay of Fundy’s missing whales
Bears, Whales Buffalo
Black White In
The news and the views from the world of killer whales
NOVEMBER + DECEMBER 2014 VOLUME 20, NUMBER 5
Sav more e 30% o than newssff the ta price nd
Explore the Wonders of Canada’s Wilderness Each issue of Canadian Wildlife boasts phenomenal photography, celebrates the country’s unique species and habitats, and explores the conservation issues affecting our natural world. Plus, get exclusive columns by Canada’s best-known environmental journalists and hands-on experts.
Subscribe online at Canadianwildlifemagazine.ca
MAY + JUNE 2015 VOLUME 21, NUMBER 2
Check out our new birding 40. column on pg
Rushing Evolution A fascinating new meta-study confirms that the fast pace of living in a city changes plants and animals… and that urban life speeds up adaptation
By Matthew Church
brilliant urbanist and city-builder Charles Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965), had the insight that speed is a function of urban life, and that it is a process driven as much by technology as human need. He noted too how quickly humans adapt to rapid change, how we are shaped by “the simple and ingenuous pleasure of being in the centre of so much power, so much speed.” Over the last two decades, wildlife biologists have begun to focus on how the urban experience affects resident plants and animals. There have been studies on how noise pollution stresses and weakens mammals, how light pollution is changing the way insects behave, and how millions of hectares of concrete have altered the basic behaviours of plants. Now a fascinating report, a meta-analysis of multiple studies from around the world, confirms what many have been wondering: the fast pace of life in the city is accelerating the rate at which animals are evolving — that is, developing and passing novel traits from generation to generation. It is Darwinian selection at hyper-speed. Published in August 2017 in the U.S.-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “Global urban signatures of phenotypic change in animal and plant populations” analyzes the results of 89 international studies that together looked at the phenotypic traits — that is, appearance, development and behaviour — of 155 species. The report’s authors (which include Andrew Hendry, a professor of biology at McGill University in Montreal) show that social and ecological systems of cities accelerate evolutionary change in resident plants and animals. “Through a meta-analysis of >1,600 phenotypic changes in species across regions and ecosystem types… our findings indicate greater phenotypic change in urbanizing systems compared with natural and nonurban anthropogenic systems.” In other words, life forms in cities are changing faster than elsewhere. Of course, speed and rate of change are tough to assess when you are working on a vast scale: the Earth is 4,600 million years old; multicellular life has been evolving for 1,000 million years;
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land-based plants, 475 million years; mammals roughly 200 million. Indeed, a conundrum has hounded evolutionary biologists for decades: why is it when you examine relatively short-term evolution it appears to be working faster than when you look at a broader sweep of time? The best answer for a layperson is an analogy to the stock market: think of the difference between analyzing a specific equity over one week and analyzing how it trended over a decade. You see more granular shifts and changes in the short period than in the long evolution of the stock value because many of the microchanges have changed and changed again so they are obliterated and no longer discernible from the larger perspective. Over time, the results average out. Still, the large number of species and the many identified effects of city-living in the report highlight the importance of paying attention to urban-driven evolution. The report’s 89 studies covered everything from crows and ravens to alewives and herring, from phytoplankton and dandelions to ginseng and grasses, and New Zealand marsupials. The meta-analysis identified and parsed five distinct forms of urban impact: changes to habitat, biotic interactions (the effects animals are having on each other), habitat heterogeneity (loss of biodiverse conditions), novel disturbances (new roads being built, or new toxins being introduced into the system, for example), and social interactions (when animals encounter humans). Perhaps it is human nature for us to constantly overvalue our role in the biosphere; it certainly is a trope, a recurring theme. Still, in the analysis, the effects of direct human contact were not the most important. The most dominant influence on phenotypic change leading to evolutionary change was found to be biotic interactions — that is, wildlife in the city are changed more by the interactions they were having with new and different predators and prey, hosts and competitors. Humans may have created these unnatural and harsh conditions, but we are not directing anything: nature takes its own course.
NOV + DEC 2017
Food that makes it healthy to
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ndar is The 2018 CWF caled wit h now available, f il le ke t his. st unning phot os li ! Order yours t oday
5 QUESTIONS FOR RICK BATES
Charting a path forward for wildlife CWF is calling Canadians to help chart a path forward to ensure abundant wildlife and habitat for generations to come. The CWF 2017 National Conservation Summit will explore the conservation landscape, explore the major challenges ahead and work together to move forward important projects. The summit takes place from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 at the Delta Lodge in Kananaskis, Alta.
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WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? The 150th anniversary of Confederation is an important milestone for Canadians to come together to celebrate our conservation successes, evaluate our current challenges and
NOV + DEC 2017
ISTOCK. CAREY SHAW.
Rick Bates is the Canadian Wildlife Federation's Executive Vice-President and CEO. He talks with us about the CWF 2017 National Conservation Summit
establish the actions necessary for wildlife, fish and biodiversity conservation. Our natural heritage is an important part of what it means to be Canadian. It is an integral part of our identity. But we are facing the decline of many species across the country from challenges such as habitat loss and degradation, pollution and climate change. We need to come together to seek solutions. This is an opportunity for thought leaders from across all sectors of society to share their ideas and expertise to help shape the future of conservation in Canada. WHO IS ATTENDING THE SUMMIT? The summit will bring together about 175 people with a broad range of perspectives on wildlife, including environmental groups, Indigenous leaders, hunting and angling organizations, academia, industry and government to seek collaborative action for fish, wildlife and biodiversity conservation. More than 30 governmental and non-governmental organizations will be in attendance, representing a wide range of interests. WHAT ARE THE TOPICS OF DISCUSSION? We conducted a series of pre-summit workshops with participants from a variety of sectors to identify four critical steps needed to address key conservation challenges such as a changing climate and cumulative impacts across landscapes and seascapes. Based on this input, the summit themes are thinking bigger and broader, making wildlife and habitat conservation relevant to Canadians, building new partnerships for action on conservation, and establishing new ways of financing conservation. WHAT ARE YOU HOPING THE SUMMIT WILL ACHIEVE? Our vision for the summit is to work across sectors of society to identify practical solutions and opportunities for conservation that include environmental, economic and social dimensions, and to build a common ground for conservation efforts. We also want to ensure that there is commitment to the follow-up actions required on key initiatives for the conservation of the full diversity of wildlife and habitats.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED? Everyone is welcome to sign up for conservation updates about the summit. Applications for registration are also being accepted. Interested delegates are asked to provide a written summary of their potential contributions and will be notified of decisions by email. Accepted participants will be provided with details of how to formally register for the summit. There will be a registration fee to attend. To learn more about this project, visit conservationsummit2017.ca.
NOV + DEC 2017
ACTION HOLIDAY CAMPAIGN
Holiday wishes can make magic happen. CWF’s Holiday Wishes campaign strives to make wishes come true for children hoping for a brighter future for wildlife. From more trees for birds to live in to less plastic in our oceans, these are the kinds of wishes that come true only with your help. Make wildlife wishes come true this holiday season. For more details, visit apps.cwf-fcf.org/giveagift.
ADOPT-AN-ANIMAL So easy to love. So hard to choose. The CWF Adopt-an-Animal program includes our family of adorable, plush and playful animal species, each with its own adoption papers and an informative booklet. Proceeds help support CWF species-at-risk initiatives. Choose one or the entire family — they make a great gift for the conservation lover in your life. Get yours at ShopCWF.ca.
CALENDAR CALL! The much-anticipated 2018 CWF calendar is now available, full of stunning photographs taken from the CWF Reflections of Nature photography contest. Make sure you’re on the list to receive it! Register online today, but act fast as quantities are limited. Then enjoy a full year of wildlife images designed to remind you why we work so hard to #ConserveTheWonder. Find out more at CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/calendar2018.
ACTIVE BIOBLITZ CANADA
It was a “wild” summer for CWF and its partners in Bioblitz Canada, a Canada 150 signature project. Participants coast to coast to coast joined us in our national inventory of Canadian flora and fauna, with thousands of species identified in the process — everything from gooey bryozoan blobs in Vancouver to beautiful bears in the North. Check out our full gallery of images at BioBlitzCanada.ca. And remember, you can continue to contribute to the project by uploading any observations via the iNaturalist.ca app. Keep blitzing and logging your own results.
LOVE YOUR LAKE CWF and Watersheds Canada have been busy the past few summers conducting lake and shoreline assessments across Canada as part of the Love Your Lake program. Those shoreline assessments are now available for you to download to get a comprehensive report on the health of your lake. The assessment also offers vital steps you can take to improve the health of your shoreline and ultimately the health of your lake. If your lake was assessed between 2013 and 20016, your free shoreline assessment report is now available. Get all the details at LoveYourLake.com.
Norther nmost Nest
try’s for Parks Canada to photograph our coun In the late 1990s, I was on assignment mere Elles aaq, on the northeastern tip of most northern national park, Quttinirp d, park is tiny Ward Hunt Island. The islan the of Island. Lying off the northern coast t poin off ing jump 3 km wide, is a frequent a mere sliver of land only 6 km long and t, Hun Ward . away m 720 k North Pole, some for adventurers attempting to reach the and rock ra, tund e spars by d desert dominate like most of Ellesmere Island, is a polar ling discovery. start a e mak to was I d islan ice, and on this ius to see a pair of long-tailed jaegers (Stercorar As I explored Ward Hunt, I was surprised from etres ured eggs in a nest scrape less than 50 m longicaudus) incubating two olive-colo rds d jaegers (pronounced YAY-gers) are seabi -taile the frozen edge of the ice shelf. Long ings, lemm on ng feedi predatory in their lifestyle, closely related to gulls but much more d. islan the on stay short none of which I saw on my nestling songbirds, insects and berries, the is it , later ars 20 ye , today 05' 35.1" N. Still The jaeger nest was located at 83 degrees rted.a repo ever nest s most northern bird’
46 CANADIAN WILDLIFE
NOV + DEC 2017
the travels of natureâ€™s wildest creatures. The CWF WILD Migration program teaches students about iconic Canadian migratory species through a three-step interactive learning platform that includes giant travelling floor maps. Discover how your school can play host to the WILD Migration map by visiting
PHOTOS: MIRIAM KOERNER; SIMON BOLYN; THINKSTOCK; CWF
Hard to choose.
Easy to love.
Perfect Holiday Gift! With so many cute, cuddly choices, picking one of our Adopt-An-Animal species isn’t easy! Every adoption kit comes with a premium quality plush toy, adoption certificate, species information and a limited edition Canada scarf for your species. All proceeds help support the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s efforts to help our endangered species. Plus! With each adoption kit purchased, you will receive a $20 charitable tax receipt.
BUY YOURS TODAY at ShopCWF.ca
BUY ONE and you’re instantly
entered into a draw to win our entire family of adorable plushies. No purchase necessary. Limit of one (1) entry per person. Open to residents of Canada, excluding Quebec. Contest closes on December 31st, 2017 at 11:59pm ET. For contest details, visit CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/AdoptContest.