environment

Sponsor a fish and save Canada’s experimental lakes

Fans of environmental science can now play a direct role in helping Canada’s unique Experimental Lakes Area continue to do the research it has done for decades.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development, based in Winnipeg, took over running the ELA on 1 April, after the federal government eliminated funding for the decades-old environmental research facility (see ‘Test lakes face closure’ and ‘Last minute reprieve for Canada’s research lakes’). The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba have stepped in to provide money to run the facility and conduct research for the next several years, but more cash is needed to restore research at the ELA to its former levels.

So IISD has turned to the public. It launched an appeal on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo seeking contributions to expand research and make the ELA less dependent on government largesse. Read more in Nature.

Backyard Hockey A Bellwether For Climate Change

Volunteers track shifts in temperature with their homemade rinks.

Outdoor hockey games on suburban backyard rinks are an iconic part of the culture in Canada. Wayne Gretzky famously learned his trade on a homemade rink his father created every winter, and until recently the image of children skating on a frozen pond was featured on the back of the country’s $5 bill.

So when scientists in Montreal predicted that rising global temperatures would eventually lead to the end of outdoor skating in much of Canada, Robert McLeman and Colin Robertson, geographers at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, saw a way to get people interested in how climate change will affect them. Read more in Inside Science.

Canadian government accused of destroying environmental archives

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Researchers fear that valuable documents will disappear as libraries close and merge.

Scientists in Canada are up in arms over the recent closure of more than a dozen federal science libraries run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment Canada.

The closures were mostly completed by last autumn, but hit the headlines last week when pictures of dumpsters full of scientific journals and books began circulating online. Some of facilities that have been closed include the library at the century-old St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, which had just completed a multi-million-dollar refurbishment a year earlier, and the library at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The libraries housed hundred of thousands of documents on fisheries and aquatic science, such as historical fish counts and water-quality analyses. Read more in Nature.

Lakes scientists ‘surplus’ to fisheries ministry requirements

Researchers at the Experimental Lakes Area have received letters from Fisheries and Oceans Canada declaring their positions to be “surplus”, and offering them jobs elsewhere in the ministry, Research Canada has learned.

The letters were expected, as the government department has ended funding for the environmental research station and is working to transfer ownership of the facility to the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development. But the timing of the letters could make it difficult for the institute to retain any of the facility’s scientific staff. Read more in Research Canada.

Pesticide makes invading ants suicidally aggressive

Neonicotinoids change behaviour in ways that could affect spread of invasive species.

Neonicotinoid insecticides have developed a bad reputation for their unintended and potentially harmful effects on pollinating insects such as bees. A study in New Zealand now shows that the chemical can also change how native and invasive ants interact.

New Zealand is facing an invasion of Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), which compete with native southern ants (Monomorium antarcticum). The insects often meet in urban or agricultural areas, where neonicotinoids are in use. So ecologist Rafael Barbieri, a graduate student in the lab of Philip Lester at Victoria University of Wellington, wondered whether the behavioural changes that have been associated with sublethal neonicotinoid exposure in other insects affect how the two species interact. Read more in Nature.

Risk of tick-borne infections on the rise

Canadians should be prepared for a big increase in the rates of tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease in the coming years, as milder winters make the country more hospitable for the bugs, according to a New Brunswick biologist.

Vett Lloyd, who studies ticks at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, has seen a 6–8-fold increase in the number of ticks in the province so far this year. And the number of those infected with Lyme disease is inching up; it now stands at around 15%. “Even if the proportion of infected ticks stays the same, there are so many more of them around that you have a higher chance of encountering them,” she says. Read more in CMAJ.

Last-minute reprieve for Canada’s research lakes

Government strikes temporary deal with independent institute to keep freshwater experimental site open.

Canada’s world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) has been saved from imminent closure after the federal government signed a makeshift 11th-hour deal with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) to take over the running of the facility.

Effective from 1 September to at least March next year, the Winnipeg-based IISD will assume responsibility for scientific work from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), whose decades-old agreement with the province of Ontario to run the ELA expired on that day. Read more in Nature.

Seafood diet killing Arctic foxes on Russian island

PLOS ONE

PLOS ONE

Mercury pollution in marine animals may be behind a population crash.

An isolated population of Arctic foxes that dines only on marine animals seems to be slowly succumbing to mercury poisoning.

The foxes on Mednyi Island — one of Russia’s Commander Islands in the Bering Sea — are a subspecies of Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) that may have remained isolated for thousands of years. They were once numerous enough to support a small yet thriving group of fur hunters. After humans abandoned the settlement in the 1970s, the fox population began to crash, falling from more than 1,000 animals to fewer than 100 individuals today. Read more in Nature.