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Even Antarctica Has Invasive Species

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Adult Eretmoptera murphyi. (Credit: Roger Key)

Antarctica, a continent isolated by vast oceans and brutal weather, has weathered the impacts of human activities better than most places. It’s clearly not immune, of course — it’s melting — but the South Pole has been spared most other human-caused degradations.

Unfortunately, we can add another to the list. An invasive insect species is spreading across Signy Island in Antarctica, endangering the local ecosystem. It’s a species of flightless midge, Eretmoptera murphyi, and a lack of natural predators paired with a plentiful food supply is helping the insects to thrive.

Insect Invasion

Their assault on Signy actually began in the 1960s, says a team of researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK and the British Antarctica Survey. The small, grey midges traveled to Signy from the South Georgia islands located to the northeast as unintended hitchhikers in a plant transplantation experiment. The plants are gone, but the midges remain.

E. murphyi, it turns out, landed in an ideal environment. The midges are detritivores, a fancy way of saying they eat dead organic matter, and Signy Island is literally covered in the stuff. Much of the island’s ice-free surface is blanketed by peat, partly decomposed vegetable matter, and it’s a feast for the midges. As the insects eat, they transform the peat into soil, producing nitrogen and other waste products.

What’s good for the midges is bad for the rest of the island. Signy is home to a few other species adapted to the harsh conditions, but unused to intruders, like mosses, hair grass and pearlwort. As they turn peat into soil at record rates, the midges can be considered ecosystem engineers — altering the fundamental ecology of the entire island. For delicate species attuned to a specific environment this could prove fatal.

“Signy island is characteristic of polar environments in having a nutrient limited ecology, and we find that the midge can increase levels by 3 to 5 times, bringing the moss banks in line with deposition that would be more like that seen in and around seal colonies,” says Jesamine Bartlett, a PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham who’s presenting the team’s research at the annual meeting of the British Ecological Society, via email. “In particular, that nitrogen is in the form of nitrates and nitrites, which is most favored by plants as a fertilizer. So this may have consequences for the vegetation of Signy Island.”

Studying the Spread

Bartlett and her team are currently assessing the impacts the midges have had on the environment to better understand how to protect Antarctic ecosystems from future intrusions. She’s sampling areas of the island with midge populations and comparing them to areas without any to see what kind of changes are occurring. It will hopefully help build a better understanding of what happens when rapid environmental shifts occur.

It appears that the midges are contained for the moment to Signy Island, and the small outcrop is located some distance from the continent itself. Still, says study co-author Scott Hayward, a professor at Birmingham, E. murphyi appears to share many characteristics with another species of midge native to the Antarctic Peninsula, and could probably survive there if introduced. The insects, and their larvae, are small and easily overlooked, meaning it’s possible for them to travel unnoticed on shoes or equipment.

That could be a danger in the near future as warming conditions make it easier for invasive species to push southward and increased human traffic helps invasive species to spread. Two other invasive species, a type of fly, and a type of grass, are currently establishing themselves in different locations on the continent, and Bartlett says each appears to be doing quite well. Scientists have yet to study either in detail, so their impact on native ecosystems is unknown.

It’s clear that Antarctica is far from an unspoiled land. Images of desolate snowfields and barren peaks belie the truth: There are invaders right under visitors’ feet.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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