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Ecology

Himalayan Marmots are Revealing How Animals Adapt to Living at Extreme Elevations

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himalayan marmot

A Himalayan marmot. (Credit: Yuanqing Tao)

How do animals live in the cold, oxygen-starved environments of the high mountains? Himalayan marmots — beaver-ish rodents of unusual size — may have an answer, find scientists who have assembled a complete draft genome of the animal. The analysis may provide insight to how we adapt to the cold.

“As one of the highest-altitude-dwelling mammals, the Himalayan marmot is chronically exposed to cold temperature, hypoxia [lack of oxygen], and intense UV radiation,” Enqi Liu of Xi’an Jiaotong University Health Science Center in China said in a statement.

High-altitude Home

Himalayan marmots, herbivorous rodents about the size of a housecat, call the high elevations of China, Nepal, Pakistan and India home. A thick fur coat, large body size and unique hibernating habits allow the animals to exist in the harsh climate of the world’s “third pole,” the Tibetan Plateau.

The rodents hide out in burrows some 30 feet deep with their families for more than six months at a time during the winter, but they also possess a set of unique genetic adaptations that have molded their bodies into altitude champions. Liu and team wanted to know what kind of genetic innovations allow the animals to make a living in such an extreme environment.

The researchers sequenced the genome of a male Himalayan marmot. When they compared the Himalayan marmot’s genome to four other marmot species’ genetic material, they found the Himalayan marmot split from its closest evolutionary relative about 2 million years ago. It’s evidence that their move to a more lofty homeland may have helped turn them into their own species.

Extreme Adaptation

Then, the researchers compared the genomes of Himalayan marmots that live above 14,000 feet above sea level to the genomes of Himalayan marmots that live at a much lower elevation, about 6,000 feet. The team saw differences between the two groups in genes that facilitate adaptation to a high-altitude environment such as response to low oxygen, heart function and heat generation. One gene, however, stood out from the rest.

Himalayan marmots that live at very high-altitude have a mutation in a gene called Slc25a14. All other mammals the researchers looked at, including mice, bonobos and other marmots, have one version of the gene. But, the high-altitude living Himalayan marmots have a unique version that may confer special abilities, the team reports today in the journal iScience.

The gene helps control the function of mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses. It also has neuroprotective effects and plays a role in maintaining metabolism as well as temperature regulation. The researchers suspect the genetic change may have aided Himalayan marmot’s adaptation to their high-altitude home and the finding could have implications for human health.

“The identification of distinctive genetic traits will contribute to potential medical applications,” Liu and colleagues write.

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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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