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Ecology

Termites’ Engineering Skills Help Protect Tropical Rainforests From Drought

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termite construction rainforest drought

Termites scamper about on the rainforest floor in Borneo. (Credit: corlaffra/shutterstock)

Termites are minuscule scourges to homeowners, but the wood-chomping critters are also masterful engineers. And now an international team of researchers has found that these construction skills actually help protect tropical rainforests from drought. The insects have an outsized impact on forest soils by helping control moisture in the dirt, a critical component to forest health that climate change and human impacts increasingly threaten. The results also suggest termites could buffer tropical rainforests from drought in the future.

“We previously thought termites were important in tropical rainforests, but we didn’t know how important, particularly during drought,” said Louise Ashton, an ecologist at the University of Hong Kong, who led the new work.

Bad Rap

Termites abound in tropical rainforests. And while Ashton and her colleagues suspected the insects impact the typically lush ecosystems, scientific circles give the bugs little attention (with the notable of exception of prominent biologist E.O. Wilson who has been making the case for the importance of insects for decades). Still, most research on termites revolves around the evolution of their social behavior or pest management. That’s beginning to change, but the bugs’ reputation means it’s taken years to get here. The new research published today in the journal Science took about a decade to come to fruition.

Ten years ago, Theo Evans, an evolutionary biologist and ecologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth and co-author of the new research, met up with Paul Eggleton, an entomologist with England’s Natural History Museum in London, at a conference. Over a few beers, the duo decided they’d run some experiments to back up rumors that termites impact ecosystems murmuring through their research community.

“The beer may have given us more confidence than was realistic,” recalls Evans, “because it took us years to get the collaborators and funding to run the experiment!”

Turning Tide

The delay turned out to be serendipitous. The team set up their experiment in the rainforests of Borneo at the start of the 2015 El Nino drought. They set out toilet paper—a favorite termite food—treated with a poison that only affected the termites and not any of the areas’ other insects. Over the next few years, the team monitored the forests responses in the plots with fewer termites compared to plots where the termite population remained abundant.

During the drought, termite activity doubled, the team found. And the termites’ hustle and bustle increased the soil moisture. The discovery means “termites were manipulating the water in the soil,” Evans said, which buffered the effects of drought.  “This is the first time this has been discovered.”

The termites’ manipulation of soil moisture, which they do by transporting water using special water-sacs in their bodies, also improved seedling survival in the rainforests during the drought.

“We tend to think of termites only as pests, but they are also helping the maintenance of healthy ecosystems during periods of environmental stress,” Ashton said. Those stresses include drought but also other human impacts such as logging and conversion to agriculture.

“Droughts are predicted to become more common in rainforests due to climate change,”  Evans added. “Logging, even selective logging (for valuable trees only) … reduces termite diversity and abundance, so logged rainforests may be more vulnerable to climate change.”

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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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