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Ecology

How Insects’ Ancestors Learned to Fly

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insects flying

(Credit: MakroBetz/Shutterstock)

Before they flew, winged insects had to learn to glide. Scientists say they’ve puzzled out the evolutionary path that gave insects wings, settling what had been a longstanding debate in the field. Using genetic techniques to peer back in time, researchers found that the winged insects of today once had stiff, fixed forewings used for descending.

“Winged insects… were the first group of animals to conquer the air and the evolution of insect wings can be considered as one of the most important events in the history of animals,” said Benjamin Wipfler, an evolutionary biologist at Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany, who led the new research.  

The discovery means insect wings did not evolve in an aquatic environment as scientists once thought.

Enduring Debate

Whether winged insects evolved on land or in the water is a “major unresolved question,” according to Wipfler and his colleagues. Many researchers assert the ancestors of modern winged insect species lived in the water because immature mayflies and dragonflies —  two early diverging groups of winged bugs — have an aquatic lifestyle. But the fossil record doesn’t provide any clear answers and until now no one had put together the kind of analysis necessary to settle the dispute.

Wipfler and an international team of scientists wanted to close the debate. Using the largest dataset ever constructed for this purpose, the researchers scrutinized the protein-coding sequences of more than 3,000 genes from over 100 living insect species. The analysis allowed the scientists to create a family tree for winged insects that identifies which groups are most closely related to each other. This allowed them to work backwards in time to see what the common ancestors of these species were. The team also traced the evolution of over 100 traits related to insects’ body structures, habitats, diets and social behaviors.

Flight Control

Together, the analyses revealed the last common ancestor of winged insects today was terrestrial, Wipfler and his collaborators report today in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Based on the analysis the team built a virtual model of what this land-dwelling forebearer to flying insects looked like.

“Our study now shows [the evolution of insect wings] did not happen in an aquatic habitat,” Wipfler said. Previous theories that posited wings grew from sails or underwater buoyancy organs can be excluded based on their work, he continued.

Although contemporary winged insects use their wings for flying, that probably wasn’t the case for this terrestrial ancestor, the scientists say. While it had something resembling wings, they were likely much shorter, and critically, immobile, meaning the appendages would be useless for powering flight. Instead, Wipfler and colleagues think the ancestor used its wings to make controlled, gliding descents from high points. It’s similar to some theories of how flight developed among mammals and other creatures — appendages that allowed for short glides eventually morphed into wings.

Little by little, insects gained the ability to take to the skies under their own power — likely the first time any creature on Earth did so.

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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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