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Ecology

Making Sense of Mommy Brain

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Instead, the top priority is the baby. The shift from selfish singleton to
selfless parent is dramatic, especially in rodents. Before a female rat
becomes pregnant, the smells and sounds of pups repulse her. As soon as she
gives birth, though, her newborns become her obsession. Given the choice
between being with her babies or having free access to cocaine, she’ll pick
her pups — at least until they’re big enough to hold their own. Plus, a
brain region associated with addiction — the nucleus accumbens — is more
activated by her pups than it is by the addictive drug. “It never ceases to
amaze me that this shift has happened where [mother rats] are more
interested in and almost addicted to another animal,” says Lambert.


I wonder if that’s my problem. I feel like I’m hooked on my daughter; it’s
hard to focus on work or other tasks because I’m busy thinking about her,
her needs, and if I’m doing this Mommy thing right. Could my brain have
undergone some kind of switch, too? Could it be helping me tackle the new
responsibilities of motherhood?

Modified for Motherhood

In 2010, a study in Behavioral Neuroscience of human moms found that,
between roughly three weeks and three months postpartum, certain brain
regions grew. These changes happened in areas like the parietal lobes,
involved in processing touch and sight; midbrain areas such as the
hypothalamus, which helps regulate hormones, and the amygdala, which is
associated with emotions and survival instincts; and the prefrontal cortex,
key in high-level thinking such as planning and decision making. All are
regions involved in caring for an infant.


That same study also found that mothers who perceived their babies more
positively at 3 weeks old (using words like “perfect” and “special” to
describe them) had the greatest increases in these areas at 3 months. These
boosts in brain volume, the authors write, suggest that a mother’s feelings
toward her baby may facilitate the brain’s adaptations. However, whether
mom’s feelings affect her brain volume or vice versa remains unknown.


But while some brain areas grow, others shrink. A 2016 study in Nature
Neuroscience
examined brain images of 25 women before and after their first
pregnancies. It found that, compared with pre-pregnancy, some regions —
primarily those involved in understanding other people’s emotions and
intention — were smaller postpartum, and they stayed that way for at least
two years. The difference was so striking that a computer algorithm created
for the study flawlessly predicted which women had babies and which didn’t.
“I’ve never seen any data like this,” says Elseline Hoekzema, a
neuroscientist at Leiden University and the lead author of the paper.


This long-lasting decrease isn’t necessarily bad news, as a smaller size
doesn’t always mean loss of function. In fact, in Hoekzema’s study, moms
who scored higher on tests of attachment to their child had greater
reductions in these regions. So this shrinkage may mean unnecessary
connections between neurons are pruned away in these brain areas and they
become more specialized and efficient— similar to pruning that takes place
in the brain during adolescence.


I guess my brain really has changed since becoming a mom, then. And I’m not
wrong to blame my favorite pregnancy scapegoat — hormones. “The hormone
fluxes of pregnancy are simply so massive that they must change the brain,”
says Hoekzema. In her study, she also found that the brains of fathers
weren’t affected, suggesting the changes aren’t just from the experience of
becoming a parent. (See below for what happens to the paternal brain.)


Hoekzema also found that motherhood reduced the volume of the hippocampus,
an area important for memory. By two years postpartum, this reduction had
partially recovered to normal levels, providing both a possible explanation
for memory problems and a hope that they resolve, as other studies have
reported.

Forever Changed

I do feel like my memory has improved since those early postpartum weeks,
but my ability to focus still suffers. I doubt that will change anytime
soon. There will always be more worries and things to keep track of with a
child. But it’s nice to know my brain is adapting to meet the challenge.
Especially when it feels like just that, a challenge, Lambert suggests
mothers take a step back and consider all the new responsibilities they are
juggling. “Moms are kind of super beings,” she says.


As I’m sitting in my home office trying (and failing) to focus on writing
this piece, my daughter comes in to give me an unexpected hug: a reminder
that this distraction is a pretty wonderful one. “Pregnancy and motherhood
changes you forever,” says Hoekzema. That’s not a bad thing.

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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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