The Scientific Committee met in Hull on 23-24 October, 1997.
The various scientific projects of the Survey were discussed, including the following progress.
1. Arthropod fauna of the Yukon
Dr. Hugh Danks summarized the production of the book on Insects of the Yukon. After soliciting or editing of manuscripts and scientific review, a great deal of time and care was taken to prepare a faultless standardized electronic manuscript in the expectation that the printer would transpose it into final copy. Unfortunately, various problems meant that the proofs had to be checked in the same way as for a regular typeset manuscript. A second set of proofs was therefore required, which delayed starting the index. These and other problems eliminated the savings of time anticipated by preparing an electronic typescript and doing the copy editing with the scientific editing. Index preparation was especially time-consuming because the book was so long and multi-authored. Preparation of the final chapter, problems with certain illustrations, translation of abstracts, invoicing, fundraising and other matters also took considerable time. However, the book had now been printed.
Dr. Danks noted that a significant number of donations had been received and also page charges came from various authors or their institutions. The Yukon Beringia Centre let a substantial contract in exchange for the appearance of their logo in the publication. Thanks to these various sponsorships, and anticipated sales, the financial status of the Biological Survey Foundation, which published the book, is excellent. The book project itself should break even, and in addition the operation has attracted other revenue to the Foundation which will help to fund future publications. Advertising for the book is continuing.
Based on experience with the Yukon volume, Dr. Danks outlined some lessons for future Survey projects of this type, emphasizing that more advanced planning will be required for future publications, especially in terms of personnel including a managing editor. Fundraising, especially for a less major publication, also will require more advance planning. Adequate contingency planning will also be needed, because this project fell behind and was on the verge of failing, so that taking it over was very onerous. Future projects will require a better system for dealing with obstacles and delays. These lessons would be applied in Committee planning for future projects.
The Committee congratulated Dr. Danks and the other authors on the considerable work and final success of the publication.
2. Arthropods of Canadian grasslands
Dr. Bert Finnamore reported that, despite funding delays, work had continued on Alberta grasslands, including collections of a rich fauna from the prairie dog communities. Sorting of material continues, and specimens are going out to specialists for identification. Formal participation in the project, aiming for an eventual publication, will soon be invited. In the meantime, interim reports are available on some taxa, such as the aculeate wasps from the Suffield, Alberta, site, more than half of which represent new records from Alberta. Interesting habitat and other patterns are becoming visible as the data accumulate and can be analyzed.
Work elsewhere in Canada that has been adequately funded and studies a good cross section of habitats includes work by Dr. Rob Roughley in tall-grass prairie in Manitoba, and by Dr. Geoff Scudder in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
Dr. Finnamore is also involved in investigation of the giant bamboo “grasslands” in Peru, with a major arthropod component still being developed through wide participation in Peru and internationally.
3. Arctic invertebrate biology
Dr. Richard Ring reported that arctic invertebrate research continues at a slow pace. However, the Survey’s newsletter Arctic Insect News appears annually and various forms of cooperation between one or more of Dr. Ring, Dr. Olga Kukal, Dr. Danks, the International Tundra Experiment, and other bodies, continue to pursue some arctic studies and to maintain international interest.
4. Other projects
Other projects were reviewed, including those on keys to the families of Canadian arthropods (progress with illustrations was reported), arthropods of the boreal zone, and seasonal adaptations in insects.
Other scientific priorities
1. Arthropod fauna of soils
Dr. Valerie Behan-Pelletier reported especially on a Database of ecological research projects (DERP) initiated by her and two colleagues from the University of Guelph and a private company. A web site has been developed and ecologists and taxonomists have been invited to visit the site and submit comments. The site would soon be finalized and translated into French, and then will be available to help in integrating relevant studies [see Project Update].
At the Soil Ecology Society meeting in Kansas in late May there was an excellent representation of Canadian microarthropod researchers presenting papers or posters. Several good presentations involving studies of oribatid mites were also made at the Entomological Society of Canada annual meeting. However, Dr. Behan-Pelletier had recently visited Japan, where basic research in both taxonomy and ecology is much better supported than in Canada, and as a result Japanese oribatid researchers know 50% of the oribatid fauna in Japan. By contrast in Canada — even with a much smaller fauna — a much smaller percentage is known and only one or two people are doing taxonomy and systematics in this area.
2. Invasions and reductions
Dr. Steve Marshall had proposed that a Survey workshop on invasions and reductions might be included as part of the EMAN national conference in the year 2000. Once such a possibility has been evaluated, Dr. Marshall will begin organizing the workshop. The Canadian Nature Federation’s lady beetle survey, which is an attempt to involve the public in documenting changing faunas, was discussed. Apparently the CNF survey’s potential goals are to foster good public relations, and to add to scientific knowledge. However, several of the official-looking distribution maps produced as a result of the CNF survey conflict radically with other data. This emphasizes the need for voucher specimens and provides an opportunity for the scientific community to test some hypotheses and to investigate how much this kind of public survey can contribute to the documentation of distributional changes.
3. Internet connections
The Committee reviewed a summary of the structure of the Survey’s web site at www.biology.ualberta.ca/esc.hp/bschome.htm, and members were invited to submit additional suggestions for content.
4. Insects and wildlife management
The Survey had contributed a short section on insects for the Wildlife Management Plan under development by the Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope). This contribution highlighted relevant aspects of North Slope insect faunas, including groups that are important to the local vertebrate fauna such as biting flies and potential food items, as well as insect species or habitats of potential conservation interest.
5. Continuing interests
The Committee reviewed a large number of completed or less active Survey projects to expose updated information, including specific notes about peatlands, aquatic insects of Newfoundland, arthropod ectoparasites of vertebrates, arthropods of the Queen Charlotte Islands, dune habitats, and other topics.
6. Other projects
The Committee considered recent information about other current priorities, such as endangered species, damaged ecosystems, old-growth forests, survey funding, potential publicity avenues for the Survey (including a poster about the Survey for the national meeting of the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network in January 1998), faunal analysis, and infrastructure support for collections.
Liaison and exchange of information
1. Canadian Museum of Nature
Ms. Joanne DiCosimo, President of the Canadian Museum of Nature, reported that the Museum is focussing on planning for the future, especially in defining its national role, and as part of that process is organizing a series of consultation sessions across the country. Sessions are planned for Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The Museum is aware that all museums and universities are experiencing financial challenges. This topic will be part of the discussions, including mutual concerns about gaps created in the knowledge base as well as ways of working cooperatively to address these challenges.
Dr. Mark Graham, Director of Research, highlighted some of the work at the Museum including the following. All collections have now been consolidated in one building. Mr. Jerry Fitzgerald, Director of Collections, is initiating a collections management information system. The Museum is one of the partners in the National Biodiversity Information Initiative. The Federal Biosystematics Group has been renamed the Federal Biosystematics Partnership. This group endeavours to determine ways of emphasizing biosystematics and has awarded a fellowship to promote training in systematics at universities. The Federal Biosystematics Partnership is also planning for a list of Canadian species that would be available to everyone but maintained by different stewards for each taxonomic group. Two new research positions are being recruited at the Museum, one in palaeobiology (dinosaur studies) and the other for a zoologist with expertise in molecular systematics. A summer school in biodiversity and systematics was held for the second time this past summer and a third one is being planned. Finally, an arctic natural history summer school was held in Cambridge Bay in cooperation with several other agencies.
In response to a query as to why the Museum is emphasizing molecular systematics at a time when whole organism research is faltering, Dr. Graham explained that the Museum’s only researcher with a background in DNA work is a botanist and he wanted also to have at least one zoologist in-house with that expertise to look at systematic problems using new techniques. The Museum is investigating the possibility of sharing the position with a university. In response to the comment that the build up of this kind of expertise at other museums has been to the detriment of the collections program, Dr. Graham emphasized that at the Museum the collections are maintained by a separate collections staff, not by the researchers.
Ms. Anne Breau, Canadian Centre for Biodiversity, announced that Global Biodiversity recently published an ecoforestry issue. There are about 2400 subscribers to the publication, spread over 90 countries. An article about parasitology in an upcoming issue stems from discussions associated with the April meeting of the Committee.
2. Biological Resources Program, ECORC
Dr. Jim McKenzie, Program Manager, Biological Resources Program, reported that since the last meeting of the Committee he has been working to highlight the valuable systematics research that is done at ECORC and helping his organization to understand that. He emphasized that the enormous value of systematics is the best kept secret in the country. Dr. McKenzie described examples of the experts and their work. He added that collaboration is a major focus of the work of the program, with collaborative projects across the country including work with industrial clients as well as participation in federal partnerships such as the National Biodiversity Information Initiative and the Federal Biosystematics Partnership.
Dr. McKenzie reported that a new position in biocontrol research will be filled in the next six months aimed primarily to link systematic and biocontrol work. He noted that one of ECORC’s major current challenges is the lack of an ichneumonid specialist, because ichneumonids are major biocontrol insects and a number of research stations in western Canada need identifications. Agriculture is working with Forestry to try to address that need. Support from partners and clients showing that systematics adds value to research projects across the country is important.
Dr. George Ball declared that the emphasis at ECORC seems to be on technology transfer and he emphasized the need for research in systematics to learn about unknown species. Dr. McKenzie replied that many scientists are asking the same question but the reality is that there are insufficient funds to go around. Scientists must compete for funding within their own organization, and this necessitates demonstrating that someone will use the technology. There has to be a balance between technology transfer and basic research. If outside money is received there will be more opportunities to do basic systematic research.
Dr. Joe Shorthouse commented on a recent publication on Assessments of Species Diversity in Canadian Ecozones - the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone, stemming through ECORC from a cooperative project with EMAN. This was viewed as an excellent example of cooperative biosystematic research in Canada.
Mr. Antony Downes emphasized that technology rests on an inadequate research base. Approximately half of the Canadian fauna remains undescribed in many groups and Canada’s efforts compare weakly to those of many other countries in the northern hemisphere, yet biotechnology cannot operate without better knowledge. Dr. McKenzie agreed but pointed out that in the current environment some time has to be taken in helping non-systematists to understand why this is necessary.
Dr. McKenzie maintains a mailing list so that leaders in the community can be kept informed of what the Biological Resources Program is doing. There are plans to form an advisory committee.
3. Entomological Society of Canada
Dr. Steve Marshall, Entomological Society of Canada, reported that the erosion in the country’s systematics infrastructure is reflected at the Entomological Society and moreover membership of the Society has fallen. This will be the last year for the Memoir series, a highly respected monographic series that contained many systematic revisions. This unfortunate trend was also seen at the Annual Meeting of the Society in Edmonton. Although the meeting was very well organized and attended, most of the papers given emphasized the application of systematics. There were no presentations of revisions, no new species discussed, etc., highlighting concerns about the erosion of the base on which all biodiversity and biology stands.
Over the past year, the Society’s publications procedures have been restructured. The publication of The Canadian Entomologist is now being handled by the National Research Council press on a contractual basis. This arrangement will be cost effective and the Society will also benefit from a partnership with this professional organization.
The ESC now has an excellent web page including a link to the Biological Survey’s web pages.
4. Canadian Forest Service
Dr. John Huber, Canadian Forest Service, reported that despite efforts to bring all the Newfoundland insect collections together in one spot, the Forestry collection will be moved to Cornerbrook where the new Forestry facility is being set up. A list of the 2000 species from Newfoundland in that collection has just been completed. Two collections managers have been hired at CFS - one in Ste.-Foy (Mr. Georges Pelletier), the other in Edmonton (Mr. Greg Pohl). Each of the five Forestry collections now has a collections manager who will curate the collections and do routine identifications. A new Biosystematics Working Group is being established to improve the communication and coordination of systematics activities in the CFS, to facilitate Canadian activities between the CFS and other agencies and departments, to document and advise on biosystematics activities needed to maintain and enhance the CFS science program and to develop strategies for future direction of the CFS program in the field of systematics. Dr. Huber hopes there will be links to similar initiatives at Agriculture and other groups.
Also, the CFS Biodiversity Network met for the first time. They would like to bring up to date the information base which was formerly FIDS and this idea will be forwarded to the Biosystematics Working Group. The Network proposed several other ideas. These various CFS initiatives show moral support for systematics although the source of funding is uncertain.
5. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)
Dr. Teresa Aniskowicz, Chair of the COSEWIC subcommittee that deals with Lepidoptera and molluscs, reported that last year 3 butterfly reports were received. At the last meeting of COSEWIC all three species were listed: the Karner Blue as extirpated; the Maritime Ringlet as endangered; and the Monarch butterfly as vulnerable. The Monarch is still numerous in Canada but its very small winter range is subject to many pressures. Reports on other butterfly species have been commissioned and could be considered at the next COSEWIC meeting.
An Internet site for COSEWIC should be operational in a few months. It will be based on an Access database, allowing users to search in various ways.
In response to a question, Dr. Aniskowicz explained that COSEWIC listings have no legal consequence and there is no restriction on collecting species listed as vulnerable. Even species in more serious categories could be subject to exemptions, because the purpose of a listing is not to restrict study but to deal with problems. She also pointed out that collecting will be under provincial jurisdiction.
In response to further questions, Dr. Aniskowicz said that there are no current plans to expand COSEWIC’s mandate to other insects. However, if and when endangered species legislation is passed, and if it reflects the draft legislation, anyone can petition COSEWIC to list a species. If sufficient information is provided, COSEWIC would then be obliged to consider the species for listing. The COSEWIC mechanisms therefore will have to change, beyond the current set-up of subcommittees. Some funds are available to get reports quickly from existing information, but not to fund research. Therefore, it is difficult to obtain reports when field work or other research is needed.
The opposite problem of exploding populations was noted by members of the Committee, as in the case of snow geese and gulls in certain areas, whereas legislation typically addresses endangered ecosystems through endangered species rather than exploding populations. It was noted that in the United States species can be listed as “nuisance” species, for example if they damage habitat, which is a very practical way of dealing with certain introductions.
6. Canadian Wildlife Service
Dr. Aniskowicz, Biodiversity Protection Branch, Canadian Wildlife Service, reminded the Committee that the endangered species legislation was close to being passed when the previous government was dissolved. Since then a new minister has been installed (The Honourable Christine Stewart), but CWS has not yet received any direction as to possible changes with the legislation, although it is hoped that it will be introduced next spring.
Dr. Patricia Roberts-Pichette, Executive Secretary, Canada/MAB, reported that the UNESCO program on Man and the Biosphere (MAB) is undergoing a revitalization. There has been somewhat of a decline in the last 5-7 years but there have been some long-term effects of the MAB philosophy that humans are part of the environment and ecosystem. For example, the idea of sustainable use is important, and moreover sustainable use and conservation is not a scientific issue, it is a social one. Currently there are six biosphere reserves and applications are expected soon for others.
The MAB program has become embedded in the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network, which itself is an outgrowth of the MAB philosophy, and several initiatives such as the Great Lakes clean-up program, the Centre for Traditional Knowledge (now housed at the Canadian Museum of Nature), the model forest program, and the Child in the City program were started by people involved with MAB. Dr. Roberts-Pichette believes there is now an opportunity, with all the biosphere reserves being part of EMAN sites and therefore ecological science cooperatives, for second and third generation initiatives to occur in “safe environments”. At EMAN’s national meeting in January there will be two plenary session on the Canada/MAB program.
In response to an enquiry, Dr. Roberts-Pichette noted that some of the funds received by MAB from EMAN will go to protocol development as well as education and training, but not for research.
Members of the Committee agreed that both scientists and social scientists need to be involved early in environmental issues, lest experiments be done or solutions proposed in only one of the two necessary contexts.
8. Parasitology module, Canadian Society of Zoologists
Dr. David Marcogliese, Parasitology section, stated that a report on the parasitology group’s perch project is due out within 6 months and two new sites have been added. The stickleback project is generating a lot of enthusiasm and sampling activity especially from students and teachers. The parasitology committee agreed to put together various protocols for EMAN which are in progress. In an effort to become more involved with environmental policies and actions associated with aquatic ecosystems, Dr. Marcogliese has reviewed some documentation for delegates to the global biodiversity forum and for Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), and will become involved in other biodiversity forums. He noted that there is an overwhelming bias toward vertebrates in many of these forums.
Dr. Marcogliese noted that many government departments are not coordinating their efforts in the implementation plans for the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. The plan calls for each sector to first produce its own strategy.
Dr. Marcogliese also spoke of some cooperative initiatives with the Canadian Museum of Nature. Such initiatives may also help to provide support for the parasitology representative to attend the meetings of the Scientific Committee.
Reflecting the erosion of Canada’s publishing capacity, the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences no longer has a permanent editorial staff, but relies solely on volunteer editors. He noted several publications of interest to the Committee. One book about Benthic biodiversity in the southern Irish Sea declared that the primary objective of the study was to obtain specimens for taxonomic and biogeographic purposes, an orientation not often seen these days.
Dr. Marcogliese reported that his efforts to promote parasitology outside the parasitology community have generated positive feedback and potential funding. Finally, he concluded that influence on national bodies is most effective if it comes through an international group. Others confirmed that for Canada to make a response first requires that a convinced group in Canada gets something done at the international level. The international action then prompts Canada into a domestic response.
9. Geological Survey of Canada
The Committee learned with dismay that the Quaternary Palaeoecology section at the Geological Survey has been disbanded, and its staff, comprising Ms. Alice Telka and three research scientists, declared surplus.
10. National Biodiversity Information Initiative
Mr. Larry Speers, Coordinator, National Biodiversity Information Initiative, outlined that NBII for the Committee.
He emphasized the requirement that biology be recognized as a megascience, and he believes that the key to such recognition is the emerging field of biological informatics, because academic disciplines whose members share a common vision and strive to build electronic infrastructure will advance their cause, their visibility and ultimately their survival over research communities that have no sense of common purpose or shared information space. As long as systematic knowledge management remains a “cottage industry”, significant funding for research and infrastructure development in the community will continue to be lost. Mr. Speers asserted that currently systematic research and biological data sets are being treated as a cottage industry. The work is done on a shoestring and in isolated pockets, and there is no cohesive sharing of information within the community. The technology is now available to deal with vast amounts of information. Complex biological data can no longer be treated as disposable but data must now be fed into datasets of a scale that allow the complexity to be dealt with.
Mr. Speers reported that recently, with support from Agriculture, Environment, Forestry and the CMN, a workshop was held on establishing a Canadian biodiversity data policy framework. A huge amount of biodiversity data exists with different agencies but it is not linked and is hard to find. The recommendations of the workshop report were that a framework is needed, what the components of that framework should be, what are the barriers to its development, and what might be the potential benefits for the players. The barriers are not technological but are rather cultural. Information structure, database plans, etc. should be an integral part of the planning phase of biological studies.
The National Biodiversity Information Initiative was formed as a result of the workshop. Its purpose is to increase national ability to access authoritative biodiversity information electronically by facilitating the formation of a distributed federation of Canadian partners with the content, expertise, tools and willingness to share biodiversity data electronically. An initial focus will be on the scientific data sets and methodologies needed to facilitate electronic comparison, exchange and integration. This first phase is a fact-finding initiative as the basis for a possible second phase. Mr. Speers has been comparing similar initiatives in other countries, exploring who in Canada is willing to become a partner or contribute to this initiative, and so on. The other key activity is to identify potential pilot projects that could be used to demonstrate the value of these approaches and to bring in a number of sectors of the community.
Mr. Speers concluded that this ambitious initiative attempts to remedy the fact that although Canada is a leader in high technology, it is strongly dependent on a low technology natural resource base, and the essential linkage possible through biosystematics information is missing.
The Committee provided a number of comments on these ideas. For example, potential barriers include a “political” reluctance of some entities to share information with others. The ownership of data and use or potential misuse, and thus part of people’s reluctance to share, therefore also has to be addressed.
In particular, the Committee noted that even a massive information centre is useless if there are no funds to collect good solid data to start with. Mr. Speers responded that for this reason pilot projects need to acquire excellent data sets as well as handle them. Funds are currently being wasted because archives of good quality data are not being built.
The Committee also recognized the need for someone or some agency to take a leadership role to ensure the future success of such a project, and finding the leadership is a key goal for the current initiative. The Committee also considered the nature of potential projects, and several possible examples.
In concluding the agenda item, Mr. Speers repeated his requests that information about the NBII be disseminated and also that ideas for pilot projects be forwarded.
1. Regional developments
Information from different regions of Canada that was of potential interest to the Survey was reviewed, including the following items.
In British Columbia, graduate students working on projects related to biodiversity at the province’s universities, including some recent arrivals, were mentioned. An update about funding possibilities through Forest Renewal British Columbia was provided, including recent uncertainties and current availability. A report on the Brooks Peninsula (an ice age refugium on Vancouver Island) has been published, including a chapter dealing with the insects.
In the prairies, considerable effort has been spent in developing the various EMAN sampling protocols. Members of the Committee reviewed certain broad pest surveys and faunal — especially forest biodiversity — work in the prairies. Dr. Rob Roughley had received considerable television and newspaper publicity for his study of the tall-grass prairie in Manitoba.
In Ontario, several faunal projects continue from the University of Guelph and elsewhere, not all of them yet with specific funding. A publication on the Insects of Algonquin Park has been well received.
In Quebec, the Canadian Forest Service collection at the Laurentian Forestry Centre is being moved into larger facilities with room for future expansion. Several research projects on diversity or systematics are underway, notably from CFS and from Macdonald College. A list of the Lepidoptera of Quebec is in press. A recent compilation of exceptional forest systems in Quebec, published by the provincial government, is very useful for the selection of study sites.
Studies of dragonflies continue in the Atlantic provinces. Activities of the Acadian Entomological Society, the Newfoundland entomology group, and work related to the Newfoundland insectarium continue. The CFS move to Cornerbrook is underway, but only one entomologist will be going there. Discussions about collections in the St. John’s area are continuing.
With respect to developments in the Arctic region, a recent article (published in Northline) links an active northern studies program with Canada’s credibility in the world, especially among the other circumpolar nations, and on this basis urges increased levels of funding for the components actively supporting arctic research. In contrast, none of the substantial funds for the Canadian Polar Commission are contributed toward scientific projects.
2. Other matters
The Committee also considered matters such as membership of the Scientific Committee (several members retired by rotation), operations of the Biological Survey secretariat, and liaisons with and information about organizations outside Canada. For example, the Costa Rican INBIO is administering substantial funds derived from debt forgiven by Canada, in particular for a bioprospecting facility in Costa Rica.
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