|General information and editorial notes
News and Notes
Summary of a meeting of the Scientific Committee for the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods), October 1998
1. Arthropods of Canadian grasslands
Following his work on arthropods at CFB Suffield, Dr. Finnamore is scheduled to make a major presentation to the military and others concerning biodiversity analysis. The arthropod data are being used to put forward the case for maintaining the National Wildlife Area on the Suffield base. The arthropod data suggest, for example, that grazing be restricted during climatic extremes (a reversal of the present policy). Elk have been reintroduced as a dominant grazer. Elk do not congregate in large herds (unlike the horses that were removed earlier from the base) and so do not destroy sensitive dune systems. Dr. Finnamore expects to continue his involvement in Suffield because a dam has been proposed, giving potential to study the riparian zone along the South Saskatchewan river that flows through Suffield.
2. Seasonal adaptations
As a result of a contact made in Birmingham, Dr. Danks will be presenting an invited lecture and participating on a discussion panel at an International Japanese-Czech New Year Seminar in Entomology on Seasonal Adaptation in Insects and Mites. This meeting will be attended among others by the many Japanese scientists who work on diapause and related key themes for the seasonal adaptations project. After the conference, lectures and discussions on similar themes will be held at Kochi University.
Plans for cooperative work between Dr. Danks, Dr. Olga Kukal and Dr. David Levin (University of Victoria) on certain aspects of cold-hardiness continue to develop.
3. Potential projects
Dr. David Larson outlined preliminary work towards a potential project on the insects of Newfoundland. He provided updated information about topics such as record-keeping, available lists and databases, keys, and other background materials.
4. Other projects
Other scientific priorities
1. Arthropod fauna of soils
Dr. Behan-Pelletier is involved in research funded by NSF on Soil Biodiversity and Ecosystem function in tall-grass prairie. The grant is held by Diana Wall (previously Freckman) at Colorado State University. The groups studied will be mites, Collembola and nematodes, and the site is the Konza LTER - the largest remaining tract of tall-grass prairie in North America. This NSF project is being matched by a NERC supported project on upland grassland at Sourhope, Scotland.
Students from the University of Victoria and the University of Calgary, along with 13 other students, took a course on oribatid mites at the Ohio State University in summer 1998, taught by Dr. Roy Norton. Ms. Guldborg Søvik, a student in Oslo, is joining a research ship which will go through the high arctic for 6 months to 1 year and she will be collecting soil mites. Dr. Danks noted that an article by Ms. Søvik on this voyage will appear in the 1998 issue of Arctic Insect News.
The Database of Ecological Research Projects (DERP), reported on at previous BSC meetings, will be released in the fall of 1998. Dr. Behan-Pelletier had expected the database to be released in the summer, but hopes that the delays will have ensured a better product.
The 7th biennial meeting of the Soil Ecology Society will be held at the Field Museum of Natural History Chicago, May 23-26, 1999. Dr. Dac Crossley retired in October 1998. A conference on: AInvertebrates as Webmasters in Ecosystems@ was held to celebrate his retirement. Dr. Crossley has had an enormous influence on soil ecology in the United States. The joint meeting of the Entomological Society of America and the American Phytopathological Society in Las Vegas in November 1998 will have a symposium on Soil Health including an invited talk by Dr. Behan-Pelletier and Dr. Finnamore on assessing soil arthropods - implications for soil health.
2. Old-growth forests
Dr. Ring reported on work in old-growth forests in B.C., and on a proposal for a Wilderness Park, in the mountains north of Vancouver, being promoted by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Dr. Scudder reviewed other studies in B.C. old-growth forests, pertaining chiefly to the effects of clear cuts or selective logging and access roads on carabid beetles.
Dr. Ring reported that at Rocky Point the canopy access system and specialized microclimatic station are being taken over by the University of Victoria. This area of old-growth Douglas fir is close to the University, and will be a great asset to studies. The canopy access systems in the Carmanah old-growth forest (now a park) have been dismantled for safety reasons. There has been a great deal of media attention recently from Canada and elsewhere on the work in old-growth forests in B.C.
3. Invasions and reductions
4. Endangered species
New terms of reference for COSEWIC had earlier been adopted by the Wildlife Ministers. COSEWIC will report directly to a newly created Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC), including Canadian Wildlife Ministers, and hence will be an official body for considering legislation. The independent scientific process by which species are listed by COSEWIC will continue. However, the new structure also means that the subcommittee chairs, independent scientists who previously voted directly on species status, will no longer have voting status. Only delegates (political appointees) will make the final decisions on species status. This change has caused great concern. Dr. Scudder reported that many senior scientists had requested a meeting with the Minister because of this concern. To date there has been no response, so that the issue may have to be taken to the media. The new endangered species legislation is expected to be reintroduced to Parliament before the end of the year, and unofficial reports indicate that it will be similar to the original bill, which died on the order paper when the government was dissolved. Members of the Committee added that it would be better to have no legislation than poor legislation, because passing any Endangered Species Act would lead the public to think that the problem has been solved.
5. Funding for biodiversity projects
6. Error rates in identifications
7. Geographic data
Dr. Wheeler suggested that the key issue might be the need to adopt data standards on labels, such as the Geographic Positioning System coordinates emphasized by some members. He offered to consider the matter further in order to make a recommendation at the spring meeting of the Committee.
8. Scientific representation on international biodiversity forums
Members of the Committee cited observations that suggest that it is government policy not to send scientists to these forums because they are not trusted to follow the government's position. Thus, at the Biodiversity Forum meetings documents are prepared for the Conference of the Parties (COP) for example through the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), and they are written by government personnel. Non-government individuals have sometimes objected to the content on the grounds that the information is not scientifically correct but to no avail. Some scientists have even advised the Biodiversity Convention Office that they will no longer endorse such documents. Canada has an advisory committee but it is comprised of experts in technology and molecular science. The Canadian Committee and the American President's scientific technology advisory committee recently met to discuss common issues. The Americans wanted to talk about biodiversity but the Canadian committee did not have a member with appropriate background. Submissions have been made to the Prime Minister's Office to add biologists to that advisory committee but no response or even acknowledgement has been received.
It was noted that the Biological Survey Committee in effect is an NGO but, along with other NGO's, it is never invited to these types of meetings. One possibility of good scientific input into the COP, bypassing SBSTTA and the Biodiversity Forum, comes from DIVERSITAS. DIVERSITAS is sponsored by a variety of international groups, although not Canada. However, DIVERSITAS prepared documentation for the last COP meeting which was clearly superior to the material prepared by SBSTAA. Initiatives pertaining to DIVERSITAS, and other interested bodies, will be pursued further.
9. Dissemination of biodiversity information
Dr. Behan-Pelletier had proposed that the Survey address what sort of products (that give information in the area of biodiversity and that might enhance the Survey's profile) should be put on the Survey's web site. Such faunal and biodiversity information available from the Survey and its cooperators would be much more detailed than the general information currently on the site and also much more detailed than the species lists on the ITIS site, for example. A subcommittee chaired by Dr. Anderson agreed to look at this issue broadly, in order to develop a longer-term plan, including what should be posted, technical issues, funding, and so on.
Dr. Huber and Dr. Anderson reported for the Surveys project on faunal analysis and gaps in expertise that commitments have been received from a number of people to work on specific groups. Posting the information on a web site as it is received may help to encourage contributors because they will see that a product is being developed. Dr. Anderson and Dr. Huber agreed to investigate some of the technical aspects of posting the information on the web, in the context of the wider web site investigations.
10. Monitoring of continuing priorities for work on Canadian faunas
Liaison and exchange of information
1. Canadian Museum of Nature
In response to the country-wide opinion that Canadians want to see their national natural science collections, an exhibit is being developed under the working title Just another millennium. Several travelling exhibits will draw on the breadth of the natural science collections and allow more national access to Canadians.
Dr. Mark Graham, Director, Research Services, Canadian Museum of Nature, reported that a partnership program through NSERC to support graduate students studying systematic research is now in place. The program will promote graduate research in systematics in Canada and provide practical work experience in natural history collections within a professional setting. Seven organizations have agreed so far to supplement the NSERC funding.
Dr. Graham also reported that the CMN is in a position to offer visiting fellowships next year. With members of the Committee, he also reviewed some other initiatives pertaining to biodiversity, Museums and database work.
The Standing Committee of Environment and Sustainable Development, chaired by the Honourable Charles Caccia, has convened a hearing on issues pertaining to systematics research in Canada and bioinformatics. The CMN, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and the Canadian Forest Service were invited to make presentations, and the Auditor General will also report on how Canada is addressing its biodiversity commitments. Dr. Graham hopes that this forum will heighten the awareness of systematics research, the level of expertise in Canada and what needs to be done to improve the situation. Dr. Graham and Dr. Smith hoped that the hearing might lead to some formalization of the activities of the Federal Biosystematics Partnership in such a way that it would be able to report on progress being made towards the secure future of biodiversity research in Canada. Dr. Scudder and other members of the Committee hoped that there would be a clear submission about the fate of that area of expertise in the country as a whole. For example, the University of British Columbia has recently recommended that it get rid of all UBC collections because they can no longer be curated properly, one example of a serious national problem.
Ms. DiCosimo noted that the CMN is able to bring the results of a national consultation, which also provides examples in this arena. Dr. Roberts-Pichette added her opinion that the hearing is an excellent opportunity to make key information more widely known.
2. Biological Resources Program, ECORC
Dr. McKenzie reported that on June 16-18 a meeting was held about the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). A number of taxonomists and information technology specialists discussed participation in this major international initiative. It was agreed that ECORC would work towards a partnership with ITIS, to support the development of a credible authoritative North American source of information (see http://www.itis.usda.gov/itis/whatsnew.html).
On July 9-10 ECORC hosted a Canadian Biodiversity Information Initiative (CANBII) meeting which was attended by 30 individuals representing collection-based organizations in Canada and the U.S. Plans were developed for the first module of a collaborative long-term on-line project on the biota of Canada. The prototype module will be the butterflies of Canada, intended to demonstrate the utility of collections and observational data as sources of information to support decisions affecting conservation and the sustainable use of biological resources.
In response to enquiries, Dr. McKenzie explained that an agreement is now signed for ECORC to become a Canadian representative for ITIS, but other Canadian taxonomists would become involved. ITIS is currently on the web but the quality control is very uneven and participants from ECORC have been working with the Americans to bring the system into a more user-friendly environment, and to ensure that the information is trustworthy.
Dr. Danks pointed out that there seems to be much more profile and saleability these days for databasing (such as ITIS and CANBII), which in most cases involves the processing of existing information. The key need, however, is to do the systematics research that provides validated information for the databases, and to ensure that the infrastructures that support this research, such as expertise, training, and collections, are in place. Dr. Finnamore and others pointed out that construction of the database enables funding to be secured. Dr. Danks explained his fear that the product currently being sold to science managers involves the handling of existing information only and that when the existing information dries up the managers may feel that they have been short changed, because resources will have to increase greatly to make any more of the product available. It is important to keep the long-term infrastructure needs firmly in mind.
Dr. Smith provided a brief update on CANBII, including its objectives to deal with the biota of Canada, metadata standards and the integration of biodiversity information into Geographic Information System frameworks.
3. Entomological Society of Canada
Dr. Danks reminded the Committee that at the last meeting, he reported on a number of significant changes the Society underwent as a result of decisions following a major Strategic Review. For example, the memoir series was discontinued and the avenue for producing The Canadian Entomologist was changed. All of the main elements of the Societys restructuring have been completed during the year, for example additional detailed revisions to the documents that govern operations of the Society (the Standing Rules and Committee Guidelines), changes in ESC staff and resulting personnel negotiations, and plans for a continuing long-term contract with the NRC Research Press for production of The Canadian Entomologist. The Society is now well placed to continue for the future. The Society continues to be proud of its various efforts in publication and support of entomology. Nevertheless, even as progress is made, new and potentially worrying issues emerge to prevent the Society from becoming complacent. For example, some loss of subscriptions has taken place, partly due to the economic crisis in Asia.
Dr. Danks added that the annual scientific meeting of the Society, as well as meetings of the Governing Board, take place Oct. 31 B Nov. 4 in Quebec City, so results of those deliberations cannot yet be reported.
4. Canadian Forest Service
5. Parks Canada
Mr. Rivard pointed out that the chapter on National Parks addresses the maintenance of the ecological integrity of National Parks. The groups of species looked at are vertebrates and vascular plants. These groups were chosen because of the availability of data. In that regard he mentioned that, as Dr. Danks had commented earlier, the sources of new taxonomic information are drying up.
Mr. Rivard noted the reports conclusions about maintaining ecological integrity. The majority of species recorded this century are still in the Parks, but there are several classes of change. For example, extirpated species are especially large birds and mammals that were hunted. Parks should not be studied as islands but rather in terms of land use: for example road density inside and outside the Parks is closely correlated. There are exotic species and North American incidentals so that the situation is a dynamic one.
Dr. Smith noted that Agriculture received a request from a contractor who had a contract with Parks for biodiversity assessment, but was not involved from the planning stages and so could not justify putting resources into the identifications requested. The only other option would be to charge the usual contractor rate. Such an incident underlines the lack of connections within the federal government, hindering integrated studies of biodiversity. Dr. Scudder added that he too has received requests from contractors, for example for complete lists of species in the Rocky Mountain parks. Such requests demonstrate a lack of understanding by many of the people who are getting involved in biodiversity studies.
Mr. Rivard pointed out that Parks Canada is very decentralized, which hinders the coordination of information. In response to questions, he noted that there is a policy commitment to inventory the species in Canadas national parks but this does not necessarily translate into funding. Parks has been hit with several budget cuts and downsized considerably, and is moving to special agency status. On the other hand, one of Parks initiatives is to try to change the focus on to more specific aspects of biodiversity. Mr. Rivard thought that the likelihood of funding would increase if the value of such inventories can be made clear to the people who make the decisions. For example, results from some past surveys of invertebrates were never used explicitly. Dr. Graham commented that National Parks are widely distributed across the country and managed in such a way that it should be possible to devise and articulate a scientific approach that relates to management requirements.
Dr. Anderson reminded the Committee that in the U.S. the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is undertaking an all taxon biodiversity inventory (ATBI). Their web site [http://www.discoverlife.org] includes a complete rationale and background for inventories.
Mr. Cannings reported on a small success story with respect to a dragonfly survey in B.C. National Parks, promoted because someone at the park was keen and willing to help support the study. Dr. Smith concurred, saying that a contact who greatly aided Agriculture's survey in the past was transferred and the replacement was not as interested. This demonstrates the need for continuity but also confirms the problem of lack of connections among federal agencies and the lack of a national strategic overview to address biodiversity issues.
6. Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network
The Biodiversity Science Board met in June. Dr. Finnamore resigned as its chair but Dr. Scudder agreed to serve out the remaining term as interim chair. A report is being prepared by the Board about Canada's biodiversity actions.
Dr. Smith explained that the Ecological Monitoring Coordinating Office (EMCO) would like a group of interested biologists to come up with recommendations on what should be measured at EMAN sites, to encourage consistent assessment of biodiversity across the country. Arriving at these recommendations would require a workshop or series of discussions with various points of view (taxonomists, ecologists or other appropriate experts) on what kinds of things can be measured relatively easily and cost effectively in a coordinated and standardized way. Dr. Smith, supported by others present, proposed that the Biological Survey Scientific Committee consider taking the lead in putting together the necessary consultations or workshop(s) and ensuring that appropriate interested parties are represented. Drs. Smith, Scudder and Shorthouse agreed to form a subcommittee to explore the possibility of the Survey's involvement and they subsequently arranged a workshop for February 1999.
Dr. Roberts-Pichette provided information about the International Biological Observation year in 2001, a field course this summer with high school students at Long Point Biosphere Reserve which tested the earthworm protocol, and the opening of the Eastern Ontario Biodiversity Museum which received a large part of the natural history collection from Carleton University. The museum will be used as a centre for training local amateurs for biological observation. The Committee discussed the history of this collection and its welfare.
The Mixedwood Plains assessment of species diversity has been on the web for some time. The Montane Cordillera report is in its final stages and is expected to be available on the web before the end of the year. The Prairie assessment is now underway and hopefully will be completed within a year.
Information about the EMAN national meeting in Victoria, January 19-23, 1999, is also on the web: http://www.cciw.ca/eman-temp/events/national99/intro.html.
7. Parasitology module, Canadian Society of Zoologists
The Directory of Parasitologists is on the web and changes can be submitted electronically. The perch project is proceeding slowly although new data continue to accumulate. The national stickleback parasite survey started last year and the first datasets have been contributed from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and B.C.
Dr. Marcogliese noted that over the past year he has noticed that the remaining employed systematists have less and less time to take on students or conduct personal-interest projects, because resources have decreased while administrative or managerial responsibilities have increased. Dr. Marcogliese reported that the parasitology component of the ATBI of the Great Smoky Mountains Park has ended. Apparently the coordinators for the parasitology Taxonomic Working Group have resigned, perceiving the project set up as flawed.
Dr. Marcogliese reviewed other projects and involvements of Canadian parasitologists. Dr. Brian Emmett had appeared before the Standing Committee of Environment and Sustainable Development in May to answer questions about climate change, environmental assessment, biodiversity, sustainable development and policy. A number of items are behind schedule and there is no audit of provincial involvement and plans. Dr. Marcogliese reported that the Institute for International Parasitology, a unit of CABI in St. Albans, U.K., has been closed and the important collections split up. He reviewed meetings, publications and other topics of interest.
1. Regional developments
In British Columbia, Dr. Ring reported on the gypsy moth problem in British Columbia. Recently the United States Department of Agriculture has hinted that B.C. might be quarantined unless sufficient measures are taken against the gypsy moth. Dr. Ring reported that the Entomological Society of British Columbia is alive and well with a good contingent of students and is in a sound financial position. There were a number of excellent speakers at the annual meeting, and several ESBC members were honoured there with life memberships. Mr. Cannings gave more details about the dragonfly inventory project mentioned previously, a regional project of the Royal BC Museum in the Kootenays. The goal of this multi-disciplinary project is to produce both useful scientific products such as keys and distribution maps as well as information for students and people who might like to monitor the local dragonfly population. Dr. Scudder reviewed the projects of students at UBC working on biodiversity and allied projects. He continues his long-term study on the ecology reserve in the South Okanagan. New funding has been received from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation for a long-term study on ecosystem renewal and ecosystem recovery from grazing. In addition, funding has been received to launch a major assessment of the possibilities for conservation and development in the South Okanagan, one of the most threatened habitats in Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Service. The ultimate goal is to have complete plans for the whole of the South Okanagan, one with the emphasis on conservation, another with the emphasis on development, and various intermediate plans that both conservationists and developers might accept. This is the biggest and most detailed project of this sort ever undertaken in Canada.
In Alberta, Dr. Finnamore reported that he had received notification in July that negotiations between Shell and the Peruvian government had collapsed and that the major project there was given 24 hours to remove its crews from the field. Dr. Finnamore estimated that 14 million specimens had been collected. The material is now in Lima and the Smithsonian Institution is currently negotiating the fate of the specimens. The Provincial Museum of Alberta is undergoing some changes. Database development and digital information management have been identified as one of the priorities for the museum, notably distributed database systems, whereby any database can be put on the web as a searchable database. A 100-million-dollar expansion proposal for the museum has been put forward, and Dr. Finnamore proposed a substantial expansion of the invertebrate program, which has gone forward for a final decision. Dr. Finnamore also reported that most of the western Parks have some level of programs to study arthropods. Dr. Finnamore attributes the success of these initiatives to younger managers who are receptive to arthropod studies. Dr. Floate added that the $30 million building expansion for the Lethbridge research centre continues and is scheduled to be completed in 2001. He has received funding for a biodiversity survey with a colleague at the University of Lethbridge to look at the effects of grassland fire. A positive report about Dr. George Ball=s work on carabid beetles, as professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, had appeared in the University of Alberta Alumni Magazine.
In Ontario, Dr. Marshall reported that Dr. David Gaskin, Department of Zoology, University of Guelph, died recently. A new entomologist has been hired in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Dr. Rebecca Hallett. Dr. Marshall circulated two products from a small publisher from Guelph who is keen on producing a series of naturalists guides to living things in Ontario. The items can be produced quickly and cheaply and several entomological guides are in process now. Dr. Smith announced that plans have been submitted to retrofit the Neatby Building in Ottawa. Dr. Ball had characterized the recently published revision of the tribe Noctuini, family Noctuidae, by Dr. Don Lafontaine as a taxonomic tour de force, covering 169 species in 31 genera, which reflects very favorably on BRP - ECORC. Dr. Anderson mentioned that one of the priorities at the Canadian Museum of Nature is implementing a new database system for the collection.
In Quebec, Dr. Wheeler reported that in Ste.-Foy, Mr. Georges Pelletier has been doing some insect surveys in a variety of forest areas that were affected by the ice storm. The vote for the official Quebec insect emblem is in its final stages. The Redpath Museum at McGill has recently received a grant from the museums= assistance program to pay a programmer / biologist to put together a virtual exhibit on Quebec biodiversity. Arthropods will figure prominently in this database. A grant proposal has been prepared to develop an interactive multimedia insect identification game, which would involve major input from the Lyman Museum to assemble images and other biological information. McGill University has recently taken possession of a large donation of land on Île Perrot. It is hoped that arthropod survey work will be done there next summer. Dr. Wheeler reminded the Committee of McGill University's desire to upgrade their field stations. A proposal was submitted to the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to upgrade the infrastructure at all field stations. The proposal has passed the first screening phase and a more detailed proposal must now be submitted. Many graduate students in systematics and diversity projects are working or will soon begin at Macdonald College.
In Newfoundland, the Newfoundland Insectarium in Deer Lake is now open.
For the Arctic, Dr. Ring commented on a recent item in the Globe and Mail newspaper that pointed out that in Canada only about 20 cents per capita is spent on polar research whereas in Australia the amount spent is $2.30 per capita; the U.S. spends $3 per capita; and even Russia, which is under a lot of financial pressure, spends more than Canada. He noted some planned studies in Canada next year by overseas researchers. The Northern Scientific Training Program (NSTP) is alive and well and will be on the agenda at the upcoming meeting of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS). One of the items on the agenda is the new concept of a university of the arctic. This would be a circumpolar university without a central campus but with campuses throughout the north probably administered from Ottawa and Copenhagen and involving all the circumpolar nations. Dr. Ring also noted and circulated some relevant publications, for example on global change.
2. Other matters
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