By Monica Seidel
#1. Smaller Network
The environmental field is often a very close-knit group of individuals and organizations. When you move to a northern community, that group gets even smaller. Within a few months at my job at the wildlife rehabilitation centre, I had the opportunity to partner with many of the leading groups and individuals in the area. Why? In my experience, reaching out with a cold call or email to someone in a smaller community is almost always more successful than reaching out to someone in a big city. This makes sense! There is less competition for their time, and there is often a greater desire to collaborate to increase awareness about both of your small organizations and missions.
#2. More Freedom
The organization I worked for was a very small non-profit. I was the only staff member when I started, which meant I could plan and execute different projects largely as I saw fit. I was given control, again, even if it was only a few months into my time there. It also allowed me the freedom to identify skills or programs that I wasn’t very proficient with and work on them. Not having concrete objectives (or pathways to achieve those objectives) gave me the freedom to essentially build my portfolio as I wanted!
#3. Amazing Outdoor “Work” Space
If you love the outdoors and having literally no one around for kilometres, you need to get yourself up to Northern Ontario. The wilderness and abundant wildlife is amazing, and was the absolute perfect setting for my job. Want to get workshop attendees excited about protecting wildlife? Go outside and explore. Having a stressful day and want to get away from people? Go outside and explore. Want to scope out locations to release animals while also getting some exercise and fresh air? Go outside and explore! Northern Ontario was the perfect setting for my work life and duties, but it also provided me a constant reminder of why I was in the environmental field.
#4. Less Competition
This is by far the most important reason I advocate others to move to a smaller community! There are fewer people living in these cities to start with, and most new graduates don’t want to move hours and hours away for a position. Graduating from university provided me with the perfect opportunity to move wherever I wanted – I had nothing tying me down to one location. If you think a job description perfectly suits you but you don’t love the location, apply anyway! At “worst”, it forces you to work on your application (and maybe even interview) skills. I knew that the position was in my desired field, and I knew how competitive the field was. I was very passionate about the organization’s mission and the job’s duties, and that became the reason for me to stay and find things I liked about the city.
Monica is an Environmental Science graduate from Queen’s University. Professionally she is focused on creating fun and engaging education experiences for audiences of all ages, and marketing using social media and creating videos. Here she is pictured looking for fish and turtles on a biology field course.
A young turtle gets a metal band stuck around its body; its body becomes deformed as it grows and the band does not break.
A pigeon loses a toe from floss or thread getting caught around its foot.
Fish ingest microbeads and that plastic is in turn ingested by humans that eat the fish.
The plastic island is 16x bigger than previously thought.
My dog ends up in the emergency room and almost died because he licked what seemed to be a littered marijuana cigarette butt in the lane.
These are just a few examples of the many problems that occur from littering.
I was in Cuba last year and noticed quite an amount of litter along the road and the beach. I went snorkeling and picked up a wrapper out of the ocean. I wondered how Cuba deals with garbage and recyclable products. On the resort, we tried to use our reusable water bottles or have drinks in glasses instead of plastic cups. As we had to use bottled water, I packed some empty ones in my suitcase to bring back to recycle in case there was no recycling on the resort. My dog was quite happy as he loves to play with the bottles!
At home in Toronto, litter is visible daily. While walking my dog, I observe trash in the lanes, loose bottles in the school yards, and poop bags or coffee cups in leaf bags sitting out for collection. Yet Toronto has quite the recycling program. Even plastic bags like milk bags and grocery store produce bags are recyclable now! They just have to be put all together in one plastic bag since individual ones can get caught in machines.
So why is there still litter? Laziness? Lack of consideration? Lack of caring? Lack of seeing the impacts of littering firsthand? It really is not that difficult to put items in their proper place, put a wrapper in your pocket until you get to a garbage can, or carry that empty coffee cup one more block until you get home. Even cutting the zips off Ziploc bags so they can be recycled is not much effort; it becomes routine.
Recycling was ingrained in me through school and my parents ensuring I put items in the appropriate bins. The school curriculum has not changed. Some schools and businesses are even getting more bins on site, such as compost bins in the bathroom for paper towel.
Ontario has a new strategy and new legislation that lays out Ontario’s vision for a circular economy and goals of a zero-waste Ontario with zero greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector: divert 30% of waste by 2020, 50% by 2030, and 80% by 2050. This is because each Ontarian, on average, produces more than 850 kilograms of waste every year. For the past 10 years, only 25 per cent of our waste has been recycled and the situation has not improved. This means that over eight million tonnes of our waste is sent to a landfill each year. The waste sector is also responsible for approximately six per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions we produce.
Achieving this goal will require change and sustained leadership. The four objectives, in summary, are as follows. More information can be found online here.
I think this is a very admirable goal and I am curious how it will go over with both consumers and manufacturers. I think we can do it if some attitudes change. Lists of which items go where can be printed from the internet and put above bins to teach or reinforce people about what goes where. Parents can give their kids incentives to recycle or make games out of it. The younger kids are taught, the more likely the habit will stick. It can be part of a routine. Join shoreline cleanups and find the most unique or grossest item or have a contest as to how many cigarette butts you can pick up (my friend and I picked up 2000 in a couple of hours). You will be helping to save wildlife, keep the environment clean, and even protect human health.
Katherine Wright has always been passionate about wildlife and wildlife conservation. She has a Master's of Science wherein she studied two populations of at-risk humpback dolphins. She has worked with many species as a keeper at the Toronto Zoo and is currently with the Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme that focuses on conserving wetlands and their reptile and amphibian inhabitants.
Hello Emerging Leaders for Biodiversity!
Apologies for my lack of blogging during the past two and a half weeks while on the ground at the Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) 14th Conference of the Parties in Egypt. During my time there as the youth for the Canadian Delegation I was fully entrenched in all aspects of the conference. I invite you to check out the recently released second edition of the "CBD in a nutshell" guidebook published by the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, the official avenue for youth participation in the conference, which explains the full history, processes and areas for engagement in its 200 pages. A PDF version is available online via their website.
To share my experience at the COP, I would like to start with a description of my daily activities followed by a series of links to help you understand the outcomes of the meeting.
First thing in the morning I would sit in on the daily Canadian Delegation briefing, which would summarize the on goings of the previous day, including the Agenda Items in the halls, side events and bilateral meetings with other Parties or non-Parties.
Agenda items are first discussed in the main plenary hall, and then in working groups based on their categorization (namely administrative or scientific). If the item is highly controversial and Parties (states) cannot come to agree on policy wording, they will be invited to participate in contact groups or even smaller friends of the chair groups to come to agreements. Controversial items at this COP included digital sequencing information, synthetic biology and the post 2020 framework.
Side events, information booths and parallel events are run by various Parties and non-parties (NGOs, youth, businesses, industry representatives, Indigenous groups, sub-regional governments, etc.) to highlight relevant projects, reporting, implementation success stories and other topics of interest to participants at lunch and dinner times, as well as throughout the negotiations. These side events were more interesting to me than the negotiations due to their enlightening discussions on the implementation of the CBD policies.
Many members of the delegation, including the Heads of delegation, would participate in private meetings throughout the two weeks to form alliances and share their positions with other Parties and non-parties on specific topics. One day, I was fortunate to join in on some bilateral discussions and witness the formation of such agreements and arrangements for future collaboration with NGOs and Parties.
The morning meetings then discussed the timetable for the day, which were posted at https://www.cbd.int/conferences/2018. As the conference went on, the timetable became more and more overloaded and often items would switch on a dime, requiring negotiators to always keep an eye on the timetable to make sure they didn't miss their chance in the spotlight, as the Chair did not let talks start if the room was half empty. The leads, back ups and supportive staff for each agenda item would make arrangements here in the chance of overlapping items on the table, as there was two negotiation halls and many people covering multiple items. The list of the day’s side and parallel events was also provided. If delegation members were running or promoting a side event, they would have the chance to speak a bit on it. The morning meeting then closed with any additional administrative details and a good luck for the day!
The next 10 hours were spent running between negotiation halls, the side events, bilateral meetings at the food court and semi-functional washrooms, always in a hurry with something important to do next! Hence, my full absorption and lack of blogging throughout the conference.
Now, as I find time to breathe back home, I will be going through the numerous summary reports to figure out what exactly were the political outcomes of this most recent conference of the parties. See links below!
Thanks for reading, and look to our next newsletter for a further, detailed summary on the policy outcomes and information on an upcoming platform for youth participation in Canada!
Kelsey is an Environmental Consultant with formal training in the field of Ecology. Kelsey holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in General Biology and International Development from the University of Guelph and a graduate certificate in Ecosystem Restoration.
In her role as Junior Ecologist, Field Support Staff and a GIS/CAD Technician, Kelsey assists with Ecological Land Classification inventories, mitigation plans, aquatic habitat assessments, wetland evaluations, tree health assessments and inventories, Significant Wildlife Habitat assessments and Species at Risk assessments.
She is Coordinator of Emerging Leaders for Biodiversity, sits on the board of the Ontario Environment Network, and held the youth spot on the Canadian Delegation at the recent COP14 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
It's that time again! A board member of Emerging Leaders for Biodiversity (ELB) is on her way to the United Nations (UN) Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) COP-14 in Egypt! See below for a re-cap of what CBD is… Previously provided by Thomas, ELB Chair, in 2016:
"We've all heard about the Convention on Biological Biodiversity (CBD) and it sounds super fancy, but what is it? I could tell you that it was born out of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and officially came into being in 1993. I could tell you that its building blocks were being put into place in 1987 - maybe even further back in 1972. At the end of the day, to understand what the CBD is, all you need is one word: Treaty. The CBD is an international UN treaty tasked with creating national strategies that conserve biodiversity, promote the sustainable use of biodiversity and share, in a fair and equitable way, the benefits that arise from genetic resources. In simple terms, the CBD is an international treaty concerned with biological diversity."
Over the next three weeks Kelsey, the current Coordinator of ELB, will be providing background information and updates on the happenings of the convention as she represents the voice of youth on the Canadian Delegation. Stay tuned!
There has been an ongoing debate on Twitter about which is the better taxa: #BirdsVsFish. This debate stemmed from some friendly trash tweeting in 2015 between Patrick Doran (@pjdgreatlakes), Director of Conservation at the Nature Conservancy in Michigan, and Solomon David (@SolomonRDavid), an Assistant Professor at Nichols State University. Since then, the #BirdsVsFishdebate has grown to a much larger audience, with scientists vehemently (but kindly) defending their study taxa.
The #BirdsVsFish debate is fun for me because I have a passion for both birds and fish. In my present position as a Visiting Fellow with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, my research is dedicated to the conservation and recovery of freshwater fishes. However, I didn’t start my research career studying fishes, in fact, my research career began as an undergraduate in Connecticut studying migratory waterbirds. Studying birds is what got me excited about doing conservation research, but I’ve now dedicated my career to conserving fish! Clearly I’m torn in the #BirdsVsFishdebate!
A great part of the #BirdsVsFishdebate, and more broadly social media, is how it provides a platform for scientists to talk about their work or study species. I would argue that one of the most important jobs of a scientist is to communicate their science (see the Twitter hashtag #scicomm to see what scientists are doing all around the world).
There are many outlets for scientists to communicate their work and the choice is largely dependent on the intended audience. Most often, scientists write technical reports or peer-reviewed journal articles to satisfy professional duties, but these outlets are rarely read by people outside of their scientific discipline and may be inaccessible to people that lack journal or magazine subscriptions. As such, scientists are frequently getting involved in other forms of communication, including writing for blogs (like this one!) and through social media engagement like #BirdsVsFish.
Social media engagement can provide several benefits to scientists that have only recently been realized. For academics or those publishing in the peer-reviewed literature, highly tweeted journal articles have been demonstrated to be more frequently cited than less tweeted articles, and maintaining a social media presence can allow users to access new research coming out in their fields. Outside of academia, engaging in social media as a biodiversity professional can lead to new connections with other professionals, it can provide a platform for you to enhance the outreach of your science, and it can inspire others to engage in science.
As community members with an interest in protecting biodiversity, we have a responsibility to communicate why biodiversity is important and how it impacts each and every one of us on a daily basis. For me, I choose to tweet, write blogs, give oral presentations at workshops and conferences, write technical reports, and write peer-reviewed journal articles. As well, if you lend me your ear, I will talk it off about the diversity of fishes in Canada. How do you choose to communicate your science?
Karl Lamothe is a Visiting Fellow at the Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In his current position, Karl is working towards improving the science of species reintroductions for freshwater fishes protected under the Species at Risk Act. Karl received his PhD from the University of Toronto where he was interested in ways to measure the resilience of freshwater ecosystems to human disturbances. Karl is active on Twitter: @KarlLamothe and you can read more about his research on his website: http://www.karllamothe.com.
You know when you are hiking a trail of packed earth, through a forest, and suddenly you hear the trickle of a babbling brook? That’s what I get excited about. These streams that seem to effortlessly find their way through the forest, cascading over boulders and creating crystal clear pools. It strikes me that the gentle force of water will always find a way to flow. The beauty of the soft sound of water makes me stop and appreciate the ecosystem that it supports.
Streams are not only a beautiful force of nature, but provide so many functions to the ecosystem. You will be amazed at how much life there is in a stream. Kick some gravel and there are hundreds of bugs in a few square centimetres. If you ever get a chance to go on an electro-fish survey, I highly recommend it. The amount of fish hiding out of site in a stream will floor you. Coldwater streams are particularly interesting. The temperature usually results from direct contact with the water table. At the headwaters, cumulative impacts to the water quality are minimal. As you move downstream in the watershed, these cumulative impacts increase. Coldwater streams are clear, well oxygenated and cleaner. Perfect conditions for top predators like Brook Trout!
Many of these cold streams are warming up due to land use changes or historical degradation. It is almost impossible to create a new coldwater stream. Protecting and rehabilitating coldwater streams is very important, especially in Southern Ontario. Stream rehabilitation does not always need engineers, water physicists and government staff. At Trout Unlimited Canada (TUC), volunteer community groups and biologists work together to improve stream health all across Ontario. There are six chapters in Ontario that care for the streams in the watersheds they live in.
If you are interested in streams, want to educate yourself about stream rehabilitation or join a local working group; TUC is a great place to start. TUC is offering affordable workshops on Stream Rehabilitation Training in September 2018. Join a local chapter and participate in a work day to get some hands on experience. If you love the water but don’t have the time you can still support our work by becoming a member or donating.
One of our upcoming planned events:
*Check TUC Chapter Facebook events for more details on time and location
Laura is an Aquatic Biologist who spends her time coordinating stream restoration projects at Trout Unlimited Canada.
By Kathryn Norman
When I started university (or, if I’m being honest, throughout most of my life), narrowing down a field of interest was difficult for me. I sort of wanted to go into healthcare, but I was also really interested in ecology, physics, anthropology and so many other subjects. You can’t blame me – the world is pretty full of interesting stuff and neat things to learn about.
I chose to focus on the biological sciences, but even within those bounds there was a lot of choice. Brains are super interesting, so neurobiology was a must. Mucking around in swamps is fun, so some natural history and ecology field courses were needed too. Bioinformatics was new and exciting. Plants, also, are very cool. And animals! Don’t get me started! So many exciting animals.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to dump on any of the things I studied at university – if I could, I’d go back and study more! I’m just trying to set the stage for how I ended up focussing on none of those topics. Of the many fields I dabbled in, ecology really grabbed me. Concepts like the stability and resilience of ecosystems were fascinating. The number of different ways of asking questions about the natural world, and of finding answers, was novel. It didn’t hurt that I had some amazing professors and found the subject material intuitive.
I’m not sure where I first encountered the term “invasive species”, but I do remember the course that drew me into that field. It was a fourth year biology course called “Plants and Herbivores”. I think I mostly took it because I needed another half credit at that level. It also fit in my schedule, and I remembered having liked the prof in a previous class. I didn’t really grasp what it was about until it started, but this is where I got into the ins and outs of invasive species biology at an ecosystem level. I loved the class. I did fantastically well in it. Through it, I ended up with a summer research job, and found myself starting a Master’s degree studying invasion biology and biological control. You could actually say it changed my life.
I didn’t end up going on to a career in healthcare, or even in academia, but ended up in the environmental non-profit sector. I am in a position that allows me to stay up to date on many of the wide range of topics I had a hard time choosing between in undergrad. But I repeatedly come back to invasive species ecology, in one way or another.
Invasive species are one of the largest threats to biodiversity, in Canada and worldwide. We see this over and over again with examples such as Asian carp, zebra mussels, Phragmites australis and many others. Now we need to be on the lookout for a new potential threat: the Spotted Lanternfly.
Native to much of Asia, the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), is at least, well, easy to spot. A type of planthopper (family Fulgoridae, a type of “true bug”), it is brightly coloured in almost all of its life stages, about an inch long as an adult, and distinctively spotted. It is mainly a pest of trees and orchard fruit including grapes, and was first reported in North America in 2014 in Pennsylvania. Before coming to North America, it became a serious introduced pest in Korea, and there is fear for the orchard and logging industries in North America if it becomes widely established. Over 70 host species have been identified, including most orchard fruits and important tree species such as maple and birch, so the potential ecological and economic impact of this pest is large.
Perhaps the easiest way to spot an infested tree is the weeping wounds that the Spotted Lanternfly leaves in the bark – similar to if you drove a nail into a tree and then pulled it out, allowing sap to flow down the outside of the tree. Nymphs also secrete honeydew, which can accumulate around the base of plants (and also attract aphids). Both the sap and the honeydew may grow a sooty black mold. Egg masses are somewhat camouflaged, and are covered with a layer of a grey waxy substance. If spotted, they can be scraped off and the eggs killed with ethanol.
Fortunately, the Spotted Lanternfly has not yet been reported in Canada, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has recently added it to its list of regulated pests. Inspectors will check for evidence of it on cross-border shipments of tree products, and the general public is encouraged to report any suspicious specimens they find (which can be done through the CFIA contact form here.
Currently, the Spotted Lanternfly population in North America is confined to Pennsylvania, although the rest of the continental United States (and by extension, Canada) is considered at risk. On a positive note, there have been reports of an existing biocontrol agent (the egg parasitoid Ooencyrtus kuvanae, introduced in hopes of controlling Gypsy Moth populations in 1908) using Spotted Lanternfly egg masses. This represents a novel host for this parasitoid, and presents a possibility of biological control without much additional work.
Kathryn Norman is the editor of the Peace & Environment News, Communications Coordinator at Sustainable Eastern Ontario, and a communications volunteer with the Ontario Invasive Plant Council and Ontario Environment Network. She did her M.Sc. in invasive species ecology at Carleton University.
By Erin Leigh Johnson
This past December I attended Canada’s Oceans: Towards 2020 symposium at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. This special symposium brought together Canadian ocean scientists, government officials, indigenous leaders, filmmakers and marine conservationists to discuss the critical problems our oceans face, and to explore the initiatives Canada is taking to address them. It was a follow-up to the ROM’s Canada’s Ocean and You event, which I also attended five years ago. But five years later, the oceans’ many problems have not changed. There’s still plastic pollution. Yet now, the issue has escalated. More and more tiny microplastic beads are polluting the oceans; they have even found a new home in our table salt. Our fleece sweaters are shedding plastic microfibers off in the wash, which then flow through our water systems and into the oceans. Overfishing too still remains a severe global issue. It puts the future of food security and incomes of many at risk. The symposium title, Canada’s Oceans: Towards 2020, refers to Canada's target to increase its marine and coastal protected areas by 10% by the year 2020. But is this target as good as it seems?
While the symposium did not discuss the regulations of Marine Protected Areas, they are still an important factor to consider. The largest-to-date proposed Marine Protected Area in Canada is the Laurentian Channel. It is an underwater valley in eastern Canada that has humpback whales, porbeagle sharks, leatherback sea turtles and other incredible marine life. Yet in 80% of this proposed protected area, oil and gas drilling activities will be permitted. How is this ocean protection? Proposed regulations such as this one need to be addressed. Marine Protected Areas with loopholes like these will not provide adequate protection for the marine life and precious environment they maintain.
What the Symposium panellists did discuss were the many exceptional projects that are improving the state of the oceans. Some of these include non-destructive fishing gear, improved fisheries management and the ban of plastic straws from Tofino, a city in British Columbia. Panellists also gave tips on how individuals can help conserve the oceans. People can write to parliament and buy seafood labelled “sustainably certified”. These labels ensure the seafood was caught using methods that are non-detrimental to the environment, and are from managed fisheries that do not support overfishing.
One of the things the symposium repeatedly emphasized was the need for us to become much better communicators of science and ocean issues. But how? How will we become communicators of these complicated issues, issues that are unimportant to many in our society? For me, the answer lies in thinking outside the box. We need to learn from industries different from our own: from marketers, from filmmakers, comedians and investors to name a few. These experts have different skillsets, which could help us effectively communicate ocean issues with new perspectives and insight. By collaborating, we could create innovative marketing plans, outreach programs and solutions to conserve the oceans.
Just think of what we could accomplish by looking through a different lens. And with that, I challenge all of us to step outside our boxes and learn a skill from a different industry, whether it is in marketing, business, finance, media, etc. We need the perspectives and innovative solutions that this kind of collaboration can provide to conserve our oceans.
Erin Leigh Johnson has a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and is a PADI Rescue Scuba Diver. She has worked as a researcher on three seasons of The Water Brothers, an award-winning documentary series about marine conservation and freshwater issues around the world. She has also given lectures about marine conservation issues aboard the luxury cruise line, the Paul Gauguin. Erin is very passionate about marine conservation issues and ocean stories.
By Shelby Gibson
“Hey! Are you looking for Pokemon?” one of the boys yelled across the road. After a moment or two of delay, I realized he was talking to me. Caught off guard, I wasn’t sure exactly how to respond. I wasn’t looking for Pokemon.
With a butterfly net large enough to catch a small dog, I was neck deep in tall-grass and wildflowers along the side of a back-country road. I was searching for bumble bees. It had been reported that a somewhat rare species had previously been found at this location. That’s what I was looking for.
In a way, I guess I was searching for a Pokemon.
While I didn’t find the rare species that I had been after, I did manage to find a great diversity of bumble bee species at this location.
What many people don’t know is that there are nearly 20, 000 different species of bees in the world. That’s right! 20, 000. When we think of bees it is often of the honeybee, doing our agricultural housekeeping for us.
Humans and honeybees have a relationship that dates back thousands of years. For centuries, we have observed the honeybee as a social colony, as a pollinator of our food, and as a producer of honey. Similar to the relationship we might now have with a dog, honeybees historically played an important role in human civilization. With that kind of history, it is no wonder the honeybee is the most prominent pollinator we think of today. When we do so, however, we are forgetting the wild, native bees that surround us every day.
With the knowledge that there are 20, 000 species of bees in the world, and that honeybees make up just 1, searching for these wild bees can become like searching for a Pokemon. Some bees are so common it seems as though they are everywhere. Some bees choose to make an appearance every couple of years or so. Some bees an avid biologist might only have the chance to see once in their lifetime. These are the bees that exist in the wild, living in their native habitat, ensuring the continued health of the ecosystems and agricultural systems around them. In turn, ensuring the continued existence of human populations. So, when we think of the bees, we should acknowledge the wild ones, who truly are the bee’s knees.
Perhaps we should get out there and search for that Pokemon, the one that we might only see once in a lifetime.
By Toby J. Thorne
Bats are rather mysterious creatures. Most people I talk to about bats think they are interesting, but don’t know much about them. It’s not all that surprising, unlike more obvious wildlife such as birds, people don’t encounter bats very often. After all, they are active at night, when people like to sleep. Even then it’s hard to spot small and flying creatures in the dark.
Happily, surveying bats is easier than it appears. Most bats (and all the ones found in Canada), find their way around in the dark using echolocation. Echolocation is the technique of emitting sounds and listening to the echoes to avoid obstacles and find prey. We don’t hear these sounds because they are at higher frequencies than we are able to hear. However, there are a variety of devices known as ‘bat detectors’ that can convert the sound into our hearing range. Some can make recordings that can be analysed later. With a bat detector in hand it is as if the bats are flying around shouting ‘I’m here! I’m here!’ What’s more, different species make different sounds, so it’s sometimes possible to identify the species of a bat based on its echolocation calls. Some species are more difficult to tell than others. The technologies, although improving, are far from perfect
A picture of a little brown bat along with a spectrogram of its echolocation call. Spectrograms are visual representations of the frequency, temporal and amplitude characteristics that are used by bat biologists to try and identify species based on echolocation calls. The bat’s mouth is open to facilitate echolocation, rather than in aggression. Photo by Toby J. Thorne
Surveying bats through their sounds provides a huge opportunity to understand where they are and what they are doing. Listening to bat sounds forms a large part of my life. From summer evenings out listening to bats to winter days analysing recordings from the past year. For a number of projects I collect data throughout out most of the year with automated recorders. They stay out in the field for months at a time, recording any bats that fly by between dusk and dawn. I also lead regular bat walks and surveys through the summer, listening to and recording bats as we go. With new technologies around the corner, and a lot of attention being paid to acoustic monitoring in bats, I expect this aspect of our monitoring is going to grow.
However, while acoustics presents a powerful, and non-invasive means to learn about what the bats are up to, it can’t answer all of the questions that are key to effective conservation programs for bats. Four of the eight species of bat in Ontario are now listed as endangered under the provincial species at risk act – all within the past five years. The decline of these species is driven primarily by White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is a fungal disease that arrived in Ontario in 2010, and affects species that hibernate in caves. Our knowledge of the pre-WNS populations of these species is very limited, but counts at hibernation sites found average declines of 92% following the arrival of the fungus. The endangered bats in Ontario, along with those that aren’t currently listed as such, also face pressure from habitat loss and increasing urbanisation.
Acoustic monitoring contributes a great deal to our understanding of Ontario’s bats, and therefore to their conservation. However, we cannot ‘hear’ the answers to many vital questions, such as whether the bats in an areas are healthy or reproductive. To answer questions like these we have to take the next step of catching bats. As with any invasive approach with wildlife, we have to think carefully about the decision to capture bats and the disturbance caused to individuals encountered. However, there is no substitute to having a bat in the hand in order to understand the population in the area. For a skilled bat biologist it is very quick to determine species (more definitively than is possible by acoustics for many species), sex, breeding condition and whether the bat is young of the year.
Bats in Ontario continue to face a difficult time. Through the combination of methods such as acoustic and trapping surveys we are learning more about them than ever before. We can only remain hopeful that this new knowledge translates into some positive outcomes for our remarkable bats!
Blogs are written by ELB members who want to share their stories about Ontario's biodiversity.