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!
By Jackie Hamilton
I have had the chance to talk to a LOT of people about trees. It’s really fun to get to see the variety of feelings out there, from seeing them as immortal beings that would live forever without humans to seeing them as annoying impediments to development or perfect lawns.
Most people though, fall somewhere in the middle ground of liking trees enough, but not really noticing them on a day to day basis. I do not fall into this group. To be a person that studies trees means that you will never be alone on the street or in the forest. I see familiar “faces” literally everywhere I go. On the occasion I see a tree I am unfamiliar with I stop to identify it (sometimes in the middle of a busy sidewalk – no shame).
One of the (many) beauties of identifying trees is that you can take all the time you need, they aren’t going anywhere. There have been a couple trees that I was unsure of and had to re-visit in different seasons and bring fellow arborists to confer with.
The downside of being someone that is interested in trees is you also see a lot of stress and mismanagement in our urban centres. Compared to us, trees are giant and ancient beings. It’s hard for people to understand but trees live in entirely different timescales than we do. Injuries and ailments like poor planting practices or root damage often take years to show in trees, at which point it’s often too late. It’s not initially clear that planting a tree in a 3 ft by 3 ft area surrounded by hard surfaces is a bad idea, but when you see those trees 3-5 years down the line they are often on death’s door.
There is a lot of innovation that makes me excited about the future of trees in cities, including engineered soil beds and underground utilities. The movement toward these techniques is going to be gradual but so worth it for the long-term viability of our urban forests.
One of the best things we can do for our urban forest is to plan for as much biodiversity as possible. A biodiverse tree population is not only going to be able to support a high diversity of all other living things, but it is also a smart management move. With climate change and new introduced species, we really don’t know what tree species will be in our cities in 50-100 years, but we can be certain that by planting and maintaining a diversity of species we are reducing our losses.
By Raechel Bonomo
Growing up, I hated my hair colour. I was teased relentlessly, often wishing I was more like my light-haired classmates and the kids lucky enough to be born brunettes. My mother would tell me how fortunate I was to be different, but as a kid the last thing you want is to stand out from the crowd. As soon as I entered high school, I hit the salon, dying my hair dark and as far away from my natural red as possible. There was nothing I wanted more than to be like everyone else, until I realized (as my mother predicted) that being a redhead was my birthright — one that I eventually swam back to.
According to studies, redheads are a dwindling breed, and we might have climate change to blame for it. But we’re not the only ginger species fearing extinction due, in part, to a warming environment.
Copper redhorse is a freshwater fish that lives in shallow grass-beds in the St. Lawrence River. Unlike red-haired humans around the world, and with the highest concentration found in Scotland and Ireland, the copper redhorse is endemic to Canada and found nowhere else on the planet.
The species’ population size is uncertain, but scientists estimate that only a few hundred individuals remain in Canadian waters. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, the IUCN Red List and the Species at Risk Act list copper redhorse as endangered. The fish is vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and loss, pollution and invasive species. The species also tends to spawn later in the season, making its newly hatched young susceptible to lower water levels. Studies carried out since the early 1990s show that the copper redhorse's natural reproduction cycle is often disrupted due to pollution from agricultural and urban runoff.
The copper redhorse is the largest sub-species of redhorse in Quebec and it also lives the longest, averaging around 30 years of age in the wild. This resilient copper fish also has quite the bite. It feeds mainly on snails and has robust teeth to chomp through the shells of its prey.
Much like my mother, organizations and governments see the value in protecting redheaded species. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) works to protect habitat for this species by conserving the islands and surrounding waters it is known to inhabit. NCC also protects 15 kilometres of riverbed in the Richelieu River and Île Jeannotte and Île aux Cerfs archipelago, which together equal more than 70 acres (30 hectares) of important habitat for young copper redhorse.
NCC actively works with the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks in Quebec to keep this species safe. To remedy the habitat loss, NCC launched a campaign in 2006 to naturalize the riverbanks along the Richelieu River. The campaign, which involves numerous stewardship projects to keep waters clean for the species, still runs strong to this day.
It’s time to see the value of redheads, both those walking on land and those swimming in water. I’ve finally come into my own as a redhead and wear the ginger title proudly. I stand united with this copper fish as a redhead and a conservationist, forming a bond with this species no bottle of dye could ever conceal.
This blog was also posted on the Nature Conservancy of Canada's Land Lines blog
By Rhiannon Moore
By the year 2050, it is expected that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
This prediction made by scientists, is something I always come back to throughout my work as an environmental professional. The ocean covers 70% of our planet, and somehow, we have produced so much plastic that we have allowed it infiltrate every ecosystem on earth. We are finding microplastics, along beaches, in fragile estuaries, at the bottom on the ocean, and even frozen in arctic sea ice. Whales, fish and seabirdsea birds are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Within our ocean gyres, plastic has been found to out-number sea life 6 to 1. How have we let it get to this point?
These sobering statistics, and through what I have seen in my own work along the Great Lakes, is why I challenged myself to go plastic-free for one month to see if it was really possible to live without plastic. Below are ten things I learned and experienced when going plastic-free.
1. It was easier than I expected
When I first told friends and family that I was going to try to go an entire month without buying anything plastic, nearly everyone thought it was going to be impossible. What surprised me about going plastic-free for a month is that once you get in the habit the whole lifestyle, it’s pretty easy to accomplish without too much inconvenience! There is an alternative for everything, it’s just a matter of seeking out the alternative products that can be tricky.
With any lifestyle change such as this, there were easy parts and hard parts. The easy parts I found were in the shower—switching to bar soap, bar shampoo and yes even bar conditioner was a piece of cake. (See below for a list of my favourite plastic-free hygiene products!)
2. But… I did struggle in the grocery store.
Most of my challenges existed within the grocery store. So much of our food these days is packaged excessively. I found myself going to the grocery store to pick up several items, only to leave with a head of broccoli in my paper bag. The key to having a plastic-free grocery shop is being prepared. Always have a re-usable bag in your car, stashed in your purse or backpack or at work. Instead of plastic produce bags, I used paper bags (or just let the heartier fruits and veggies roll around uncontained in my cart!)
3. I felt happier
Going on my “plastic fast” had a number of unexpected outcomes. Once I stopped buying things I didn’t need, only to toss and sit in a landfill for eons, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt happier and less stressed, and most importantly, grateful for all the necessities that I did have. Once you start going “back to basics” you end up appreciating the simple things in life. When you eliminate useless items, your life becomes less about stuff and more about… well, life!
4. I inspired others to make a difference
Another benefit of going plastic free and sharing it over social media was the reaction from individuals. It was so uplifting to hear that my endeavour had inspired others to make simple switches and think more carefully about their purchases.
5. I met new people
Finding alternative products and doing things differently attracts interest from other people. You end up asking strangers or store owners questions, and vice versa. “Do you carry this product? I am going plastic-free.” can lead to “lets grab a coffee and I’ll tell you all about it!” (ok, maybe that’s a little too keener). I even had people I barely knew offer to pick up items I was running low on from Bulk Barn!
6. I embraced the “haters”
Going “plastic-free” sounds a little radical to some people. I had names thrown at me over social media, and strange looks from people in the grocery store. But those empty words and judgement was always silenced by those cheering me on. Most of the time, when people criticize you, it has nothing to do with you anyway. I learned to move past the judgements and educate others if they were willing to listen.
7. I ate healthier
Most processed and unhealthy foods come in plastic packaging. When you eliminate packaged items from your grocery list, you end up replacing them with healthy and fresh whole foods. Instead of chips and dip as snack food, I would have apples and peanut butter. Instead of salty crackers or sugar-packed granola bars, I would have roasted nuts or homemade granola.
8. I saved money
I ended up spending less money on groceries ($150 less to be exact!) and wasted less food because I was being more mindful of what I was purchasing. I used up what was in the fridge, and didn’t let cravings in the grocery store lead me to buy things I didn’t need. If I felt the urge to buy something, I would ask myself if I really needed it or if I could make do with that I already had.
9. I started thinking “big picture”
We live in such a throw-away society. Everything seems like it isn’t built to last anymore, and everything seems so short-term--including our personal outlook. As millennials, I think we really need to start thinking about what type of legacy we want to leave. I don’t want my legacy to be a pile of trash that outlives me, my children and my grandchildren. Going plastic-free was so much more than the simple act of saying no to plastic. It did open my eyes to the waste-management challenges we face in society and how dependent we are on plastic. More importantly however, it made me feel hopeful. Finding companies that are trying to make a difference, and feeling like I was making a difference myself, made it an up-lifting experiment that I continue to live by throughout the year.
10. It leads to greater things
Challenging yourself brings confidence, and confidence makes you do unique things! I looked into initiatives I could get involved with to turn my passion into action, and came across an organization called “eXXpedition”. After submitting some information about my work to them, I was asked to join a crew of all female change-makers to sail in the Atlantic and collect data on microplastics in the Caribbean Sea this year. I am excited to connect with like-minded women who are hungry for change like I am, and continue sharing my experiences to raise awareness to protect our water, wildlife, and communities.
Rhiannon’s plastic- free bathroom:
• Lush shampoo bar, Honey I Washed My Hair
• Lush conditioner bar, Sugar Daddy-O
• Locally made bar soap
• Homemade tooth paste
• Homemade beauty balm (facial moisturizer, can be used for dry skin on other parts of body)
• WoWe bamboo and metal razor
• 7th generation tampons (Important: even if your applicators are cardboard, most companies still make the tampon itself out of a mix or rayon, polypropylene and polyester—check the ingredients before you buy).
• Homemade deodorant (works better than other natural brands)
• Wood comb/brush
• Bamboo toothbrush
• Tiger Balm for headaches and stiffness
• Makeup- Elate cosmetics has minimal packaging, good for you ingredients, and is based in Victoria BC
Rhiannon’s plastic-free kitchen:
• Steel scrubber
• Dr. Bronner’s “magic soap” bar: Can be grated and added to water in a re-usable spray bottle for everyday cleaning of surfaces
• Washable Dish cloth
• 100% cotton tea towels
• Glass Tupperware set
• Beeswax food wraps
• Wooden cutting board
• Steel or wooden spatulas
Rhiannon’s favourite plastic-free food items:
• Chickpea rotini from Bulk Barn.. or basically anything from bulk barn!
• Powdered coconut milk
• Riviera petit pot yogurt (comes in glass jars which I re-use for my homemade beauty products, and as candle holders)
• Oka or Edam cheese, both can be wrapped in wax or paper
• President’s choice garlic stuffed olives
• Heinz chili sauce (ketchup replacement—so good!)
Another favourite item of mine is my Steel Swell water bottle, which can be used as a thermos as well. It is my favourite “plastic-free” gift for friends and family. They all love it!
By Jackie Hamilton
If you are like I once was, the word forestry evokes an image of lumberjacks or large clear-cuts. I have learnt a lot while working in in the sector and I am writing today to try and convince you that forestry is not a bad word for biodiversity. I have had the pleasure of seeing forestry around the world. From what I have seen, our practices in Ontario are some of the best for biodiversity. I am not saying things are perfect, but I am making a plea to you today to learn more about forestry in Ontario. It might surprise you.
Ontario has a lot of certified sustainable forest land when compared to other places. This means that third party certification bodies agree our forests are being managed sustainably. For example the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a well-known and respected third party certification body. In this province, to be a Professional Forester you are regulated the same way an engineer might be. I am currently going through the process of becoming a registered professional myself. I can verify that the process is thorough and foresters in Ontario are competent and experienced before practicing.
Being a forester does not just mean cutting trees for timber, but that can be a part of it. As someone who cares about biodiversity, I want the products that we use everyday to be coming from sustainable sources. Ontario’s foresters are working to try and ensure this is the case.
Ontario forest products include many of the traditional uses such as furniture, flooring, and fire wood. But they are more recently becoming strong petroleum and steel replacements.New products include biofuel, plastic replacements and composite wood beams.
Most of our forests in southern Ontario are fragmented from development. They are facing threats like invasive species. Oonce you learn to identify an invasive species, you will begin to see them everywhere. These forests require active management to maintain ecological integrity and biodiversity. Otherwise, they will become something near monocultures of invasive species that support little diversity. I have seen several examples of this around abandoned industrial sites and even in people’s backyards. Because many of our forests are near our communities, we suppress natural disturbances like fire. Fires would naturally increase habitat and biodiversity. With fire suppression, forest management becomes even more critical for biodiversity.
A big and growing area of forestry is the one I work in, urban forestry. Forest management requires that you think long into the future about what your forest will look like. It also requires you to consider the ecological, social and economic impacts of your management decisions. It’s obvious that managing urban forests requires these same considerations. Maybe even more so.
The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Forestry is the oldest Faculty of Forestry in the country. It’s also where I studied forest management and forest conservation. The faculty brings together foresters, economists, entomologists, ecologists, government, NGO and industry professionals. It facilitates open discussions about the challenges and opportunities facing forests in Ontario. The university is currently going through consultation to determine the fate of the 100+ year old institution. You can learn more about how the Faculty has affected others, and add your voice to the petition here.
By Matt Ellerbeck
When I was small child, I lived in the Greater Toronto Area in southern Ontario. As such, the urban sprawl that accompanied this region did not leave me many places to explore and connect with nature. I would spend my summers visiting family at campgrounds. It was here that I encountered my first ever salamander, a Red Eft (Notophthalmus viridescens). I was instantly enthralled by this charming amphibian. Years later, the memory of my first salamander encounter is still very vibrant in my mind. It is a testament to my passion for these creatures! This passion lead me to start my outreach education project: Save The Salamanders. The goal of my project is to raise awareness among the general public that many salamanders are in decline and in need of conservation. I promote behavioural changes, habitat management, and environmental stewardship. These are ways that individuals can help contribute to the conservation of salamanders. I strive to empower the public and encourage them to get active with the recovery of species.
Outreach education is important. The Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy (ARC) recognizes the need to increase awareness, appreciation, and understanding of amphibians, reptiles and their habitats. This education can then enhance conservation actions and stewardship practices. The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust also proclaims that education is one of the most important tools in the long-term conservation of amphibians and reptiles. Raising awareness, enhancing knowledge and encouraging people to take action, are important steps towards conserving amphibian and reptile species. This is why I have made it one of my top priorities.
Aside from my Save The Salamanders project, I am also a partner of the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA). The ASA is the world's largest partnership for amphibian conservation. The Amphibian Ark (AArk) also featured me as one of their Amphibian Ambassadors. The AArk is a joint effort of several principal partners. This includes the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group.
My efforts to contribute to the betterment of salamanders earned me the nickname Salamander Man. British author, Claire McClennan wrote about my salamander conservation efforts in her book: Another Chance Animal Rescues - Book 2 (2012). It was here that I was first referred to as Salamander Man. Since that time it has become my moniker.
The nickname has become a favourite among children, who are often one of my target audiences. This is important according to the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers' Network. Environmental education focused on children and youth is a particularly important strategy. It's an opportunity to intervene at a key developmental stage of life. Children can also be an important influence on their parents’ environmental behaviour.
Throughout my outreach education, I have heard time and time again from individuals of varying ages, “I didn’t know we even had salamanders here!” This statement alone represents one of the biggest hurdles salamanders face, lack of attention. Worldwide there are some 600 different species. Of these species, around half are listed as at risk of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But how can people want to protect what they are not aware of? This is why I aimed to bring as much focus to the cause as possible. As such, I have appeared on TV, radio shows, and in many newspapers and publications across North America and Europe. This include high profile radio shows such as CBC in Ontario. I also appeared on Talking Animals, which airs in Tampa, Florida. The guests featured on this show tend to be prominent figures in the animal world, or notable celebrities who have ties to animal welfare. Past guests have included Jane Goodall, Chrissie Hynde, Paul Watson, Janeane Garofalo, Moby, Margaret Cho, and many others. I was also featured on Animals Today radio, which airs across 17 states, and on CiTR 101 FM, which provides listening to a base of over 2 million.
I sincerely hope my efforts will contribute to the betterment of salamanders. And that it will inspire others to do the same!
By Jenna Siu
When I was in grade school, I would spend some time at a friend’s lakeside cottage during the summer. We would catch toads and frogs and put them in a bucket with some water. I would think, "this is neat, they are slimy and weird looking."
That was about the extent of my interest in wildlife back then. I cared for animals, but I didn’t understand them. It wasn't until I immersed myself in the field of biology and I learned about the Earth’s geological history and the evolutionary history of biodiversity that I began to value the nature I saw around me. All of a sudden the rocks, plants and animals had stories behind them that I wanted to hear. It's easy to get caught up in our day-to-day human activities. We often forget that the planet we live on has billions of years of history and plenty of tales to tell.
The Earth is 4.543 billion years old to be exact. A timeline that is virtually inconceivable to us, with our short lives. The oldest evidence of life dates back to 3.5 billion years ago. Over a third of the Earth’s existence so far was spent going through geological changes that made it eventually habitable for life. Most of the biodiversity we are familiar with today are the descendants of the life forms from nearly 540 million years ago during the Cambrian Explosion. If the geological timescale was scaled to the timeline of one year, this event would have begun on November 18 at 5:11pm! I found this analogy quite astonishing and it helped put into perspective our place in the Earth’s history.
Between then and now there has been a myriad of organisms where some lineages live on today and others have gone extinct. One story that has stuck with me is about one of the oldest lineages still around today, sharks. Sharks are some of the earliest jawed fish to have evolved around 425 million years ago. Their body shape has remained largely unchanged and species from millions of years ago would still be recognizable to us today as sharks. Some may describe them as primitive, but these animals have found an incredibly successful life strategy and stuck with it. They have survived warming periods, ice ages and four mass extinctions!
In comparison, Homo species began to appear less than 2 million years ago. When scaled to a year-long timeline, our species, Homo sapiens, appeared on December 31 at 11:48 pm. In other words, we are a very young species, one that is in our infancy, geologically speaking. We have become an incredibly influential species in nature, for better or for worse, but when it comes our long-term success that is yet to be determined. Sharks, on the other hand, got something right to have lasted this long. Our species could probably learn a thing or two from them if we want to ensure our legacy continues.
Similarly, it is easy to overlook the millions of species we co-exist with. It is easy to think that humans are the greater species; everything that came before was leading up to us. However, in studying ecology we learn that it is a less linear progression and that species adapt in a way that makes them well suited for their particular environment. The evolution of biodiversity is more like a web growing outward in different directions rather than a tree growing only upward.
There is nothing like going to a harsh environment to see first hand the incredible adaptations species have to deal with these challenges. During my undergraduate, I took a field course to the Sonoran desert. Deserts are dry, hot and water is a precious resource, yet plenty of life has found unique ways to cope with the challenges. The saguaro cacti are succulent plants that have deep taproots that can reach groundwater. Some plants have small waxy leaves to better retain water in the dry heat. I began to see that one species is not necessarily superior than another, but rather each species is well adapted to its niche and is part of a greater, complex and well-tuned system. A system that has had millions of years to work out the kinks and that continues to adapt.
Over the last several years, I have started to discover the story behind a fraction of the biodiversity past and present. This is what compelled me to start caring about the state of biodiversity today. Listening to and observing the story of life on our planet changed my perspective from one that was human-centric to one that views each species, including us, as part of a larger picture in nature.
Now when I find a frog, my thought process is very different from my earlier days. I think about what species it is, why I found it in a particular area and what it was doing. I also think about how amphibians were the first land vertebrates and the adaptations that allowed for this new way of life. Now knowing more about their biology, I am more wary of catching and handling them than I once was. It can cause unnecessary stress for an animal and if not careful, any residue left on my hands could be absorbed through their sensitive skin and cause them harm.
We have learned a lot about the natural world through research and observation, but there is so much more to be discovered. When we know about the biodiversity around us and gain a greater understanding of it, we can appreciate it and respect it. After all, the history of the Earth and the biodiversity around us is part of our very existence, our story and necessary for our survival.
This blog is also posted on Jenna's website.
Blogs are written by ELB members who want to share their stories about Ontario's biodiversity.