NatureNL Blog

Welcome to the Nature Newfoundland & Labrador Blog. Here we share interesting local nature stories, photos from our hikes and events, selections of articles from our publication ‘The Osprey’, and more.

The Forget-me-nots of Newfoundland and Labrador

By Andus Voitk

Posted March 26, 2018

 

 

A few years ago John Maunder sent around a note with references, suggesting that most likely Myosotis arvensis was the species of forget-me-not that flowered in Somme during WWI and, therefore, became the floral symbol of the Newfoundland Regiment (Hill 1917). That note piqued my interest in the genus. It took me a few years to find and identify all four of our species: M. arvensis, M. laxa, M. scorpioides and M. sylvatica. The photographs come from an attempt to master a small point and shoot camera; although of limited quality, most demonstrate the pertinent distinguishing features adequately (Figure 1). This short review is dedicated to John with thanks for his untiring efforts to enlighten us, and at the same written for my grandson, Eemil, with whom I have spent part of two summers looking at these small blue beauties. Of the four species, only M. laxa is native; the other three have been introduced to the province, likely as garden escapees.

 

 

Figure 1: Four species of forget-me-not of Insular Newfoundland. A: Myosotis arvensis. B: M. sylvatica. C: M. laxa. D: M. scorpioides. A & B grow on dryer soil and have hairs protruding perpendicularly from the stem and calyx. Neither forms a long inflorescence with a scorpion tail or violin scroll curl. C & D grow on wet soil and have hairs adpressed to the stem and calyx, pointed upwards. Both form long inflorescences, with developing buds curled up like a violin scroll. A & C grow on poor soil, have smaller flowers, and have denser hair. B & D prefer richer soil, have bigger flowers, and have less sparse and thinner hair.

 

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Trip Report: Winter Gull Workshop 2018

By Megan Boucher

Posted March 16, 2018

Jared Clarke talking to the group of participants about winter gulls (Photo by Megan Boucher).

 

It has been an odd winter here in St. John’s, NL with not much ice or snow leading up to the Gull workshop on February 17th. As usual, it was another cold breezy day at Quidi Vidi with an early morning snowfall. This year our team consisted of Jared Clarke, Lancy Cheng and Alvan Buckley, three knowledgeable local birders to teach everyone about the winter gulls.

 

Even though there wasn’t any ice on the lake, our group of 60 participants still managed to see five species of gulls. These included Great Black-backed, Herring, Iceland, Glaucous, and Lesser Black-backed gulls. Traditionally the walk follows the trail from the Dominion Parking Lot towards the Virginia River Outflow, however due to the lack of ice this year we remained at the Rennies River area at the west end of Quidi Vidi.

 

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The Current State and Uncertain Future of Labrador Migratory Caribou

By John Jacobs, CPAWS-NL

Posted March 10, 2018

 

 

George River Caribou approach Mistastin Lake on their 2007 fall migration (Photo by J. Jacobs).

 

Labrador is noted for its diverse populations of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and for the indigenous peoples who have coexisted with the caribou for millennia. Most, if not all, Labrador caribou herds are in decline. While in the past caribou numbers have declined then recovered, the present situation may be different. There are a number of new threats, and although a regime of scientific monitoring and management is in place, it may not be working. Indigenous groups have the greatest stake in the conservation of the herds, but there is disagreement among them about their role. From a conservationist perspective, what does the future hold for these iconic animals?

 

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Research Spotlight Series: Wildlife Evolutionary Ecology Lab

By Quinn Webber, Mike Laforge, Eric Vander Wal

Posted February 27, 2018

 

Editor’s Note: In our Research Spotlight Series we shine a light on exciting research going on in our province. In this post we showcase the Wildlife Evolutionary Ecology Lab.

 

 

Caribou on Fogo Island in summer 2017 (Photo by Quinn Webber).

 

The Wildlife Evolutionary Ecology Lab (WEEL) at Memorial University (MUN) studies a range of mammal species in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), as well as across Canada. The majority of our research in NL focuses on the province’s woodland caribou populations. Specifically, we study questions about caribou ecology that bridge fundamental and applied biology with an aim to contribute to our understanding of caribou ecology as well as inform management and conservation practices. Currently, there are two Ph.D. students in WEEL studying caribou: Quinn Webber and Mike Laforge.

 

Quinn studies social behaviour of caribou on Fogo Island with a particular emphasis on the relationship between social behaviour and population size. As population size decreases, we might expect that the number and size of caribou groups will also decrease. However, little is known about how the relationship between population size and social behaviour influences the probability of female caribou successfully rearing calves. Quinn is also interested in Elaphostrongylus rangiferi, also known as ‘brain worm’, a parasitic nematode that infects caribou in Newfoundland. E. rangiferi has spread across much of Newfoundland and, by sampling slugs, the intermediate host for E. rangiferi, Quinn will survey for E. rangiferi and quantify the spatial abundance of this parasite in relation to caribou space-use. The purpose of this project is to determine whether caribou can successfully live in areas with high E. rangiferi and assess how caribou may change space-use based on the presence of E. rangiferi. Quinn’s Ph.D. thesis aims to shed light on the relationship between social behaviour and population size as well as better understand host-parasite dynamics in caribou, a federally threatened species.

 

Members of the Wildlife Evolutionary Ecology Lab at Memorial University conducting research on Fogo Island in summer 2017 (Photo by Maegwin Bonar).

 

Mike is examining the adaptability of caribou migration in response to the timing of spring “green-up”, or the timing of plant growth across years. Animal migration is generally considered an adaptation to exploit resources that vary in time and space—birds have evolved to migrate and rear young at the same time as insect abundance is at its highest in their breeding grounds. Climate change, however, is threatening this adaptation by affecting the annual timing of events at different rates for different species, resulting in a reduction in resources for migrants at key times in their life history and resulting in higher juvenile mortality. Migratory ungulates, like caribou, track the progress of new, and highly nutritious, plant growth which increases as spring progresses. Mike’s research aims to examine whether caribou in Newfoundland are able to adapt the timing of their migration to track changing green-up and how this affects their ability to obtain high quality forage resources. Mike is examining this problem from an individual perspective, testing whether certain individuals are more flexible in when they migrate than others. Mike’s research will help inform management and conservation of caribou in Newfoundland and elsewhere.

 

To learn more about research conducted in WEEL please see our website or follow us on twitter @wildlifeevoeco.

Will Newfoundland and Labrador declare more protected areas in 2018?

By John Jacobs, CPAWS-NL

(Republished from the CPAWS-NL Newsletter, Winter 2018)

 

Butterpot Provincial Park (Photo by John Jacobs).

 

Canada and the territorial and provincial governments are committed under the Convention on Biological Diversity to expand protected areas within their jurisdictions to at least 17% of their total land and inland waters and 10% of marine areas by 2020. Progress toward these targets is being made at the federal level, through creation of new national parks and marine protected areas, and by some provinces. Despite calls from citizens and conservation groups, our provincial government has not released its own long-promised protected areas plan.

 

At our annual general meeting in April, 2017, CPAWS-NL passed the following resolution:

 

Stressing the vital importance of our wildlife and wilderness to the health and well-being of the people of this province, CPAWS-NL reminds Government of our national and international obligations to provide greater amounts of terrestrial and marine Protected Areas. We call on Government to release the long-delayed Natural Areas System Plan and to work with communities and conservation groups to implement that plan. We further urge Government to restore adequate funding and staffing for Endangered Species and Biodiversity and for Wildlife Research.

 

On May 10, 2017 a debate was held in the House of Assembly on a private member’s resolution introduced by Scott Reid (Member for St. Georges – Humber) stating: Be it resolved that this hon. House supports the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador designating more protected areas in our province. Following lengthy discussion and expressions of support from members of all parties, the resolution was passed1. As Mr. Reid noted, while a private member’s bill is not binding, support of the resolution would send a message to the cabinet to move ahead with the next step, which would be release of the Natural Areas System Plan. We still are waiting for that next step.

 

Now in January 2018, as the federal government holds pre-budget hearings, more than 100 members of Parliament and senators have signed a letter to the finance minister seeking major new investment of $1.4 billion over the next three years toward expansion of Canada’s protected land and marine areas2. This initiative has wide public support and we expect to see major progress at this level. It also sets an example for the provinces.

 

It is time for Newfoundland and Labrador to move ahead with further wilderness protection. We know there is a provisional plan. Government needs to bring it out now so that we can have a public discussion and take the necessary action to meet our conservation obligations.

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