Arctic BIOSCAN: Tracking biodiversity in Canada’s Middle Arctic using DNA

Arctic BIOSCAN: Tracking biodiversity in Canada’s Middle Arctic using DNA

Arctic BIOSCAN: Tracking biodiversity in Canada’s Middle Arctic using DNA

Danielle ‘Dani’ Nowosad wildflower hunting for the regional herbarium

Written by

DANIELLE NOWOSAD

The University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology

All photos credited to Dani unless specified otherwise

DNA barcoding is a molecular technique used globally to discover new species and assess biodiversity quickly and inexpensively. As it is based on standardized fragments of DNA, it can also be used to trace colonization patterns on Turtle Island (North America). My work is using DNA barcode data to quantify biodiversity and document colonization patterns in the Canadian Middle Arctic which would establish critical baseline data for future studies and enable us to monitor biological changes in response to climate change.

Cabin featuring the Nunavut flag on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

DNA-based research in the Canadian Arctic

Seasonal camp in the Intensive Monitoring Area of Kilinoyak.

My research in the Iqaluktuttiaq (Cambridge Bay) region of Kilinoyak (Victoria Island), Nunavut, is in conjunction with the Arctic BIOSCAN (ARCBIO) project. ARCBIO, spearheaded by the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) at the University of Guelph, aims to document all Arctic life using DNA barcodesshort pieces of DNA that are specific to each species. Funded by Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), ARCBIO is in its third year with at least four more years to go.

ARCBIO’s research base in Nunavut is in Iqaluktuttiaq (Ekaluktutiak or Ikaluktutiak, depending on who you’re talking with), a community of 1,600, located in Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland). Iqaluktuttiaq also happens to be the site of the state-of-the-art Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) which opened its doors in August 2019.

Dani setting up a Malaise trap in front of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS).

Located above the treeline on Kilinoyak’s southern edge, Iqaluktuttiaq is a polar desert with 24-hour daylight in the summertime. This region features stunning landscapes and prolific freshwater bodies of all sizes that are culturally, spiritually, and economically important to Inuit in this region. Many locals spend summer seasons fishing for Arctic char and trout, which use freshwater to spawn. Iqaluktuttiaq in the Inuinnaqtun dialect means “a good fishing place”. Arctic char has been harvested for generations for sustenance and now supports a local export industry.

Ice melting on the Arctic Ocean.

My research examines these water bodies and contributes an important resource to ARCBIO’s goals by establishing a DNA sequence catalogue of freshwater invertebrates for southern Kilinoyak. This will support future studies on biodiversity and allow us to monitor changes in freshwater ecosystems.

There is not enough local baseline data on biodiversity and abiotic variables such as water chemistry to track how climate change is altering the region. It is crucial to understand and mitigate changes to Arctic environments as these changes will have severe consequences globally including sea-level rise and unpredictable fluctuations in methane and carbon cycling1-3.

Dani collecting aquatic invertebrate samples on a helicopter trip near Wellington Bay.

Species found on Kilinoyak likely arrived within the last 7,500 years as the Laurentide ice sheet receded4. Some species might have managed to survive the last ice age in glacial refugia5, that is, regions largely in an ice-free state during the last ice age.

By analyzing the percentage of genetic divergence from local source populations, we can get closer to determining if this is the case. Taxa found in Iqaluktuttiaq that show a low percentage of genetic variance from taxa found elsewhere on Turtle Island could reveal interesting colonization patterns. For example, studies on small crustacean (Branchiopoda) in Churchill, Manitoba have shown multiple sources of origin from high Arctic regions in the north to Mexico in the south6. Apart from uncovering historical patterns, these data can inform models predicting the risk associated with invasive species to the region.

Dani assisting with a plant phenology/insect pollinator research project near CHARS.

The freshwater invertebrate catalogue currently consists of approximately 2,500 records from two summer sample collecting seasons. Most of these records include insects and crustacean (Arthropoda), of which many are flies (Diptera) and tiny water fleas (Anomopoda). Of these, just under 900 are of sufficient quality to obtain a standard DNA barcode. It is becoming clear with this early work that more sampling is needed to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of freshwater invertebrates in the Canadian Middle Arctic. Nevertheless, once sequences have been quality checked, researchers will release these data to the public via the standardized online DNA barcode library called BOLD.

BOLDthe Barcode of Life Data Systemsis an online, openly accessible repository for DNA sequence data and metadata. It allows users to create biogeographic maps, species accumulation curves, geo-distance correlations, biodiversity measures, and phylogenetic trees, among various other functions.

Haplotaxida

Daphniidae

Polyartemiella hazeni

Bosminidae

IMAGE CREDIT: CBG Imaging lab

My experience with BOLD and the DNA barcode pipeline began in the CBG’s Collections laba well-oiled machine where staff take gathered specimens, sort them, and input all their metadata (location, collection method, team members, etc.) into BOLD. Then, specimens are photographed, sent through automated DNA sequencing machinery, and finally, each sequence obtained is run through algorithms resulting in a BIN (Barcode Index Number) which is a proxy for species.

Fishing on the Arctic Ocean

With millions of records now accessible online, there is no question that DNA barcoding has contributed an incredible amount of knowledge and information to global biodiversity.

An important aspect and often interesting challenge in generating these data are sharing it in meaningful ways with local communities and the public.

Connecting the local community to DNA-based tools and technologies

View of the coast from Long Point

Committing resources and time to monitor environmental change in the Arctic is critical, but responsible research must prioritize integrating different voices from the community. As First Nations and Inuit communities in northern Canada7 are directly impacted, it is of the utmost importance to conduct this research in collaboration with local communities. This means listening to, including, and supporting Indigenous voices. Stitching together local Inuit’s experiences and traditional knowledge (otherwise known as IQ – Inuit qaujimajatuqangit) with climate change and scientific data in the region will only strengthen our understanding of these shared challenges and better position us to garner support for environmental protections.

ARCBIO offers several opportunities to fundamentally engage with local communities in ways that are not possible with one-off, short-term studies.  As part of early sampling efforts, CBG hired two full-time Junior Science Rangers from the local community for the summer field season in 2019. This created summer jobs for local high school students who were paid for their expert knowledge of the land. Through working with CBG collections staff, they learned scientific methods for sampling invertebrates such as pitfall trapping, Malaise traps, plankton tows, and D-net sampling.

The CBG is also preparing a community report that will be released to locals this spring, just ahead of the 2021 field season. The community report will provide an overview of the ARCBIO project, its goals, and a description of DNA barcoding and methods used to assess biodiversity. It will be made available online through the ARCBIO website and social media.

Beyond these efforts, I have been exploring other ways to connect with the community. The pandemic has complicated in-person plans which had included a workshop held in conjunction with POLAR and the local high school, a knowledge-sharing wetland walk, and a freshwater-themed photo contest funded by POLAR. 

Inukshuk with a view of town behind

Alternative outreach methods are being explored, taking into consideration the slower internet connectivity issues experienced by many Northerners. One possible method includes connecting with the local radio station that many locals tune into regularly to discuss research and generate conversations about science, increase awareness about projects, and put calls out for collaboration. The radio station communication strategy has been identified by locals in many northern communities as an excellent way to reach out8. Recently, a group of Inuit youth from various regions in Nunavut developed a concept they dubbed ScIQ (science + Inuit qaujimajatuqangit) in an effort to close the gap between attempts from external researchers to engage communities, and respectful inclusion8.

Monitoring equipment set up in the Intensive Monitoring Area, with Uvayuk (glacial esker) behind

One of the significant challenges ARCBIO will face is in finding ways to share barcode data with communities that are meaningful and useful. While data will be publicly available on BOLD, it is very likely that few, if any, locals will use the platform.

Sharing ARCBIO results with the local community in Cambridge Bay and other Northerners could be facilitated by a relatively new digital app called SIKU: the Indigenous Knowledge Sharing Network. This app was specifically designed by the Arctic Eider Society for Northerners. One might compare SIKU to iNaturalist, but specifically tailored for Northern hunters.  It allows users to log ice and land conditions, animal sightings, hunting experiences, among other things in a privacy-protected space. App users can also submit plant and animal observations, including arthropod orders that are prolific across Northern Canada, such as caddisflies, mayflies, copepods, and beetles.

The SIKU mobile app and web platform by and for Inuit provides tools and services for ice safety, language preservation and weather. IMAGE CREDIT: siku.org

Part of the network is a “Projects” section, which lists various research initiatives such as government projects like Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish surveys, climate change studies, and other weather, climate, and wildlife-related studies. Principal Investigators can list a description of the project under this section as well as contact information and URLs. I believe this is a huge opportunity to communicate with the people who are most impacted and stand the most to gain by data that ARCBIO generates.

Unlike Facebook or any other mainstream social media platform, SIKU users can be assured that any information they share on the app remains their own. Due to these properties, SIKU may be a perfect avenue to share the ARCBIO project outcomes with local people who could benefit directly from the project’s data. I was first made aware of SIKU during the ArcticNet 2019 Annual Scientific Meeting, where the Arctic Eider Society did a public launch of the platform in a plenary session. Since the launch, Siku has gained popularity across Arctic Canada.

So far, our meetings with SIKU’s developers have explored the types of information that Northerners might find useful. Discussions have revolved around biogeographical figures, time series, and other such accumulations of data. Although this pipeline will require significant computational and technological power, I believe in years to come, it will result in user-generated research questions in which Southern researchers can assist locals in answering.

Moving Forward

Once the DNA barcode data is established, we as researchers must ask ourselves which information is relevant and important to locals. The public requires more than access to ARCBIO’s raw data. While ARCBIO is increasing barcode coverage for Arctic species, I believe that by developing a direct pipeline from BOLD to SIKUwith community consultationARCBIO can disseminate meaningful data for local benefit.  Inuit have been explicit in their expectations for external researchers to approach science in the North with compassion, understanding of Northern cultures and lifestyles, respect, and inclusion. This doesn’t simply mean sending an academic publication of the results from a study to the communityit means developing relationships with community members, behaving in ways that are respectful to local culture, creating research questions with input from locals, and continuous communication throughout the study.

View of the last few pieces of ice before summer on the Arctic Ocean

Long-tailed jaeger

References:

1. Anisimov OA, Vaughan DG, Callaghan TV, Furgal C, Marchant H, Prowse TD, Vilhjálmsson H & Walsh JE (2007) Polar regions (Arctic and Antarctic). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 653-685.

2. Prowse T, Bring A, Mård J & Carmack, E. (2015). Arctic freshwater synthesis: Introduction. Journal of Geophysical Research G: Biogeosciences, 120(11): 2121–2131. https://doi.org/10.1002/2015JG003127

3. Hammar J (1989) Freshwater ecosystems of polar regions: vulnerable resources. Ambio, 18(1): 6–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/4313520

4. Arthur D (2004) An outline of North American deglaciation with emphasis on central and northern Canada. Developments in Quaternary Sciences. 2. 10.1016/S1571-0866(04)80209-4.

5. Shafer AB, Cullingham CI, Cote SD & Coltman DW (2010) Of glaciers and refugia: a decade of study sheds new light on the phylogeography of northwestern North America. Molecular Ecology19(21): 4589-4621.

6. Jeffery NW, Elías-Gutiérrez M & Adamowicz SJ (2011) Species diversity and phylogeographical affinities of the Branchiopoda (crustacea) of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. PLoS ONE, 6(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0018364

7. Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; Communications Branch. “Climate Change in Indigenous and Northern Communities.” Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; Communications Branch, 19 Jan. 2021, rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100034249/1594735106676.

8. Pedersen C, Otokiak M, Koonoo I, Milton J, Maktar E, Anaviapik A, Milton M et al. (2020) ScIQ: an invitation and recommendations to combine science and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit for meaningful engagement of Inuit communities in research. Arctic Science6(3): 326-339. https://doi.org/10.1139/as-2020-0015

Biodiversity baselines: Tracking insects in Kruger National Park with DNA barcodes

Biodiversity baselines: Tracking insects in Kruger National Park with DNA barcodes

Philile Dlamini, Woodlands section ranger, Kruger National Park. PHOTO CREDIT: Hannah James

Biodiversity baselines: Tracking insects in Kruger National Park with DNA barcodes

A video abstract for the Kruger Malaise Program publication

March 24, 2021

By Michelle Lynn D’Souza

One year, 25 Malaise traps, and the dedication of numerous park rangers and staff have led to valuable insights and resources for Kruger National Park, South Africa.

This video abstract highlights work that involved the analysis of 367,743 insect specimens collected at 25 sites in Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa and it revealed 19,730 species, a count equal to 43% of the known insect diversity in Southern Africa. Species assemblages were differentiated between ecoregions and were structured most strongly by variation in rainfall. These efforts have delivered the baseline data needed to assess future changecomprehensive, spatially and seasonally explicit data on insect biodiversity in KNP.

The next steps involve extending the analysis to other national parks in South Africa, and ultimately, to the world’s 4000 national parks. The aim is to obtain the baseline data required to assess insect communities and usher in the global biomonitoring systems needed to aid scientists and citizens in forecasting changes in biodiversity.

For full details, please refer to the publication in Biological Conservation.

For more information on the program efforts, see: Kruger Malaise Program summary

I and the co-authors of the publicationMichelle van der Bank, Zandisile Shongwe, Ryan D. Rattray, Ross Stewart, Johandré van Rooyen, Danny Govender, and Paul D. N. Hebert—wish to acknowledge the contributions of staff and rangers in Kruger National Park for making the collections. We also thank the staff at South African National Parks for providing research permits and access to metadata as well as logistic support. We thank staff and students at the African Centre for DNA Barcoding in Johannesburg and at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics in Guelph for aid in collecting, shipping, sorting, sequencing, and imaging specimens along with all funding sources.

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Also in BIOSCAN

HOW A TROPICAL COUNTRY CAN DNA BARCODE ITSELF

by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs | Oct 2, 2019

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Using DNA barcodes in the fight against Malaria

Using DNA barcodes in the fight against Malaria

Using DNA barcodes in the fight against Malaria

Researchers in Ghana along with Target Malaria, the University of Oxford and the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics work to uncover the role of the Anopheles gambiae mosquito.

January 27, 2021

By Michelle Lynn D’Souza

Target Malaria aims to reduce malaria transmission by reducing the population of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes using genetic technologies. As part of their research, they want to know the ecological implications of reducing populations of the mosquito—the key vector for malaria in Africa.

Researchers are using DNA barcoding technologies to catalogue the insect community in Ghana. They will then use this catalogue or library to identify the insect species that are eaten by local birds, bats, and other insect-eating arthropods as well the host species in a mosquito bloodmeal, all through metabarcoding techniques that identify DNA fragments by matching sequences to the local DNA barcode library.

In the end, they will use these data to construct an ecological network that will quantitatively demonstrate how Anopheles gambiae is connected to the other members of the ecosystem.

These efforts are a demonstration of the power of DNA barcoding and its ability to reveal the nature and intensity of interactions among all species. This endeavour, to reveal species interactions to clarify their role in structing biological communities, is a key research theme of BIOSCAN, iBOL’s new seven-year, $180 million global research program that aims to revolutionize our understanding of biodiversity and our capacity to manage it.

For more information on Target malaria efforts in Ghana see: The important interactions behind the itch

For more information on BIOSCAN see:  BIOSCAN – Illuminating biodiversity and supporting sustainability

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Also in BIOSCAN

HOW A TROPICAL COUNTRY CAN DNA BARCODE ITSELF

by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs | Oct 2, 2019

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30 million reasons you will be missed

30 million reasons you will be missed

30 million reasons you will be missed

Pioneer field biologist, entomologist, and mentor, Terry Erwin passes away at age 79
Erwin supervising the trees at work, the Tiputini Research Station, Ecuador, 2013. PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

The world lost a brilliant mind last week when Terry L. Erwin passed away on May 11, 2020, at the age of 79. Many among us in the scientific community feel this great loss, for you did not need to have personally known, or even have met Erwin to recognize the name or appreciate the significance of his work.

    Erwin not only published prolifically on beetle systematics – describing four tribes, 22 genera, and 439 species of Carabidae – but also tremendously influenced the way many think about biodiversity.

    “He brought alive for many the far-off world and the mysteries therein of the neotropics,” said Beulah Garner, Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum in London, and Erwin’s colleague and friend of nine years. “I think it was the first time anyone, through their scientific exploration, had made a place and a fauna at once seem magical, touchable, and quantifiable.”

    Erwin was serving as a research entomologist and curator of Coleoptera at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History at the time of his death. He was a pioneer in neotropical conservation biology and canopy research, having developed the study of tree canopy insects into an academic discipline as early as 1974.

    Notably, in his small paper in 1982 that examined canopy beetles and host plant relationships to understand the number of species present in an acre of Panamanian forest, Erwin dramatically expanded our conception of terrestrial insect diversity.

    Graphical abstract of Erwin’s 1982 paper IMAGE CREDIT: Michelle Lynn D’Souza

    As a young graduate student interested in using DNA barcoding to evaluate insect diversity in Central America and to assess global diversity estimates, Erwin’s work was a guidepost for my own research. His 1982 publication was particularly iconic. Ironically, it was in the last ‘throwaway’ paragraph (as he described it) – suggesting the presence of 30 million arthropod species, at the time estimated to be around one-and-a half million – that he sparked a global debate about the number of species on the planet.

    Even years later, he was enduring in his defense of the ‘30 million’ estimate, according to Garner. His holistic approach to field biology, with Carabidae at its core, enabled him to understand the relatedness of species as well as the mechanisms that drive such incredible diversity so clearly. “Even higher [than 30 million] he would say! And, having been in the field with him, with his meticulous observations of the microverse, his pioneering investigations into the forest canopy, I absolutely believe him,” said Garner. “These were not assumptions from a dataset, a modelling outcome, these were from direct in-field observations: a true naturalist.” While his estimate has been debated, refuted, and revised to approximately seven million arthropod species, the discussion remains active today.

    A true naturalist at home in the jungles of Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, 2018.
    PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

    While always having been interested in DNA-based techniques, it was not until much later in Erwin’s career that he used it in his own work. Heavily involved in the field of systematics, he was among the first of those in the early 1980s that experienced its infusion with the beginnings of gene sequencing. While in its own right revolutionary, sequencing technology was just another tool to study the natural world, one that would eventually be replaced by the tricorder, Erwin explained to Dr. Bilgenur Baloglu, then a Ph.D. student at the National University of Singapore studying chironomid diversity, in an interview during the International Congress of Entomology in Florida in 2016. He was referring to DNA barcoding and the beginnings of Drs. Paul Hebert and Dan Janzen’s tests with Costa Rican moths.

    As noted by Dr. Scott Miller, science committee member of the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) and deputy undersecretary at the Smithsonian Institution, Erwin was always enthusiastic about collaborations between iBOL and the Smithsonian to barcode insect genera, such as that currently funded by the Global Genome Initiative (GGI). He is the main reason that Carabid beetles were one of the first families covered under the project, contributing substantially to the species barcoded and deposited on the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD), according to Miller. He also collaborated with Dr. Carlos Garcia-Robledo and others at the Smithsonian on a series of papers on insect-host plant relationships, among many others, that used DNA barcoding to identify the gut contents of insect herbivores as well as egg and larval plant associations to reconstruct species interactions in tropical networks.

    Miller first began working with Erwin in 1986 at the Smithsonian Institution as a postdoctoral fellow. Together they had a vision that became the Biodiversity in Latin America Tropics (BIOLAT), a program based around standardized sampling, something that may seem logical now, but was novel in fields like entomology at the time, according to Miller. Since then, a lot of other organizations have tried similar standardized programs but have struggled under the weight of the taxonomic impediment.  “When seen against this background, iBOL initiatives such as the Global Malaise Program or BioAlfa are truly amazing,” said Miller. “It is most unfortunate that DNA barcoding was not available when Terry started canopy fogging!”

    Erwin canopy fogging at 4 a.m. at the Onkone Gare camp, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, 2018.
    PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

    From planning BIOLAT, to consulting for Biosphere 2 (the subject of the documentary ‘Spaceship Earth’), to the initial canopy fogging endeavour in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that eventually led to the Binatang Research Center and the PNG insect ecology program, Erwin encouraged, guided, and inspired Miller’s endeavours for years.

    Terry understood the importance of nurturing the next generation of talent, and especially the importance of diversifying the [scientific] pipeline.

    Dr. Scott Miller

    Science committee member of the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) and deputy undersecretary at the Smithsonian Institution

    “Terry understood the importance of nurturing the next generation of talent, and especially the importance of diversifying the [scientific] pipeline,” says Miller. “Terry was always eager to provide opportunities for young scientists, especially women, and people from developing countries.” While working together at the Smithsonian, Miller recounts how Erwin always hosted interns and fellows, bringing them to meetings and conferences, and trying to connect them to future opportunities.

    Erwin had the greatest spirit of academic generosity, quick to provide advice, a reference from his encyclopedic library, or specimens for one’s own research, according to Garner. Erwin nurtured a passion for discovery in many students and inspired it in even more biologists. As he told Bilgenur back in 2016, you do not become a biologist if you are out for money, but you do it for the joy of being out in the field. “For me, the bottom line is if you like fieldwork, be a biologist. It’s the best place to be,” said Erwin in her interview. “If you are out in the rainforest, every single day, actually maybe every hour, there’s a tremendous discovery. And that’s what’s really rewarding – discovery.”

    Erwin hunting Carabidae near the Tiputini Research Station, Ecuador, 2013.
    PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

    In the field, Garner recounts, Erwin would wake early, sit by the Tiputini river with black coffee and binoculars, and study the jungle whilst it woke. “Canopy fogging is a race to finish before the dawn and Terry was indefatigable,” said Garner. “It’s 4 a.m. in the primary jungles of South America, you’re setting up your traps, and Terry is right beside you, overseeing operations as if the rainforest were his orchestra and he the conductor.” In the evening after supper with head torch and aspirator, it would be time to go on a Carabidae hunt.

    It’s 4 a.m. in the primary jungles of South America, you’re setting up your traps, and Terry is right beside you, overseeing operations, as if the rainforest were his orchestra and he the conductor.

    Beulah Garner

    Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum, London

    He was fearless, saving Garner from a pack of marauding peccaries in Ecuador, as well as rescuing her from bivouacking army ants as they surrounded their camp in the dead of night. “He was and is the reason I endeavour to be a good field biologist,” said Garner. “His compassion and consideration and genuine every-day awe for the natural world is a method to live and work by.”

    Beulah Garner (left) and Terry Erwin (right) inspecting the flight intercept traps, Tiputini Research Station, Ecuador, 2013. PHOTO CREDIT: Dr. Kelly Swing

    Erwin very much valued the natural world, possessing an astute understanding of it that unfortunately, he takes with him. He feared having species reduced to just a sequence and believed that the rich natural history and the awe that the living world inspires in us needed to be accounted for as well, sentiments that led him to catalyze the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) in 2004, according to Nana Naisbitt, EOL co-catalyst, founder of Chalkboard, and Erwin’s dear friend of 22 years. The EOL makes knowledge about life on Earth globally accessible and has had a long-standing collaboration with BOLD.

    As Naisbitt explained, Erwin was a profound mentor, one who changed the course of her life and the lives of many others through her work and her connection to him. He effectively snowballed Naisbitt’s career as a science champion, instrumental in her founding the Pinhead Institute, a science education non-profit and Smithsonian Affiliate. He was also key to many community outreach and mentorship programs while she worked as Executive Director of the Telluride Science Research Center, a job she got because of her work as the director of Pinhead. “It’s just impossible to say how many people he impacted,” said Naisbitt. “Terry liked to say that he plants seeds – ideas in students – and watches them grow. He planted countless seeds that grew strong and bright.”

    In Naisbitt’s assessment, Erwin was able to help so many people flourish because he possessed a phenomenal gift in the way he supported them and gave them confidence without being intrusive. “He connected me to the right people, then showed up for and supported me. Most times he would just sit there quietly in meetings and let me do the talking,” said Naisbitt. “His reputation and presence were enough – it conveyed the message, ‘I anoint this person’. In that way, he was so unbelievably respectful.”

    Naisbitt said that she had the impression Erwin believed he stood on the shoulders of giants. She described to me this image she had of him, of someone reaching down and pulling up younger scientists to stand on his shoulders. “And he did that so well. He did it over and over again, with immense generosity and without ego. And that is so rare.”

    His reputation and presence were enough – it conveyed the message, ‘I anoint this person’. In that way, he was so unbelievably respectful.

    Nana Naisbitt

    Founder of Chalkboard

    When Dr. Marlin Rice, back in a 2015 interview, asked Erwin how he would like others to remember him, his answer was simple – by what his students do. The influence a mentor has on their students and them on theirs, he described, is an unbroken chain that keeps connecting generations of thinkers. Erwin told Rice, “There’s this chain all the way from the great old-timers down through George [Ball – his Ph.D. mentor] and his students and what I’d like to do is to keep that chain going.”

    Indeed, Erwin’s brilliance, passion, and dedication for science extended those chains far beyond his students and colleagues, to countless others across space, like me. As the value of his research will certainly endure, those chains will also extend across time. Erwin was undoubtedly one of the rare ones among us whose influence has had, and will continue to have, an extraordinary reach.

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    Reflections on conducting fieldwork in Nunavut, Canada

    Reflections on conducting fieldwork in Nunavut, Canada

    Reflections on conducting fieldwork in Nunavut, Canada

    The opportunities and challenges of working in the Arctic as part of the Arctic BIOSCAN project

    By Crystal Sobel

    Carter Lear and Jaiden Maksagak (left to right) venturing across the tundra in search of insects

    PHOTO CREDIT: Andrea Dobrescu

    What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Arctic’? Do you picture snow and ice, freezing temperatures, vibrant communities, and animals like the polar bear and Arctic fox?

    Ice breaking apart on Ferguson Lake, Northwest of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel
    Polar Bear walking around Churchill, Manitoba during the Arctic summer
    Photo credit: Thanushi Eagalle

    Not everyone is able to experience first-hand the vast tundra or see people fishing for Arctic char as they travel down the river to the ocean. I hope to share my impressions as a visitor to the Arctic, through my fieldwork as a research technician for the Arctic BIOSCAN (ARCBIO) project.

    Beautiful sky views and summer flowers at Long Point, Victoria Island, Nunavut
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel

    ARCBIO is a partnership between the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) at the University of Guelph and Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR) that aims to carry out biodiversity assessments in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. Teams of researchers and technicians have been sent from the CBG to Nunavut for eight weeks spanning July and August in the summer to collect and catalogue plants and animals.

    I play a major role in the planning and logistics for ARCBIO’s field expedition which includes working out how to transport and assemble the equipment required to collect and catalog insects, plants, and small mammals for an entire field season involving more than 14 researchers.  Careful planning is crucial to order and organize the more than 70 different pieces of equipment — Malaise traps, sifters, nets, forceps, camera gear, labels, collecting bottles, etc. — as it all needs to be in place at our research sites in time for our arrival at the start of field season.

    Flying to Nunavut from Ontario involves three flights over two days. But once you arrive, the land is truly a sight to behold. It is like no other place on Earth; its beauty magnified by the midnight sun and the countless tundra flowers covering the landscape.

    Tundra landscape in full bloom in July. Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel

    In 2018 and 2019, my Arctic travels were focused in Iqaluktuuttiaq (Cambridge Bay), Nunavut whose location on Victoria Island along the Northwest Passage has made it a key port for passengers and research vessels. The Inuit have been residing in this region for over 4,000 years, naming the area Iqaluktuuttiaq meaning ‘good fishing place’ in Inuinnaqtun, the traditional language of the area, for its abundance in Arctic char.

    My colleagues and I worked at the magnificent new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS). Run by POLAR staff, the station has several research and teaching spaces including a very impressive necropsy lab that has enough space to dissect whales. Dorm style lodgings are available for visiting researchers, with a facility building full of fieldwork equipment from ATVs to scuba gear to snowmobile suits.

    After arriving at a sampling site North of Long Point, Nunavut, we took in the incredibly vast view of the tundra
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel
    ATV transport is the best way to get around on the rugged tundra terrain. Ovayok Territorial Park, Nunavut
    Photo credit:Alex Borisenko
    Mikko Pentinsaari and Alex Borisenko (left to right) are searching for insects in the leaf litter sample collected from the tundra back at the CHARS facility
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel
    In addition, the CHARS staff are incredibly friendly and an indispensable resource for a successful field season providing logistical support to advice on field site selection. The POLAR staff were particularly instrumental in helping us collect aquatic samples.
    Researchers surveying the land for sampling sites on the Northside of Grenier Lake, Nunavut

    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel

    There are no docks to park your boat out on Grenier Lake, Nunavut
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel
    Everyone is having a great time travelling along Grenier Lake in their survival suit gear
    Photo credit: POLAR staff
    Coming from Southern Ontario, I dressed in many layers of clothing including quick-dry field pants, gloves, short-sleeve shirt, long-sleeve shirt, sweater, windbreaker jacket and, when needed, a rain jacket and pants. And don’t forget a toque (I did!). A cozy hat is key to keeping your head and ears warm against the unrelenting wind coming off the Arctic Ocean. But perhaps the most important article of clothing is the very stylish bug net hat.
    Keeping the mosquitoes away with a stylish bug net hat!
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel

    We were also very fortunate to have hired two youth in Cambridge Bay for our 2019 field season. Jaiden Maksagak and Carter Lear helped with insect monitoring by setting up traps, collecting samples, and recording data. Having a keen interest in the sciences, they were eager to gain experience by working with us.

    Carter Lear and Jaiden Maksagak (left to right) venturing across the tundra in search of insects
    Photo credit: Andrea Dobrescu
    Jaiden Maksagak attaches a collecting bottle to the Malaise trap, which passively collects flying insects
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel
    Jaiden Maksagak (left), Andrea Dobrescu (bottom right) and Alana Tallman (top right) work together to set up an insect trap transect line with pitfall traps and samples of soil to be sifted through
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel

    Our team also conducted field work in Kugluktuk for the 2019 summer field season. Kugluktuk, meaning ‘place of moving water’, is situated on the northern edge of the mainland of Canada and is the westernmost community in Nunavut. Here, we worked with two wildlife guides, Thomas Bolt and Dettrick Hokanak whom helped with monitoring for bear activity and site set up as well as with servicing of the insect traps.

    Thomas Bolt and Dettrick Hokanak (left to right) were our incredibly helpful guides in Kugluktuk, Nunavut
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel

    In both Iqaluktuuttiaq and Kugluktuk, we sought guidance from Nunavut’s Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) who provided us with local wildlife guides, bear monitoring services, and recommended great science-minded youth from the community who worked with us as science rangers. We were grateful for the knowledge they shared with us and for the opportunity to share aspects of our research work with their communities on Nunavut Day.

    A Malaise trap, used to collect flying insects, contrasts with the beautiful tundra sky and landscape
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel
    During the Nunavut Day celebrations, we were able to share the wonderful world of insects with children and adults. We set up displays in both communities that showcased the many shapes and sizes of insects, their life cycles as well as highlight which ones are beneficial to humans, and which ones are pests. I always enjoy seeing kids get wide-eyed with excitement when they see our insect displays.
    Local community members demonstrate the making of bannock, a traditional food from the region during Nunavut Day 2018, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
    Photo credit: Crystal Sobel

    The kids enjoyed our giveaways which included informational pamphlets, bookmarks, postcards, buttons and other fun items about animals and how DNA barcoding works. I enjoyed learning a few words in Inuktitut from them, such as nuna for land, tuluaq for crow, and hikhik for ground squirrels. I believe that it’s very important to democratize science, involve local communities in research projects, and make data available to the public including the people making decisions that could impact ecosystems and their biodiversity. We need sensitive tools to understand how Arctic environments are changing and give us insights into what we can do to solve problems. DNA barcoding arctic diversity, this is what ARCBIO is all about.

    Written by

    Crystal Sobel

    Crystal Sobel

    Research Technician, Collections Unit, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics

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    BIOSCAN: tracking biodiversity on Earth

    BIOSCAN: tracking biodiversity on Earth

    BIOSCAN: tracking biodiversity on Earth

    iBOL’s new seven-year, $180 million global research program that aims to revolutionize our understanding of biodiversity and our capacity to manage it.
    January 20, 2019 By the International Barcode of Life Consoritum – ibol.org

    BIOSCAN is iBOL’s new seven-year, $180 million global research program that aims to revolutionize our understanding of biodiversity and our capacity to manage it. Involving scientists, research organizations, and citizens, BIOSCAN will explore three major research themes: Species Discovery, Species Interactions, Species Dynamics.

    iBOL (International Barcode of Life Consortium) involves researchers in 30+ nations who share a mission to transform biodiversity science through DNA-based approaches with DNA barcoding at its core. iBOL works in partnership with academic, government, and private sector organizations.

    For more information on BIOSCAN and iBOL visit: ibol.org

    Additional video footage provided by:

    Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Canada
    Hakai Institute, Canada

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    Also in BIOSCAN

    HOW A TROPICAL COUNTRY CAN DNA BARCODE ITSELF

    by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs | Oct 2, 2019

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    To BOLDly Go

    To BOLDly Go

    To BOLDly Go

    Catalog all of Earth's multicellular lifeforms—tens of millions of species—in one giant DNA library.

    November 14, 2019

    By Kat Pyne and Josh Silberg, Hakai Institute – hakai.org

    Space may be the final frontier, and yet we still have light years to go before we fully understand the rich diversity of life at home. The current mission? Catalog all of Earth’s multicellular lifeforms—tens of millions of species—in one giant DNA library. Imagine this: just as you would scan a cereal box’s barcode at the grocery store, the same thing could be done with any plant or animal’s DNA to find out its species. It may sound like science fiction, but scientists around the world are working toward that reality. Their goal? To create an international barcode of life! So just how are scientists stocking the library’s shelves? Come with us to British Columbia and California to find out!

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    Reconstructing the diet of an elusive wood grouse (western capercaillies) using metagenomics

    Reconstructing the diet of an elusive wood grouse (western capercaillies) using metagenomics

    Reconstructing the diet of an elusive wood grouse (western capercaillies) using metagenomics

    Environmental DNA provides a non-invasive and simple means of biomonitoring

    By Physilia Chua

    Spotted! A male capercaillie displaying its magnificent tail feathers

    PHOTO CREDIT: Per Gätzschmann

    Gone are the days when researchers needed to spend countless hours observing an animal in the wild to understand its behaviour and ecology. As we demonstrate with our study, valuable data can be gathered by simply examining faecal samples with powerful metagenomics approaches.

    The need for data that effectively informs biological conservation is intensifying as the rate of biodiversity loss increases. Traditionally, scientists have endured long hours in the field, often hiding uncomfortably in bushes or traversing dangerous and hard-to-reach places, all for the purpose of observing elusive animals.

    Searching for capercaillies in the midst of a snow storm in the Norwegian boreal forests
    Photo credit: Physilia Chua

    With the advent of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies – those that effectively provide large amounts of DNA sequence data – it is now possible to obtain a wealth of ecological information from just a single faecal sample. The ease of collecting such samples circumvents some of the challenges of studying animals otherwise hard to find.

    One such NGS approach is metagenomics shotgun sequencing (MSS), which determines the nucleotide composition of large amounts of random DNA molecules recovered from complex samples of DNA from various sources. This method makes it possible to simultaneously retrieve information about the host’s diet, microbiome, gut parasites, as well as the population structure of the species1. While it has vast potential for conservation biology, few studies have utilised MSS to reconstruct the diet of animals, and none have done so for herbivorous birds.

    A typical day out in the fields high above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø, Dividalen National Park, Norway
    Photo credit: Physilia Chua

    The western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), or wood grouse, is an emblematic species which can be found in the coniferous forest of Eurasia. Highly susceptible to the increased levels of habitat destruction and fragmentation, their declining population has placed them on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red-list throughout most of western and central Europe2. By studying the wood grouse’s diet, we could gain clues about the resources it requires and the other species it interacts with in its habitat, informing better conservation strategies. By observing the animal and morphologically identifying plant remains from their faecal samples, it was determined that the capercaillie’s diet consists of mostly pine needles in the winter, and Vaccinium species in the summer3.

    A pile of capercaillie scat
    Photo credit: Physilia Chua
    Capercaillie’s favourite food? Pine needles (left) and Vaccinium sp. (right)

    Photo credit: Physilia Chua

    However, preliminary results from our study show promising signs that the capercaillie’s diet is more diverse than once thought. Other than plants, we have also discovered parasitoid wasps and several species of mites, which could have been accidental ingestion while feeding or preening. And with the use of metagenomics, there is also the possibility of obtaining more detailed quantitative information about its diet that can be used to inform habitat management choices. Their gut microbiome, intestinal parasites, and population genetics are also currently being analysed. Unexpectedly, we were also able to detect the presence of plant-pathogenic fungus and nematodes from their faecal samples, providing some interesting ecological insights about the capercaillie’s habitat. Even though our research is still in its infancy, by using metagenomics shotgun sequencing on faecal samples, our initial study has already yielded a wealth of data. There is truly an untapped potential for its application in conservation biology and biomonitoring, which should be further explored.
    The road less travelled might lead to unexpected discoveries
    Photo credit: Physilia Chua

    AcknowledgementS:

    I thank my supervisors Kristine Bohmann, Sanne Boessenkool, and Inger Greve Alsos for their guidance in every step of this research, without whom this study would not have been possible. I am deeply grateful to Torbjørn Ekrem for his invaluable support both in and outside of fieldwork. I am indebted to my collaborators Kat Bruce and Alex Crampton-Platt for taking me into their team at NatureMetrics and making bioinformatics look so easy. Lastly, my sincere gratitude to the members of the eDNA group at the Section for Evolutionary Genomics, University of Copenhagen, and also to my fellow Plant.ID ESRs for keeping me in the right headspace. This project is part of the H2020 MSCA-ITN-ETN Plant.ID network and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 765000.

    References:

    1. Srivathsan A, Sha JCM, Vogler A, Meier R (2015) Comparing the effectiveness of metagenomics and metabarcoding for diet analysis of a leaf-feeding monkey (Pygathrix nemaeus). Molecular Ecology Resources 15(2): 250–261. https://doi.org/10.1111/1755-0998.12302 2. Storch I (2000) Grouse: status survey and conservation action plan 2000-2004. IUCN/SSC Action Plans for the Conservation of Biological Diversity. Retrieved from http://www.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2000-031.pdf 3. Picozzi N, Moss R, Catt DC (1996) Capercaillie habitat, diet and management in a Sitka spruce plantation in central Scotland. International Journal of Agriculture and Forestry. 69(4): 373 – 388. https://doi.org/10.1093/forestry/69.4.373

    Written by

    Physilia Chua

    Physilia Chua

    Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

    November 12, 2019
    https://doi.org/10.21083/ibol.v9i1.5725

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