Conservation scientists make interesting finds in 2013

Katie
Katie Tower
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SACKVILLE, N.B. – The team of scientists at Atlantic Canada’s Conservation Data Centre (ACCDC) have had another busy and productive year, making a number of rare and interesting finds in the Maritimes and gathering data that is essential in helping to protect the natural environment.

From several new plant discoveries and rare sightings of butterflies in the Maritimes as well as the first possible Canadian record of a flower fly species found in New Brunswick, 2013 was an eventful year at the data centre, both in and out of the field.

Outgoing executive director RA Lautenschlager applauded the work of his staff, who have a broad range of expertise in the areas of botany, zoology, landscape ecology and forestry, calling it “another great year” for the conservation data centre.

“That good year is because of the quality of staff, who are just doing stuff all the time and finding things that will help support us, not only in terms of their knowledge but things to help fund us,” he said.

Botanists Sean Blaney and David Mazerolle worked on 21 contracted projects in 2013, receiving about $200,000 in grant funding to support their efforts. The duo documented more than 19,000 species records last year with 4,600 of those being provincially-rare or threatened species. They recorded several new sightings throughout 2013 – including Northern Rough Fescue in Nova Scotia, Smooth Beardtongue in New Brunswick (a species that is native to the Eastern US), and Needle-tip Blue Eyed Grass, which has also never been seen before in New Brunswick.

“So that’s a pretty exciting find,” said Mazerolle.

Another significant find was the potential first-time sighting of Woolgrass Bulrush along the Restigouche River, which would make it the first confirmed species in New Brunswick.

A new provincial record of White Adder’s-Mouth was also documented along the boundary of Prince Edward Island’s National Park.

“It had never been seen before. . . so that was a great find,” said Mazerolle.

The botanists also spent some time out in the field along the Lahave River in Nova Scotia last summer, where there were a high diversity of plants, including 40 rare species that were found to be “very abundant” along the river, said Blaney.

Other riverbanks they explored were along the Upper Saint John River watershed, an area that supports a wide diversity of species and where they documented over 500 locations of 48 provincially-rare species.

Blaney and Mazerolle were also involved in conducting Bathurst Aster surveys. Bathurst Aster is a form of salt marsh Aster endemic to NB and is a “species of special concern.” During the survey, they discovered five new Bathurst Aster populations, extending the species’ known range by about 60 kilometres. They collected samples for genetic analysis to determine whether the Bathurst Aster should be listed as a subspecies of the Aster or its own unique species.

In Kejimkujik National Park, the botanists made the first observation since 2007 of the threatened Water Pennywort, a protected plant in the region.

John Klymko, zoologist with the conservation data centre, also kept busy in 2013, continuing his efforts on the Maritimes Butterfly Atlas, in the “fifth and final year of the project.”

The Atlas is a five-year citizen science project that was launched in 2010 to help document butterfly occurrences in the Maritimes. The first four years of the effort has produced nearly 20,000 records, contributing to the first-ever comprehensive survey of butterflies in the region.

“It helps fill the significant gaps in our knowledge of the Maritime butterfly fauna,” said Klymko, “and will help us better assess the status of our butterfly species.”

Now reaching 300 volunteers across the Maritimes who document butterfly sightings, Klymko said ACCDC is pleased with the involvement from the public.

The data received this year from the volunteers resulted in two new butterfly species detected in Nova Scotia – the Two-spotted Skipper and the Eastern-Tailed Blue. The skipper was sighted in Pictou while the blue was spotted at four different sites in Nova Scotia.

“It’s difficult to tell if they were detected now because of more surveys being conducted or if they’ve expanded their range,” he said, noting they will continue to monitor the distribution to see what develops.

During surveys of flower flies and wasps in New Brunswick’s Caledonia Gorge, Klymko recorded 67 flower fly species, including five that were new to the province. Perhaps the most significant of his discoveries was that of a species of psilota that had never been found in Canada before. In fact, he said the specimen appears to be an undescribed species and “may never well have been collected anywhere before.”

Also moving forward with research last year was Sarah Robinson, who works in landscape ecology. She spent time documenting the extent of the Thread-Leaved Sundew population at Swain’s Road Bog in Nova Scotia. The Thread-Leaved Sundew is an endangered species in Nova Scotia.

In PEI, Robinson recorded sightings of Canada Germander, a new species for PEI National Park, which was found in the saltmarsh edge community close to the roadbed.

“So that’s a great species to add to the park list,” she said.

The data that is gathered and the field work that is undertaken at the ACCDC is used to support decision-making, research and education in Atlantic Canada. The information collected by the staff is provided to federal and provincial government departments, ENGOs, industry, researchers, students, and many others throughout Atlantic Canada. Established in 1997, the ACCDC is located on the Mount Allison University campus, with a satellite office situated in Corner Brook, Nfld.

Blaney, who will be taking over for Lautenschlager as executive director, said he will not be leaving the field completely behind as he makes the transition to his new position. He said he is confident ACCDC has a capable and independent staff that “doesn’t need a lot of direction once projects are under way.”

Organizations: Mount Allison University

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia Restigouche River Prince Edward Island Lahave River Upper Saint John River Kejimkujik National Park Pictou PEI National Park Corner Brook

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