Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley
Mississippi River at Pakenham

2005-2006: Change in our Natural World

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

April 10, 2006

 “Changes in our natural world” with an Ontario Parks conservation ecologist

There is an opportunity to hear about conservation issues, past, present and future from a real ‘grass roots’ biologist at the next Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist meeting to be held Thursday evening April 20 in Almonte. The presentation will be given by Dr.William Crins, Senior Conservation Ecologist in the Planning and Research Section of Ontario Parks, at the Ministry of Natural Resources in Peterborough. A botanist by training, Bill has devoted his career to the study of living things, specializing in the evolution and ecology of important grasses and sedges. Several species new to science, including the juniper sedge Carex juniperorum Catling, Reznicek & Crins, bear his name.

As a ‘budding’ biologist in the early 70’s Dr. Crins worked summers at Algonquin Park as an interpretive naturalist and later conducted biological inventories and assessments used to develop the Nature Reserve Zone system in the park. Following graduate studies at the University of Toronto, Dr. Crins did research at UBC and the New York State Museum in Albany. As senior ecologist with Ontario Parks, he now applies his knowledge of conservation and biodiversity issues to projects such as the Ecological Land Classification system for Ontario and the development of old growth forest policy, as well as contributing to detailed inventory of Ontario’s habitat resources and Species at Risk habitat mapping guidelines.

Dr. Crins says that his presentation on Thursday “will illustrate some of the changes in flora and fauna that have occurred during the past century, and will speculate on some of the changes that may occur in the future.” What effects have development and the intensification and then abandonment of agriculture had on species and ecosystems? What have been the effects of accidental introduction of exotic species, changes in forest management practices, or changes in land use patterns? Potential impacts of climate change on species distribution and ecosystem composition will also be discussed.

The presentation, “Changes in the Flora and Fauna of Southeastern Ontario: Past, Present, and Future” is the last in MVFN’s series “Change in our Natural World” and takes place Thursday April 20th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church on Elgin St. Program Chair Tine Kuiper will host the evening, and refreshments will be offered. All are welcome. A non-member fee of $5 applies (for those over 16) or MVFN memberships are available. For further information visit or contact Pauline Donaldson at 256-9399.


Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

March 6, 2006

Learn how global weather changes are affecting Ontario fish and fisheries

Extremes in global weather, such as those associated with the Pacific’s El Niño and La Niña, and more gradual change such as global warming, affect fish communities in Ontario. Average water temperatures in local freshwater bodies change and this affects spawning, growth, food resources, predation, and, ultimately, the numbers of fish available for recreational and commercial fisheries. This topic will be discussed Thursday March 16, in a seminar by retired Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources scientist Dr. John Casselman, at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists meeting in Almonte. According to Casselman, impacts on fish communities and their habitats depend on whether the fish are a warm-water species such as smallmouth bass, a cool-water species such as Northern pike or walleye, or a cold-water species such as lake trout. He plans to use long-term water temperature data for the Great Lakes Basin and age assessments to explain how populations are impacted by temperature change. For example, some very poor years for smallmouth bass were associated with cold temperatures following the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. On the other hand his studies suggest a global warming of only 2°C will increase numbers of these fish six-fold, while greatly decreasing the numbers of cool- and cold-water fish.

Dr. Casselman has decades of research experience throughout Ontario and Canada and is currently Scientist Emeritus at Glenora Fisheries Station, an Adjunct Professor at Queens University, and a lead author for fish and fisheries for a key report on climate change in Canada. Dr. Cassleman is also known internationally for his work on the American eel, whose dramatic decline will also be discussed at Thursdays’ talk. In 2003 he convened a conference which led to a global call for immediate measures to sustain eel stocks, which have been negatively impacted by changes in North Atlantic Ocean currents and the Gulf Stream. Remarkably mysterious, all populations of eels live most of their lives in fresh water but return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, forming a single genetic population. The larval stage drifts on ocean currents for a year before becoming ‘glass eels’ which move to the coasts where, as adults, they inhabit freshwaters in different parts of the world.

The presentation, “Climate Change, Fish and Fisheries in the Great Lakes Basin”, is 6th in MVFN’s series “Change in our Natural World” and takes place Thursday March 16th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church on Elgin St. Host for the evening will be MVFN member Michel Vermette. All are welcome. A non-member fee of $5 applies or MVFN memberships may be purchased. For further information visit or contact Pauline Donaldson at 256-9399.


Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

February 9, 2006

How are our feathered friends doing?

On Thursday February 16, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists will present “Recent Changes in Bird Populations in Ontario and North America”, with guest speaker Dr. Peter Blancher of the Canadian Wildlife Service, as part of the ongoing series: “Change in our Natural World”. Dr. Blancher will give his insights on results from the soon to be published 2nd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, which brings together the five years of observations made from 2001-2005. Since the publication of the first atlas, 20 years ago, one of the most notable changes has been a decline in swallows, swifts and nighthawks, birds that feed on the wing on flying insects. Dr. Blancher will discuss declines as well as some upward trends, e.g. for forest birds as a whole, and will point to some of the underlying factors involved in these changes.

Some of the best information on bird populations comes from surveys conducted by volunteers, says Dr. Blancher, and important among these are: Christmas Bird Counts, the Breeding Bird Survey, the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, and the Great Backyard Bird Count. Knowledge gained from these surveys helps in directing conservation efforts. As a member of the Birds Specialist Subcommittee of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Dr. Blancher comes to the evening with a wealth of experience with which to discuss which birds are doing well and why.

Join the MVFN and local bird specialist Lynda Bennett, who is host for the evening as we welcome Dr. Blancher this Thursday February 16th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church on Elgin St. Members of the public are welcome. A non-member fee of $5 is collected, or, for those interested, annual memberships in MVFN may be purchased at the door. The next outdoor MVFN event will be “The Forest in Winter at Kate’s Lake Trail” on February 12th, led by Joel Byrne. For further information on these and other MVFN events contact Pauline Donaldson at 256-9399 or visit the website at



Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

January 8, 2006

Whale bone ‘tales’ from the Northwest Passage on the agenda for next MVFN

The fourth in the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists seminar series, “Change in our Natural World,” will focus on, “Change in the Arctic: Environmental History and Archaeology along the Northwest Passage.” Our guest speaker, Dr. Art Dyke, will tell the amazing story of the Northwest Passage from ice-age hunters some 10-20,000 years ago, to the postglacial bowhead whaling cultures. From this he will lead us to present day speculation about an ice-free NW passage. The story is ‘read’, in part, from the examination of more than a thousand samples of recovered whalebone.


Dr. Dyke, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, has conducted archaeological research on ancient human civilizations and large sea mammals in the Canadian North. His work also includes geological mapping with a focus on historical aspects of climate change, sea level change and glacial history from the last ice age to the present. Dr. Dyke is co-author of “Mapping Ancient History,” a website, developed with the Museum of Civilization, of mapped radiocarbon dated artifacts, which allows users to follow the historic migration of human societies and animals. Several years ago, Dr Dyke also contributed to important research on an abrupt climatic change caused by drainage of a lake ‘de-plugged’ by melting of the massive ‘Laurentide’ ice sheet. Historic information such as this is being used to understand and reduce vulnerability to future climate change in Canada.

In his work on skeletal remains of the Atlantic walrus and the bowhead whale in Paleo- and Neo- Eskimo archaeological sites, Dr. Dyke examines historic ranges and interaction with human societies. Thursday’s seminar will focus on research to determine whether the central portion of the Northwest Passage, plugged year-round in modern times, was ever ice-free. The history of sea ice is of interest due to the potential for a lucrative new NW shipping lane, should the climate warm significantly. In addition to shedding light on this exciting prospect, new information on the links between human and climatic history will be revealed, depicting ‘peaks’ and ‘crashes’ of human populations along the Northwest Passage over the last 10,000 years.

Join MVFN members and Vice President Mike McPhail, who will host the presentation. The event takes place Thursday, January 19th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church on Elgin St. Members of the public are welcome. Following the presentation, all are invited to enjoy refreshments. A non-member fee of $5 applies, or, for those interested, MVFN memberships can be purchased at the door. For more information, please contact MVFN Program Chair Tine Kuiper @ 256- 8241 or see the MVFN website at


Ecologist used paleolimnology to take naturalists ‘back in time’

By Pauline Donaldson

On Thursday November 24th , we hosted the third speaker in our series, “Change in our Natural World”. Guest speaker, Dr. Brian Cumming, is Associate Professor in the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory at Queens University (PEARL). The PEARL scientists use techniques of paleolimnology (study of fresh water ecosystems in the past) to provide an historical perspective on environmental change. Data collected is used to determine natural environmental variability in the past, and to test models used to study current global environmental change.

Dr. Cumming’s research can track natural changes in an ecosystem over impressively long time periods (millions of years) in the past, while at the same time uncovering detailed decade by decade information about this time period. Sophisticated sampling techniques and analyses can reveal patterns of temperature, acidity and other changes in a lake over long periods of time. Changes in lake temperature, for example, affect the type of algae and other species which will flourish. These changes can be deduced by analyzing which types of fossil algae are predominant in the lake sediment deposited during a particular time period. Cylindrical cores removed from lake bottom sediment are first calibrated to establish the relationship between depth and timing of deposition (age).

Some of the background work which was done to establish the protocols and the relationships between algal type and the environmental conditions in which they flourished, were done in British Columbia where there is a huge diversity of lake types. This knowledge was then applied when examining sediment cores from lakes in the Canadian Prairies.

From these studies, Dr. Cumming has concluded that abrupt millennial-scale shifts in climate were likely common on the North American continent in the past six thousand years. These natural shifts are more severe and prolonged than the meteorological and historical records indicate. Although the mechanisms behind these changes are unclear, the findings have profound implications for the natural environment and the infrastructures of our communities. Water management plans, for example, may be inadequate if predictions of variations in water availability and water levels are based only on short-term records.

The presentation concluded with many good questions from the audience, followed by refreshments and further discussion. Please join us again in the New Year, on January 19th, when we welcome the fourth guest speaker in the series “Change in our Natural World”. Art Dyke will tell us about “Change in the Arctic”.


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MVFN natural history talks:  7:30 pm on third Thursdays of Jan, Feb, March, April,  Sept, Oct, and Nov at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St. Almonte ON. All welcome! Non-members $5. 

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