Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Press Release, April 5, 2012

A Bird in Hand

 by Cathy Keddy, MVFN Program Chair

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Trends in Fauna and Flora, continues April 19 with the final presentation, ‘A Bird in the Hand.’ You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations.

 

Above left: an identification band being attached to the leg of a Yellow Warbler;  Right: a  Scarlet Tanager is examined during the banding process (photos by Lesley Howes).

For Canadian Wildlife Service biologist, Lesley Howes—speaker at MVFN’s April lecture, a bird in the hand is worth many in the bush for when the bird is in your hand, you can band it. Banding involves affixing a plastic or metal identification tag to either the wing or leg of the bird. Appropriate, standard banding techniques have been established to protect the health of both birds and the banders. Leslie will share her knowledge of this art based on more than 20 years of experience banding humming birds to seabirds to raptors.

Banding birds is one of the most useful techniques in the research and monitoring of migratory bird populations. Bird banding and subsequent re-finding of banded individuals enables ornithologists to study many aspects of a bird’s life including migration, longevity, mortality, territoriality, and feeding behaviour. Information from banding studies also contributes to population studies, the establishment of waterfowl hunting regulations, protection of endangered species, and assessment of the effects of environmental contaminants.

In North America tagging birds for scientific study began in 1803 when John James Audubon tied silver threads onto the legs of young Eastern Phoebes. In Canada, Ernest Thompson Seton studied Snow Buntings in Manitoba in 1882 by marking them with ink. Today, bird banding programs have been established around the world and co-operation among sponsoring agencies provides a wealth of information about global geographic bird patterns and population trends. More than 66 million birds have been banded in North America since 1908. Approximately 900 banders place bands and markers on over 300,000 migratory birds each year in Canada. Mallards are the most commonly marked bird with over 7 million marked in North America since 1908.

Can you believe it? Banding studies of Arctic Terns and Manx Shearwater (a medium-sized seabird) have shown incredible migration feats. A three-month-old Arctic Tern chick banded in Britain in the summer of 1982, reached Australia that October— a sea journey of over 22,000 km in just a few months. Through banding, it has been found that Manx Shearwaters migrate between the nothern Europe and South America, a distance of over 10,000km. Given that they can live to be at least 50 yrs, this means they travel more than one million km during migration over their lifetime in addition to their day-to-day flights. One banded bird, in particular, was calculated to have flown over 8 million during its life time, outliving its ornithological tracker. Without banding, we would not have known.

Founded in 1982 by the Ottawa Banding Group, our nearest bird banding station is the Innis Point Bird Observatory located on Department of National Defense property along the Ottawa River, near Shirley’s Bay. Migration monitoring and other research projects here include Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS), Breeding Bird Census, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird and Purple Martin research, and Snow Bunting banding in winter. There are on-site facilities for long-term volunteers. Interested? Ask Lesley about opportunities.

Refresh your identification skills and try your hand at aging and sexing birds with the study skins that Lesley brings to her MVFN presentation, ‘A Bird in the Hand,’ at 7:30 pm on Thursday April 19 at Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome. Non-members $5. Refreshments provided. For more information, contact MVFN Program Chair, Cathy Keddy (613-257-3089).

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February 2012

Green alien plant invaders of natural habitats: a lecture report written by Pauline Donaldson

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) recently held the 5th lecture of their 2011-12 natural history lecture series in Almonte. ‘Green Aliens in Lanark County’ was presented by Mississippi Mills resident Ken Allison, an avid field naturalist and professional biologist who specializes in non-native invasive plant species. Allison has served on the Board of Directors for MVFN for more than a year and is currently President of MVFN.

Prominent on the second slide of Allison’s MVFN presentation were the words “Lanark County has been invaded!” Invaded by plants that is. Gazing at the typical picturesque road-side scene filled with a pleasing, colourful array of familiar mid-summer wild flowers I am shocked as one by one they are named as alien species . . . Reed Canarygrass, wild carrot, bird’s-foot trefoil. However, it is a relief to hear that, to Allison, this class of alien plant species is not a worry as they do no harm in natural areas. In fact some of these alien invaders of disturbed habitats are popular with insects. Spotted knapweed is covered in skipper butterflies in July. Others like coltsfoot are a beautiful sight in spring with yellow flowers and masses of green leaves.

Some aliens are most welcome and bring other world culture to Canada, for example coltsfoot which is much admired from ancient times as a heal all. Invasive plants that flourish near the roadside tend to be salt tolerant. More natives grow further from the road. Alien invasive plants which are common in lawns are white clover and common plantain. Some non-native plants only manage to be invasive in cultivated fields or gardens, for example common purslane or yellow wood-sorrel. There are other non-native species which sometimes tend to persist where they are planted e.g. the common lilac or orange day-lily, but they do not become invasive. So far so good, these alien inhabitants of disturbed habitats seem okay, but there are other classes of alien plant species which “we really need to worry about” says Allison.

The ones to worry about are certain non-native aggressive invaders of natural habitats, both terrestrial and aquatic. These ‘bad’ alien invasive plants tend to share a number of characteristics. Number 1, they have extra good seed dispersal mechanisms – think dandelion seeds, or buckthorn berries. Or they can grow up in a crack in the pavement. Also, they are able to take advantage of man-made disturbances and invade places where we have reduced or eliminated the competition. Often a non-native plant that becomes invasive was introduced as an ornamental. If the answer is yes to the following questions then the non-native plant probably has potential to be invasive: Does it kill or suppress surrounding plants? Is it a rapidly spreading groundcover? Is it low maintenance? Are its seeds spread by wind or water? Are the berries eaten by wildlife?

Photo 2 bladder campion (1280x960)

Bladder companion is an alien plant which is common in disturbed habitats such as roadsides, where it does no harm. Photo Ken Allison

 

A ‘good’ example of a ‘bad’ alien plant invader of natural terrestrial habitats is European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). Allison considers this “the worst of the worst locally”. It is a shrub that is easy to find in October because it is the only one still with leaves. It is displacing native species because its’ stands produce dense shade. There are other non-native plant invaders of natural terrestrial habitats which really do not do much harm, for example the pretty Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). An example of an invasive orchid is the broadleaf helleboreine which invades on moist soil. It is also not having any apparent impact. Even some of these invasive species have benefited local insects. Henry’s elfin butterflies have learned to lay their eggs on glossy buckthorn.

Aquatic environments are especially vulnerable to invasive plants. Animal non-native invaders such as zebra mussels, a small clam, are quite well known. However an invasive plant species that is causing problems is European frog’s bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae). It is a free-floating aquatic plant with 3-petaled white flowers. This is a bad invader. It was brought in as an ornamental. Ducks and other waterfowl are probably partially responsible for its spread. It forms very dense floating mats which lead to a reduction of native plants and the dense growth out-competes other important plant and animal species for oxygen and nutrients in the water. Biological oxygen decrease is quite significant with frog’s bit. Another plant which has been a concern in wetland areas in the past was purple loosestrife. However, with bio-control measures in the form of two European beetle species which were released, this invader is becoming more civilized because the insects are keeping it down for now, but will this last? Common reed is another extremely aggressive non-native plant. Common reed loves ditches but it is unfortunately past worrying about. It is very invasive and out-competes all other native plants. It is still spreading in Eastern Ontario and the damage it does can be clearly seen nearby e.g. in the City of Montreal area. Another example of an invader of wetlands is Yellow flag (Iris pseudocorus).

 

Photo 1 European frog's-bit (962x721)

European frog’s bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) is an invasive free-floating aquatic plant with 3-petaled white flowers. It was brought in as an ornamental. In natural habitats it forms very dense floating mats leading to a reduction of native plants and animals as it depletes oxygen and nutrients. Photo Ken Allison

What can individuals do to stop the spread of invasive plants? Some obvious things to do include: Do not plant known invasive plants. Keep your land free of invasive plants. If you see something new, try to identify it. Often by the time it is identified it is beyond hope of eradication. As Allison says “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Invasion by plants and animals is a natural process and helps explain their evolution and distribution. However, the speed and frequency of these invasions is now greatly increased because of the impact of man. An optimistic note is that most invaders prosper only in habitats greatly modified by man. The retention of large amounts of native vegetation and habitats for native plants and animals is the best bet to keeping the most [natural and beneficial species] our land and waters provide.”

Allison showed a simple but effective time-line illustrating the stages of invasion of aggressive non-native plants. Typically, when an invasive is first introduced it is not noticed. As time goes by it’s numbers increase and it becomes more widespread. During this time it is noticed by the public and at some point after this there comes a time when it is beyond hope of eradication. If we can move identification by the public sooner, then the shape of the graph can be changed, and perhaps measures can be taken earlier to eradicate the plants, before it is too late to stop their spreading.

Allison named for us the ‘Top 10 Terrestrial Invasive Plants’ to watch for in the future: Japanese Knotweed, Japanese barberry, Garlic Mustard (is moving and may already be here in fill), Norway Maple (widely planted here. It escaped in New York state), Himalayan Balsam (an Impatiens-like jewel weed but it is purple), Russian Olive (an ornamental; not much in Lanark County but in Kanata areas are filling in with Russian Olive. It has the potential to be a bad invasive but it needs moisture and a disturbed area), Giant Hogweed (in southwestern Ontario now), Pale Swallowwort (is moving west; not yet in Lanark), Plumeless Thistle (most of Eastern Ontario seems to be an epicentre for this one), Spotted Knapweed (a prohibited noxious weed seed under the Canadian Seeds Act and Regulations; it is like steel wire and very difficult to pull).

The ‘Top 5 Aquatic Invasive Plants’ which Allison worries could become invaders of aquatic habitat in future i.e. the ones to watch out for include: Flowering Rush (a species which is doing well in Ottawa/Great Lakes), Water Soldier (in the same family as Frog’s Bit; it is in the Trent system and is spreading. It came in from aquaria and OMNR is trying to stop it), Water Chestnuts (in the Ottawa system and bad in Quebec), Carolina Fanwort (is in the Trent system; it survives because it sinks to the bottom for the winter), Floating Heart (has a yellow, fringed petals).

So, do not plant non –native species, and if you see something new in your area, try to identify it. If it is a new or uncommon species you can contact speaker Ken Allison at or Lanark County wild plant expert David White may be interested in hearing about it. Is it one of the top 10 terrestrial or top 5 aquatic plants that may be moving into our area? Allison recommends the following references for plant identification: Plants of Lanark County, 2011 edition by David White and the website www.lanarkflora.com . Also Vascular Plants of the City of Ottawa, With the Identification of Significant Species a document by Dan Brunton – see http://ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/occ/2005/06-08/pec/AppendixA%20-%20OTTAWA%20FLORA%20(APR%2005).htm

 

 

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 Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

March 1, 2012

The Great River Project

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Trends in Fauna and Flora, continues March 15 with the sixth presentation, “The Great River Project.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

This month’s lecture will be presented by Meredith Brown who is the Riverkeeper for the Ottawa River. She—along with an expert team of photographers, historians, naturalists and scientists—canoed 900 km of the Ottawa River, departing from historic Fort Témiscamingue on Lake Timiskaming. Meredith will retrace their exciting voyage to document the state of this beautiful river and share their findings on its natural and cultural heritage.

The Ottawa River, or Kichisìpi (Great River in the Algonquin language), begins in Lake Capimitchigama in central Quebec and flows for 1,271 km along the provincial border with Ontario to the St. Lawrence River. First travelled by Samuel de Champlain in 1615, the river became a part of a major fur trading route for the next two centuries. It then served as a conduit for large rafts of white pine floated down to ports for the European market, the last raft leaving the river soon after 1900. Today the Ottawa River provides drinking water for two million people, and numerous major dams in its watershed generate over 4,000 megawatts of hydropower and control flooding. It supports local economies, is a world-class recreation destination, and is an important part of our culture and heritage. There is no single government agency that is accountable for protecting the river for future generations. There is no management plan or conservation plan for the river.

The Ottawa is, indeed, a great river. It has been nominated as a Canadian Heritage River in Parks Canada’s national river system. It was selected by World Wildlife Fund as one of Canada’s 10 rivers to profile in their report Canada’s Rivers at Risk: Environmental Flows and Canada’s Freshwater Future. Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing and quality of water flows required to define how much water a river needs to remain healthy and productive. The Ottawa River is home to 85 fish species, including species-at-risk—river redhorse (special concern) and lake sturgeon (threatened). The river shorelines provide habitat for wood turtles (provincially endangered, nationally threatened) and musk turtles (provincially & nationally threatened), and its wetlands and floodplains support more than 300 bird species, as well as rare vegetation types adapted to its cycles. The report concluded that the river was severely fragmented by hydropower dams in both the Quebec and Ontario portions of its watershed; the Ottawa River is one of the most regulated river systems in Canada with more than 50 major dams. Natural flow patterns of the river and its tributaries have been dramatically altered, compromising habitat and the diversity and distribution of fish communities and shoreline vegetation. Overall, the environmental flow of the river was rated “Fair,” with the forecast “Declining.” What can we do? WWF says, “Change the flow! Design and operate dams and other instream infrastructure to better balance nature’s needs (the flow regimes required to sustain healthy rivers) with human needs for hydropower, navigation, flood control, and water storage.”

As Riverkeeper, it is Meredith’s job (with the support of her staff) to keep the Ottawa great—to speak for the river. Part scientist, teacher, and law officer, she is one of a worldwide network of about 200 Waterkeepers—on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 150,000 kilometers of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Canada has nine waterkeepers, four of which are in Ontario: Ottawa Riverkeeper, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Georgian Baykeeper, Moose Riverkeeper. The first Riverkeeper organization was founded in 1986 to protect water quality of the Hudson River in New York and to challenge corporations and governments who traditionally were not held accountable for destroying river systems.

Naturally, we have a connection to the vision and ambitions of the Ottawa Riverkeeper—the Mississippi River tributary contributes 3% of the Ottawa River’s watershed and 2% of its flow. As stewards of the Mississippi watershed, we have a role to play in maintaining the natural greatness of the Ottawa River. Ms. Brown will highlight the vital link between our rivers and our lives and provide some practical suggestions for how we might enhance the health of our river.

Learn from someone who has traveled the Ottawa why the river is great and how we can contribute to keeping it great by attending Meredith Brown’s presentation “The Great River Project,” at 7:30p.m on Thurs. March. 15, 2012, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

February 1, 2012

Green Aliens in Lanark County!

by Cathy Keddy, MVFN Program Chair

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Trends in Fauna and Flora, continues February 16 with the fifth presentation, “Green Aliens Invading Lanark County.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

This lecture will be presented by Ken Allison, botanist with the Plant and Biotechnology Risk Assessment Unit of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa. He will talk about the ecology of alien plants, including their impact on native species of plants and our natural habitats. Ken is an expert at dealing with aliens, particularly green ones.

The growth and spread of North America’s alien flora has long been the subject of practical observation. As early as the 1600s, the entry of alien plants was being noted. These plant species arrived by many means, some accidentally in ship ballast, as packing material, as seeds or vegetative dispersal units attached to animals, or in feces. Others were deliberately imported for medical or herbal purposes, as forage, and as ornamentals.

According to David White’s authoritative Plants of Lanark County, Ontario (http://www.lanarkflora.com/Lanark_plants_revised_2011.pdf), one-third of all the 1296 plants in the County are considered aliens (they are not native to the area and were not here before European settlement). Most are rare (208), sparse (49), or uncommon (53), while the remainder (103) are common. No signs of triffids have yet been reported.

Next to habitat loss, the impact of alien species is the second most frequent cause of native species being at risk in the province. Alien plant species can detrimentally affect the native flora through many avenues such as habitat modification (soil, light, water availability, geomorphological processes), competition (leading to reduced growth and reproduction), and hybridization (loss of genetic variability).

Not all alien species are of equal concern. They can be sorted into several ecological groups. These include species that persist in the wild, but do not spread and dominate native species (e.g., Helleborine orchid in forests), those that become common in man-modified environments like roadsides, lawns and cultivated fields (e.g., bladder campion, ox-eye daisy, dandelion), and those termed ‘invasive’ that can become common, sometimes dominant, and invade natural habitats such as woodlands and wetlands, displacing native species (e.g., purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, buckthorn).

Hundreds of green aliens of all kinds are among us. Where should we direct our efforts to maintain the ecological integrity of Lanark County’s natural heritage? Four foci come to mind: 1) target alien species with the ability to invade intact, natural habitats, 2) target native habitats that are naturally vulnerable to invasive alien species (those that frequently experience natural forces that perturb them such as river and lake shorelines that are exposed to ice scour, flowing water, and wave wash), rare habitats, and habitats with rare species, 3) minimize opportunities for alien species invasion through human activities, and 4) keep informed, be able to recognize the most harmful aliens, and be vigilant for new arrivals. To find out which green aliens belong on our top 10 most wanted list, come to the lecture.

How bright is the future for green aliens in our county? Which new species should we expect and how quickly might they arrive on our doorstep? How are we doing with options for controlling or eliminating these species before they get a foothold? Come to the lecture.

Learn what you should know about these aliens among us and those poised to enter our county, and see how you can help to keep them at bay by attending Ken Allison’s presentation, “Green Aliens Invading Lanark County,” at 7:30p.m. on Thurs. Feb. 16, 2012, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.

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Two species of flying squirrels survive winter in our forests: a report of the November 2011 MVFN lecture, written by Pauline Donaldson

As I arrived at the social hall of Almonte United church for the third lecture in the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) natural history lecture series, I noticed the audience was larger than usual and there were several new faces. I was not surprised though, because the subject of the evening’s lecture was to be the mysterious (seldom seen) nocturnal rodent— the flying squirrel.

From our expert guest speaker, Trent University adjunct Professor Dr. Jeff Bowman, a senior scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, we would learn that flying squirrels are beautiful and useful creatures and that without them our lives and forests would lose many values. As the lecture gets underway we learn there are more than 40 species of flying squirrels worldwide, including the cave-dwelling woolly flying squirrel of Pakistan which survives solely on a diet of pine needles. However, Dr. Bowman has come to talk to us about the only two species of flying squirrel found in North America. These flying squirrels are relatively rare and are adapted in many ways to our boreal and temperate forests.

Flying Squirrels Photo 1

A southern flying squirrel, foraging at night, is photographed by a remote, infra-red camera. Both the Northern and Southern Flying Squirrel are strictly nocturnal and therefore are seldom seen. Photo courtesy Jeff Bowman

In most places in North America one finds only one species of flying squirrel, either the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) or the Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans). Since their ranges overlap in our area, we have both kinds here. These two flying squirrels do have distinct habitat and resource requirements though, and this is something Dr. Bowman and his research team study. Since flying squirrels are nocturnal, many people have never seen one, or have only caught glimpses of one in the town or country, scrambling at their bird feeder, or unfortunately sometimes in the jaws of their cat. Some do find their way into people’s houses too. Outdoors, acorns with large holes bored into them can be evidence of their presence.

The Southern and Northern Flying Squirrels are similar, with brownish/ greyish backs, light white/cream bellies and large eyes characteristic of nocturnal animals. The Southern flying squirrel, at ~ 65 grams or about chipmunk-sized, is smaller than the Northern species, which is closer in size to the red squirrel. As far as flying goes, they really only glide: a large patagium or fold of skin, between their wrists and ankles acts like a parachute as they take off with their legs stretched wide apart. They glide, resembling little furry pancakes (albeit a little square), from one place to another using their tails to steer. Flying pancakes in our maple sugar bushes! The ‘flying’ mechanism of flying squirrels and of unrelated marsupial mammals such as the feather-tailed possums of Australia evolved in a similar way. As Dr. Bowman explains, this is an example of convergent evolution.

A short way into the presentation, we watched a video taken by Dr. Bowman: a small southern flying squirrel sits up, its large eyes staring. He/she appears to be chattering at us, but we hardly hear a sound. Dr. Bowman explains that his audio recorder captured sounds in a frequency barely audible to humans. Like humans and many animals they make many sounds at different frequencies and in different situations (e.g. chittering, chortling, chuck chucking, seeping etc.), some at ultrasonic frequencies which are inaudible to us and to barred owls, one of their predators (other predators are other owls, fishers and martens). Whatever they are saying we can’t listen in, so for now we are happy to have Dr. Bowman speak on behalf of these creatures which he has studied for many years.

Flying squirrels do not hibernate and so have a particular challenge to survive the forest winter without putting on weight which would compromise their ‘flying’ ability. They have a number of strategies for this. One is brown fat which can give high energy and heat with little mass and another is to stockpile or cache foods (especially nuts in the case of the Southern species, or lichen for the Northern). Another key strategy is social nesting for thermoregulation; in winter they sleep in groups in nests made mainly in the cavities of trees. The requirement for group nesting may dictate other minimum habitat requirements for flying squirrels, so Dr. Bowman and his graduate students have made the study of social nesting behaviour a priority. How many nest together, how are they related and where do they nest, they wondered? They set about their investigation aided by various instruments: very tiny injectable transponders with ‘scannable’ ID tags, tiny radio collars to locate some animals at a distance (these they take off a few weeks later), and datalogger stations to install temporarily at trees with active nests to track the comings and goings of the tagged individuals— with really fascinating results!

The flying squirrels need to co-nest with a critical number of ‘friends’ in order to survive winter and this could be only a few individuals, or at times up to 20 or more squirrels sharing a nest. But do the same individuals nest together each night? The answer is yes. However, they do not nesting with close relatives or kin. Rather, the nest-mates are unrelated individuals with summer foraging territories close to one another. Although they co-nest, they forage alone both winter and summer. Another thing the researchers discovered was that nest sites were abandoned surprisingly often. This may be to avoid parasite problems which can occur in the nest (despite their use of cedar in the nest lining materials). When nests were abandoned and the researchers finally located the newest nest site, to their surprise they always found the same gang of individuals huddled together in the nest.

Dr. Bowman’s research work is contributing to a better understanding of the habitat requirements of flying squirrels, and their role in forest ecology. There are 1-2 flying squirrels per hectare, and it seems that a woodlot of at least 22 hectares is needed to support enough individuals for social nesting. Numbers of flying squirrels and other small mammals vary according to the nut density in the woodland, and all are affected by forest fragmentation. The Northern Flying Squirrel in particular is a good indicator species for old mature forests and they are particularly susceptible to forest fragmentation. A major component of the Northern Flying Squirrel’s diet is a fungi found only on the roots of spruce trees. This symbiotic mycorhizzal fungus is essential for the health of the trees since it carries nitrogen-fixing bacteria. By eating the fungus the squirrel helps spread the fungal spores to other trees.

Flying Squirrels photo 2

Dr. Jeff Bowman of OMNR and Trent University, guest speaker for our talk on flying squirrels. Photo Pauline Donaldson

Flying Squirrels Photo 3 (1202x1280)Flying Squirrels Photo 3b (1280x958)

 

Following the talk on Flying Squirrels, participants examine exhibits provided by Dr.Bowman. Photo Pauline Donaldson

The research work is also giving insight into how a changing climate might affect flying squirrel populations. We are at the northern limit of the Southern species range. Dr. Bowman explained that as warmer temperatures shift north, the area of overlap between the Northern and Southern species is also expected to shift, although the impact of a parasite which affects the southern species is difficult to predict since it may or may not move north. In 2003, the northern limit of the southern species was 240 km further north than usual because of warm temperatures. The next year when temperatures dropped and food supply declined, the boundary moved sharply southward. The trend thought seems to be that the Southern Flying Squirrels are on the move; moving north into the range of the Northern Flying Squirrel with interesting effects. At the contact zone apparently 4% of flying squirrels are fertile hybrids, apparently an example of climate change induced hybridization. This new finding is important but little is yet known of the biology and behaviour of the hybrids and how well they may adapt to changing habitats or climate. Will this hybridization between species eventually lead to a decreased diversity or even species extinction for the flying squirrels?

 

 

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