Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Life at the Extremes: The Alvar Challenge

 

GentianAlvar

photos by Cathy Keddy

Rare snails, orchids and leafhoppers part of globally-rare alvar near Almonte and subject of next MVFN lecture

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Jan 5, 2009

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) lecture series continues January 15th with Botanist Dr. Paul Catlings presentation Life at the Extremes: The Alvar Challenge. The lecture is the fourth in MVFN’s series From the Ground, Up: Celebrating the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ First 20 Years.

Alvars are rare ecosystems present in very few places on earth, in the European Baltic region and Great Lakes Basin of North America. They are under threat from urban development, quarry operations and fire suppression. These limestone pavement barrens with little soil may appear to have few prospects but they are actually biodiversity hotspots! Join MVFN and veteran alvar explorer Paul Catling for a virtual alvar tour to unravel this biodiversity riddle and learn about stewardship of these globally threatened ecosystems.

As Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada based at the Central Experimental Farm, Paul Catlings research focuses on taxonomic and ecological approaches to biodiversity protection, new crop species, alien species, and Canadian plant species in general. Since 1988 Dr. Catling has been Curator of Canada’s Vascular Plant Herbarium. This world class collection of over one million dried and pressed plant specimens is a working collection used for plant identification and classification.

The largest alvar in Europe, The Great Alvar, on the Swedish island of Öland, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another fine example however can be found closer to home just outside Almonte. The Burnt Lands Alvar is the most extensive alvar east of the Frontenac Axis and is an outstanding example of this globally significant habitat. It supports some 82 breeding bird species, 48 butterfly species and 98 owlet moths. It is home to globally rare species such as the Ram’s-head Lady’s slipper and a new owlet moth discovered there by naturalist Dan Brunton. Many of its invertebrate species, such as the snail species Vertigo hannai, have likely been isolated and survived in such remnants of a prairie-like community that previously covered a wide area of North America. Although the alvar is not a prairie, many prairie species are present such as prairie sawflies and a thriving population of wingless prairie leafhoppers whose nearest other known population is in the Bruce Peninsula.

Learn about the unique characteristics of alvars, the challenges alvar species face and stewardship of these special regions at Paul Catlings presentation 7:30 PM, January 15th at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St. in Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089 or visit www.mvfn.ca.