Laura Meinert, left and Johanna Stewart, right, collect a fungal spore sample from the urban Yellowknife site of the Lifeplan study. Talar Stockton/Cabin Radio
Despite the theft of their monitoring equipment, a team of Yellowknife researchers is still contributing important data to an international study on biodiversity.
In downtown Yellowknife, volunteers from federal and territorial environment agencies, the Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board and North Slave Métis Alliance trek out weekly to take samples of fungal spores, insect DNA, and sometimes soil.
The researchers also use cameras and audio recorders – inconspicuously affixed to trees – to see and hear wildlife in the area.
They will even take samples at Christmas and in -50C weather.
However, volunteer Suzanne Carrière told Cabin Radio one of the site’s cameras was stolen at the beginning of May, along with the battery for a system that monitors fungal spores.
The camera is locked and the battery is only useful for mobility aids, she said, adding that the battery box also contained a cable and custom-made timer for the study.
“It’s totally useless to anybody else who steals it,” she said.
Carrière and other volunteers discovered the theft on May 7. “We showed up and the gear was gone,” she said. “We just said, ‘Who would steal such a thing?’”
This is the researchers’ second year at this urban site, said Laura Meinert, who is one of the volunteer researchers and a wildlife biologist with the Wek’èezhìi Renewable Resources Board.
There were no problems previously, Meinert said, but the data loss from the theft is unfortunate.
The team was able to replace the camera with a spare, said Johanna Stewart, another volunteer and a wildlife technician with the GNWT. “It’s never ideal to lose equipment. But we’re going to carry on,” Stewart said.
The Lifeplan study, organized by the University of Helsinki, is a six-year-long study taking samples from more than 150 sites worldwide to understand more about biodiversity.
Each year, the sampling location moves between a remote “natural” site near Prelude Lake and an “urban” site behind a building in downtown Yellowknife.
The Yellowknife site is one of three in the northern part of North America, the other two being in Nunavut and Alaska. Data gathered from this research is sent to Helsinki to be analyzed. Once the study finishes in 2025, the results will be shared with all the sites.
“There’s a surprisingly little amount of baseline work on stuff like this in the Arctic,” said Meinert.
Eighty percent of species on Earth haven’t been discovered yet, said Stewart. At the same time, biodiversity loss is occurring.
“It’s very possible that we’ll get the results back and find out that there are species here that we had no idea,” she said. “That’s so valuable, because then we have some idea of what we’re working to protect.”
If you walk through the woods in Yellowknife and are accidentally caught on camera or audio recording, the software will delete all human sightings and sounds, the team said.
“We’re not interested in that data,” said Stewart. “We’re only interested in wildlife noises.”
Footage captured so far includes a fox with a hare in its mouth.
They also capture insect DNA in a malaise trap that directs insects into a preservative fluid for analysis.
This is important for identifying invasive species and monitoring species at risk, like bumblebees, and species about which little is known, said Stewart.
“It’s not just the caribou and bears,” said Meinert.
Often, researchers in the North have to use baseline data from another jurisdictions, like Alberta, or even a different country, said Meinert.
“Whatever data we collect is definitely going to be relevant for neighbouring jurisdictions,” said Stewart, adding that a Yellowknife contribution to global research is a “great opportunity for all of us.”