What we do

 

Biodiversity Science

Traditional approaches may not be enough to stem and resolve the biodiversity crisis. Since biodiversity change comes from the growing influence of humans on their environment, both natural and social science research must be combined.
Biodiversity science is therefore a multidisciplinary field that uses tools and theories from different fields such as molecular biology, taxonomy, genetics, traditional knowledge, political science, eco-informatics, economics and ecology.

QCBS research showcase

Vertebrate biodiversity- a glimmer of hope

Extreme losses in a few populations drive apparent global vertebrate decline

Vertebrate populations - from birds and fish to antelope - are not, in general, declining, despite what has previously been thought and said. A McGill University-led team of biologists found, in an article published recently in Nature, that the picture of dramatically declining vertebrate populations of all kinds is driven by a small number of outlier populations whose numbers are dropping at extreme rates. Once these outliers are separated from the mix, a very different and far more hopeful picture of global biodiversity emerges. It all comes down to math, modeling and different approaches to calculating averages: It has typically been estimated that vertebrate populations have declined on average by more than 50% since 1970, based on historical wildlife monitoring data. “However, given previous mathematical methods used to model vertebrate populations, this estimate could arise from two very different scenarios: widespread systematic declines, or a few extreme declines,” explains Brian Leung a McGill ecologist, the UNESCO Chair in Dialogues for Sustainability, and the senior author on the study. In this paper the researchers approached the question differently. Using a dataset of over 14,000 vertebrate populations from around the globe collated in the Living Planet Database, the researchers identified about 1% of vertebrate populations which have suffered extreme population declines since 1970 (such as reptiles in tropical areas of North, Central and South America, and birds in the Indo-Pacific region). When this extreme 1% was accounted for, the researchers found the remaining vertebrate populations were neither generally increasing nor decreasing, when grouped all together. “The variation in this global aggregate is also important. Some populations really are in trouble and regions such as the Indo-Pacific are showing widespread systematic declines. However, the image of a global ‘biodiversity desert’ is not supported by the evidence.” says Leung. “This is good, as it would be very discouraging if all of our conservation efforts over the last five decades had little effect.” “We were surprised by how strong the effect of these extreme populations was in driving the previous estimate of average global decline,” adds co-author Anna Hargreaves, a professor in the Biology Department at McGill. “Our results identify regions that need urgent action to ameliorate widespread biodiversity declines, but also reason to hope that our actions can make a difference."

Funding source: Mcgill

Anna Hargreaves, Brian Leung

 

Freshwater connectivity conservation in Quebec's Yamaska watershed

Alex Arkilanian is a masters student in the Gonzalez lab writing his thesis on aquatic connectivity.With the support of the MELCC, MFFP, and MTQ Alex is performing a connectivity assessment for the white sucker (Catostomus commmersoni) in the rivers of the Yamaska watershed. Using a modified network connectivity metric, Alex is using the habitat requirements of this generalist representative species to understand its potential functional connectivity for multiple life stages given existing anthropogenic and natural barriers such as dams, culverts, and waterfalls. The overarching goal of this assessment is to determine important sites for conservation of this species considering both connectivity and quality of important adult and spawning habitats. As a natural extension this assessment will also produce a prioritization of anthropogenic barriers in the region which affect white sucker connectivity the most severely. This assessment will lay groundwork for an expanded connectivity assessment for the larger region of the St. Lawrence Lowlands and for an expanded portfolio of important fish species. Aquatic connectivity has been underappreciated in freshwater conservation and this collaboration with provincial ministries represents an important step into the direction of more directly considering river connectivity in freshwater fish conservation.

Funding source: MELCC, MFFP and MTQ

 

The Application of Classical Biological Control for the Management of Established Invasive Alien Species Causing Environmental Impacts

This technical report aims to support the understanding and use of classical biological control for the management of invasive alien species that threaten biodiversity and ecosystem services, or already degrade or transform native ecosystems and natural environments. The report provides a detailed review of the history of the success, failure and cost effectiveness of classical biological control programs against the different taxonomic groups of invasive alien species across the agricultural and environmental sectors showing that the likelihood of success is quite target specific, but that the benefits are not always sector specific. There may be Joint benefits for both natural and agricultural ecosystems. The need to address ethical and societal acceptance of the introduction of another ‘beneficial” alien species to control an existing impactful invasive alien species is also explored to show how classical biological control has obtained public acceptance in some contexts and regions, but processes need to put in place to address such issues more broadly around the world. An ethical framework is proposed. Two sections cover existing national and international regulatory mechanisms and agreements supporting the application of biological control both at a national and regional level, while also identifying regulatory gaps. The report also provides a comprehensive review of direct and indirect non-target impacts from historical extant biological control programs and the risk factors (both perceived and real) that contribute to this. After a brief discussion of the future prospects of classical biological control for invasive alien species threatening or harmfully transforming environmental assets, the report concludes with an overview of what countries and jurisdictions, which do not currently or actively undertake classical biological control, need to consider in order to start to adopt such an approach and use classical biological control in the future, should they wish to consider it. This report also contains, in an unbiased manner, the information and inference based on the submissions from Parties and other Governments in response to the Convention on Biological Diversity notification 2015-0525.

Funding source: CBD

Jacques Brodeur

 

A new study led by researchers from UQAC on Canadian seabed biodiversity

UQAC marine ecology professor Dr. Mathieu Cusson and his colleagues from 13 Canadian institutions have just published the largest study to date on the biodiversity of Canada's seabed. The study, entitled "Seafloor biodiversity of Canada's three oceans: Patterns, hotspots and potential drivers", was published very recently in Diversity and Distributions, a leading journal in the field. The study assessed benthic marine biodiversity in Canada's three oceans; the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic. Dr. Mathieu Cusson orchestrated this study, which began in 2013. His postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study, Dr. Chih-Lin Wei – now a professor of oceanography at the National Taiwan University – says, "A huge effort was required to compile and analyze data from more than 13,000 samples, covering more than 6,000 sites in Canada's three oceans. We are pleased to be able to carry out this project. Finding, formatting, validating and standardizing diversity data has been difficult”. Dr. Wei adds that the most crucial step was to assure the data providers that their data was in good hands. "Using field information compiled over several years by several laboratories, this team used data from nearly 3,400 species and taxa to identify biodiversity hotspots in Canadian marine ecosystems," said Dr. Ricardo Scrosati, co-author from St. Francis Xavier University. The team used a state-of-the-art statistical method in biodiversity assessment. This method, developed by the renowned Taiwanese statistician Dr. Anne Chao, estimates biodiversity from a variety of sampling devices and then uses environmental information to explore the most likely causes of the observed biodiversity patterns. "With nearly 60% more taxa than previous studies, our study shows unprecedented biodiversity hotspots, including in the Canadian Arctic, showing that the dominant view of declining diversity with latitude is not always valid," explains the project leader Dr. Mathieu Cusson. Dr. Scrosati says that overall, the results provide valuable information that should improve, among other objectives, the design of marine protected areas to preserve our rich and fascinating marine benthic biodiversity. "We are pleased to see the study published in this journal, as it has a very high impact factor, suggesting that the study will be widely seen in the scientific community around the world. In this way, we hope to attract talented colleagues and students to further their studies in marine biology and we also hope to see our approaches applied in other parts of the world towards a global synthesis that science is still searching for," said Dr Scrosati. Why study the biodiversity of habitats we don't see? Dr. Mathieu Cusson points out that knowledge of the biodiversity of the seabed helps us understand how ecosystems function. Therefore, if in the near future ecosystems are going to be modified, these studies will urge researchers to consider the consequences on the ecosystem functioning and, ultimately, how these modifications could affect the ecosystem services they provide us with.

 

What Can the Gut Microbiome tell us about Polar Bear Health?

Polar bears are highly vulnerable due to climate change-induced sea ice decline, as it reduces their access to their primary source of prey, ice-obligate ringed seals. As a response, some bears have altered their foraging behavior by increasing their use of onshore food resources such as subsistence-harvested bowhead whale carcasses, shorebirds, and shorebird eggs. Dietary shifts can have significant health impacts for a species, including altering the host gut microbiome, which is an assemblage of microorganisms (predominantly bacteria) known to carry out many important metabolic and immune system processes for their host organism. To date, the gut microbiome is relatively understudied for many wild populations and species. Our work aims to preliminarily describe and compare the composition and diversity of gut microbial communities of southern Beaufort Sea and East Greenland polar bears, and further build from this knowledge by assessing how differences in the respective diets of these geographically disparate subpopulations might be alternately shaping their gut microbiota. Megan Franz is an MSc student from McGill University working on this project for her thesis. She is supervised by Dr. Melissa McKinney, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Ecological Change and Environmental Stressors, and is co-supervised by Dr. Lyle Whyte, a Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Polar Microbiology. The project also involves collaboration with colleagues Kristin Laidre from the University of Washington and Todd Atwood from the USGS Alaska Science Center.

Melissa McKinney, Megan Franz

 

Bon appétit! Contaminants on the menu for North Atlantic killer whales?

Killer whales are among the most contaminated animals on the planet, accumulating high tissue levels of synthetic contaminants. These contaminants, including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDTs (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes) have been banned for decades, but are very slow to degrade and show strong accumulation through the food web, leading to elevated exposures in top predators. Such exposures put killer whales, the ocean's top predator, at risk for endocrine, reproductive, and immune-related health effects. It has been shown that diet is an important factor in contaminant variation among killer whale groups. However, the diet within and among groups of killer whales in the North Atlantic is not well understood. Our project aims to use high-resolution chemical tracers of diet measured from biopsy samples of free-ranging North Atlantic killer whales to gain insight into different diets of major groups of North Atlantic killer whales, and in turn, to understand how this feeding variation may lead to differences in exposure to major contaminant classes of environmental concern.

Melissa McKinney, Anaïs REMILI

 

A citizen science platform for the digitization of specimens from the Louis-Marie Herbarium

The Louis-Marie Herbarium at Laval University is the largest university herbarium in Canada. With close to 800,000 specimens within its walls, the task of computerizing this collection is monumental. To date, about 37% of the specimens, mostly vascular plants, but also bryophytes and lichens, have been digitized. The goal of digitizing the collection of the Louis-Marie Herbarium is to facilitate management and research in the collection, but especially to make the biodiversity data of this collection more accessible to researchers and the general public. Thanks to the collaboration of the Quebec Center for Biodiversity Science, the Herbarium has been able to set up a collaborative portal to computerize the collection. Participants use images of herbarium sheets deposited on the portal to decipher and transcribe essential information such as the name of the species, the place and date of harvesting, or the name of the person who harvested the specimen. This tag information, sometimes handwritten, sometimes typed, but generally complex and very different from each other, is usually best interpreted by individuals, even if digital recognition technologies exist. We hope that this new portal will increase the rate of digitization of the Louis-Marie Herbarium. Biodiversity data from the Louis-Marie Herbarium are disseminated on the Herbarium site (herbier.ulaval.ca) and deposited on several biodiversity data aggregators such as Canadensys, GBIF, the Consortium of North American Lichen and Bryophyte Herbaria and iDigBio.

Claude Lavoie

 

Possibilities and limits of legal supervision of shore, coastline and floodplain protection in Quebec

Since its adoption in 1987, the Policy for the Protection of Shores, Coastlines and Floodplains (PPRLPI) has been updated several times, the last time in 2017, in order to resolve certain enforcement issues. As part of the modernization of the authorization system under the Environment Quality Act (EQA), the adoption of the Act respecting the conservation of wetlands and water (CWHMA) and the implementation of the new Quebec Water Strategy (QWS), a complete overhaul of the provisions of the PPRLPI must be carried out in the medium term in order to make the necessary amendments. These would concern both the management of floodplains and the protection of shorelines and coastlines, in continental, coastal and possibly wetland environments. A fundamental reflection on the redesign of this Policy must be initiated. The integration of new knowledge and the consideration of climate change also motivate this redesign, as do the findings on the problems of application and uniformity of the minimum normative framework by municipalities. Considering these needs, the Direction de l'agroenvironnement et du milieu hydrique (DAEMH) decided to call on the Centre de la science de la biodiversité du Québec (CSBQ) to conduct a critical study of the regulatory measures of the European Union and some member countries as well as their implementation. Access the report here.

Funding source: Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada, CSBQ, MELCC

Sophie Lavallée

 

Research Chair on Social Issues in Conservation

- Understand the social opportunities and constraints for protecting the habitats of various threatened or vulnerable wildlife species within a variety of socio-economic and cultural contexts. - Understand landowner perceptions, social responses and potential conflicts related to proposed conseravtion interventions of private wildlife habitat. - Identify barriers to conservation resulting from land use patterns and social, economic and political institutions - Define the collaboration, education and awareness approaches to be prioritized to carry out legal conservation interventions on private land. - Evaluate and compare governance and social organization arrangements for the development and enhancement of natural resources on private land in relation to wildlife conservation issues.

Funding source: Ministry of Education of forests, wildlife and parks, Quebec center for Biodiversity Science

Jean-François Bissonnette, Sophie Calmé, Konstantia Koutouki, Katrine Turgeon, Louis Tanguay

 

The North American Dialogue on Biocultural Diversity

CICADA Conference

The Dialogue was a 3 day conference, forming part of a series of events organised by the UNESCO-SCBD Joint Programme of Work, which aimed to explore the meaning of values of the links between biological and cultural diversity at the regional level and the subsequent implications for solutions of global problems humanity is currently facing, focussing on indigenous peoples. In particular, the Dialogue aimed to promote exchange and co-creation of knowledge between different actors to contribute to better understanding of the interlinkages between biological and cultural dimensions of diversity and the applications to resource management and decision-making processes. It also aimed to raise awareness and recognition regarding the role of indigenous languages and of local and indigenous knowledge and management systems, which provide the foundations for a rich and flourishing biocultural diversity.

Colin H. Scott

 

Understanding Microorganisms to Save Harvests

Dr. Etienne Yergeau, professor at the INRS, has received a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to better understand the interactions between plants and micro-organisms found in the soil. "At their roots, plants exchange services with micro-organisms", explains the professor, " The composition of this community of fungi, bacteria and other microscopic creatures changes depending on external conditions, but we have very little understanding of the dynamics which control this. If we can decipher who does what and how, we could use these interactions to help plants stay healthy in difficult conditions". This research project is also financed by the ministry of Education and Teaching of Quebec.

Funding source: CFI, MEES

Etienne Yergeau

 

Aural Soilscapes

Creating ecological consciousness to climate change

An Art-Science collaboration aiming to understand how the sounds of our environment influence us as humans and to explore the relationship between humans and the world around us, moving away from an anthropocentric view of ecosystemic interactions to a holistic one.

François-Joseph Lapointe, Ruth Schmidt

 

Public trees of Montreal

An interactive platform

This interactive visualisation of the public trees of Montreal can be used to easily identify trees on the streets of the city. The tree inventory, which currently contains more than 350,000 trees is performed by municipal employees and the data is made available by the city on their open data portal. Development of this tool was started at an open data hackathon, and was continued by Guillaume Larocque, QCBS research professional.

 

Economic valuation of ecological services for businesses in Quebec

Preliminary studies to improve our knowledge

In 1992, Canada signed the Convention on Biological Diversity that was then endorsed the same year by the Quebec government. Article 7 of the Convention requires that signing parties identify and monitor components of biodiversity that are important for conservation and sustainable development. However, intensification of land development and climate change is impacting biodiversity in many ways. The Quebec government hopes to be proactive and to forecast effects of natural disasters and human-driven disturbances on biodiversity and to react accordingly by protecting habitats, or by managing populations in a more sustainable way. In light of this, the government has decided to ask the QCBS to improve knowledge on the economic value of ecosystem services for Quebec's business sector.

Funding source: Ministère de l'économie de la science et de l'innovation

Jérôme Dupras, Andrew Gonzalez, Monique Poulin

 

The Canadian Airborne Biodiversity Observatory

The Canadian Airborne Biodiversity Observatory is a collaboration between five Canadian researchers in biodiversity and remote sensing science. Its main objective will be to study and understand the changes in plant biodiversity at a Canada wide scale using the emerging spectranomics approach. CABO will use high precision spectranomics to measure the spectral signatures of Canadian plants at several spatial scale and coming from different ecosystems, while using standardized protocols. This way, CABO will build a large spectral database of Canadian plants and thus revolutionize the way biodiversity data are acquired in Canada and throughout the world. CABO will reinforce other international initiatives in spectranomics and will position Canada as the world leader in biodiversity science and conservation. The funding for CABO is NSERC’s fourth Discovery Frontiers award, valued at $4 million over 4 years.

Funding source: NSERC Discovery Frontiers award

Anne Bruneau, Etienne Laliberté, Mark Vellend

 

Québec Ecosystem Observatory

Towards an automated, open and transparent tracking system

Actual ecological knowledge on ecosystems are scarce, particularly for northern ecosystems, and this lack of knowledge limits the anticipation of global change consequences. It is to remedy this alarming problem that the Québec Ecosystem Observatory is being set up. In concrete terms, this observatory will enhance the ecological data already available, building on already existing initiatives such as Canadensys, and harmonize the collecting of those to come. The Observatory intends to set up an open informatics structure composed of an integrated suite of tools for the synthesis and communication of the state of our ecosystems in Québec. This suite will allow, for example, a compilation of real-time data for the automated production of a biodiversity atlas of Québec or the automation of environmental impact assessment pre-projects. The Observatory is also mandated to contribute to the formation and developments of new expertise in biodiversity science. Québec Ecosystem Observatory currently federates actors of various circles (academic, governmental, industrial, non-governmental) and can count on the implication of 4 FRQNT strategic clusters (CSBQ, CEN, Québec-Ocean, GRIL) to achieve its goals.

Funding source: NSERC, QCBS

Dominique Gravel, Timothée Poisot, Steve Vissault

 

Quebec's launch of the Demain la forêt program

Presented by the Foundation Cowboys Fringants, the new Demain la forêt Program, which will be expanded across Quebec, was officially launched this April in the presence of its three long-standing partners, le Jour de la Terre, the David Suzuki Foundation and La Tribu. This major program will have the main objectives of planting resilient forests, educating and mobilizing the general public, supporting research and identifying innovative practices in terms of reforestation, conferring the efforts of all stakeholders and to make these actions shine through the arts.

Shown in photo: Mme Suzanne Verreault, élue responsable de l'environnement, Ville de Québec M. Jérôme Dupras, Professeur UQO, Président de la Fondation Cowboys Fringants M. Karel Mayrand, directeur, Fondation David Suzuki M. Michel St-Germain, Viridis Environnement Mme Marie-Annick Lépine, membre des Cowboys Fringants M. Jean-François Pauzé, membre des Cowboys Fringants M. Martin Bureau, Artiste peintre M. Karl Tremblay, membre des Cowboys Fringants Mme Sophie Lavallée, Professeure Université Laval Mme Julie Lafortune, directrice exécutive, Jour de la Terre M. Renaud Lapierre, Viridis Environnement M. Régis Labaume, Maire, Ville de Québec

Jérôme Dupras, Sophie Lavallée

 

The second QCBS R symposium

On May 10th and 11th, the second QCBS R symposium was held at the Biological Station of the Laurentians. These two days were an opportunity for the 33 students to share their knowledge of biodiversity analysis in R, through 5 different workshops. This conference was a success and we are already looking forward to organizing next year! All workshop materials are available on the symposium wiki page.

Ehab Abouheif, Léa Blondel, Marie-Hélène Brice

 

Indirect effects of hunting regulation on female brown bear behaviour

Incredible media attention worldwide

A new paper from Fanie Pelletier laboratory, published at the end of March in Nature Communication, has received an incredible media attention. Only a week after its release, it shows an Altmetric Attention Score of more than 1250 points, reaching the top 5% of scores obtained to date and the 99e percentile for papers of the same age. These works have received to date a media coverage more than 150 times worldwide, and this number is still increasing. The article, Hunting regulation favors slow life histories in a large carnivore, reports the works of the doctorate student Joanie Van de Walle, and shows the indirect effects of hunting on selection and demographic processes. These works were done on a brow bear population in Sweden, where the regulation protects females with cubs from hunting. Females can keep their young for 1.5 or 2.5 years, thus favoring the survival of females that keep their young for longer periods, and their young too. The loss of reproductive opportunity for females that keep their cubs for longer periods is compensated by a gain in survival, particularly when hunting pressure is high.

Funding source: FRQNT, NSERC, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, Austrian Science Fund, Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management.

Fanie Pelletier, Joanie Van de Walle

 

A long research tradition at the Montreal Botanical Garden

During the opening of the new multifunctional room of the Institut de Recherche en Biologie Végétale (IRBV), Professor Luc Brouillet presented the long history of this collaboration between the city of Montreal and the Université de Montréal. In 1920, Brother Marie-Victorin created the Institut Botanique of the Université de Montréal, rebranded IRBV during its move to the Montreal Botanical Garden in 1939. The institute currently hosts more than 200 researchers, students and support staff, including 11 members of the QCBS. Inaugurated in 2011, the Biodiversity Centre houses the major Quebec collections of plants, insects and fungi, in addition to developing innovative research and raising public awareness of biodiversity conservation.

Jacques Brisson, Jacques Brodeur, Luc Brouillet, Anne Bruneau, Pierre-Luc Chagnon, Alain Cuerrier, Mohamed Hijri, Simon Joly, Etienne Laliberté, Stéphanie Pellerin, Marc St-Arnaud

 

Every year, QCBS researchers and students develop new collaborations, co-supervise new students, write papers in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and explore new research topics. The QCBS research, collaboration and training activity dashboard is an interactive tool aiming to easily explore the dynamics of the QCBS researchers scientific production and training. It provides graphically rich summaries of our network, as it is today and as it evolves through time. Happy exploring!