AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: canada

Tiny Devils Take Down Gentle Giants all due to Climate Change!

File:Alce (Alces alces), Potter marsh, Alaska, Estados Unidos, 2017-08-22, DD 139.jpg

A innocent female moose, about to be attacked by an onset of terrible parasite in Northeast Canada.

Winter Ticks, not containing Lyme Disease or other Human-harming diseases, are rising exponentially in population throughout New England and Canada, all due to increasingly warmer and snow-free springs and later winters everywhere. As a result, an unlikely species in this region is being targeted by these tick epizootics, Moose, because ticks search for hosts in the fall and other warmer temperatures and stop once freezing weather and snow befalls the land. Yet, when these conditions occur much later, it gives these ticks more time to feast on peaceful animals, and also giving more time for female ticks to fall off its host and create tons more larvae, not making this issue any better. As these raisin sized parasites latch onto to these large creatures, draining so much blood at a time that they simply are unable to function anymore and weakly fall, succumbing to the environment, other predators, or even more ticks. But it’s not simply a few ticks, no, these moose can carry up to around 90,000 ticks! Because of this, there has been “an unprecedented 70 percent death rate of calves over a three-year period” according to a similar source from the University of New Hampshire. Plus, this problem has gotten so bad that now a threatened species in this region of British Columbia, the boreal Caribou, are being eaten alive as well!” If blood loss from heavy tick loads does not directly kill animals, it can make them susceptible to other health risks, Schwantje adds in the original source. “They have spent so much time scratching and chewing on themselves that they haven’t been feeding, so they are in poor body condition,” she says, even with tremendous hair loss that they become basically unrecognizable.

File:Ixodus ricinus 5x.jpg

An example of one of these detrimental winter ticks, a female engorged in size with blood and larvae, ready to reproduce .

But How Can This Be Stopped?

Currently, researchers are offering a multitude of solutions to help save these wonderful species from these terrifying parasites, as Swantje says that “They have huge cultural and nutritional value to our First Nations, And when moose forage in wetlands, they help release nutrients into the environment and make them available to other plants and organisms, studies have shown”, one solution can even be seen here. One possibility is to continuously treat half of the moose with anti-parasite gel and pills that make attached ticks drop from their bodies in order to isolate specifically what the ticks do and don’t do to harm these moose. The other possibility is a highly unlikely one, hunt the moose. Researcher Peter Pekins suggests that “issuing more moose-hunting permits in strategically selected areas” could essentially starve out the ticks in certain areas, yet it is argued that this would only benefit the environment short term, as the climate will continue to warm leading to the growth of more and more ticks.

Who know, if this isn’t stopped soon, ticks will continue to grow in population and maybe even take down us humans! Save the moose (and the caribou)!

From Fin to Foot

It is widely understood in the scientific community that, at some point, life evolved from aquatic to terrestrial. In that evolution, at some point fish must have evolved into amphibians. The question of this evolutionary jump still remains a mystery, but the discovery of a new fossil has shed new light on the issue, filling in some of the many gaps in this evolutionary story. This new fossil, discovered in Canada was of the Tiktaalik, a proto-amphibian of the Devonian period. Although this species was not necessarily a new find, it was a complete fossil. Prior to the discovery of this specific fossil scientists only had the front half of the Tiktaalik fossil, and as such could only speculate about its back half. The accepted evolutionary story at the time was that front legs developed first as the power behind walking on land, with back legs functioning only as weak supports. However, this new fossil was fully complete and showed a highly developed pair of back legs with a very developed pelvis, quite unlike any found. Although the bones in the fishes back leg were not as complicated as those of modern amphibians, they were far more advanced than the average fish of the time and more advanced than the widely accepted belief of the scientific community had suggested. This Tiktaalik fossil discovered by Dr. Neil Shubin, has fascinated the scientific community, as it is a great example of a creature exhibiting a myriad of evolutionary changes. Although the bone structure development here still favors the fin, there is astounding development in both the fore and hind legs that show that mark this creature as a key link between aquatic and terrestrial life.

This image of the Tiktaalik shows an artists representation of the creature before its powerful hind were discovered

Are Canadians Genetically Superior?

Photo by Anirudh Koul Flickr

I mean they do have Ryan Reynolds,  Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Ellen Paige, that tall guy from Glee, and Beiber. Well, maybe Bieber doesn’t isn’t a testiment to Canadian superiority, but recent studies have found certain signs of rapid genetic changes among the recent residents of a small Canadian town,  Ile aux Coudres, in the last 140 years. These changes include the average age of first maternity dropping from 26 to 22, resulting in larger families which are advantageous in rural areas.

Now while some may argue that this is merely an effect of the rural culture, anthropologist and geneticist, Emmanuel Milot says “Culture shapes the selection pressures acting on the age at first birth and the reproductive history of women in this population [therefore,] the cultural context was favoring the selection of some genes.” With the help of the Catholic Church’s detailed record keeping, Milot and his team were able to identify this trend as one attributed to genetic rather than environmental changes.

This study supports the school of thought that humans are still evolving and examines microevolution over the course of just a few generations.  Other studies show that certain human populations in different regions are evolving differently still today. A classic example of this regional evolution is the Mongoloid Race‘s decreased amount of sweat glands and small eyes. These are regional adaptations meant to be advantageous against the cold, snowy environment in which they live. Less sweat glands means more water conserved and less sweat released in order to avoid having it freeze on their skin, thus avoiding dehydration and hypothermia. Smaller eyes are beneficial because they help keep the sun’s glare from the snow at a minimum. These are all examples of ancient regional evolutions, similar to the current day changes occurring in some small Canadian villages.

It is definitely exciting to think that we are still evolving and adapting to our environment. It is a testament to the human race’s ability to change and adapt which has led us as far as we are today. Have you noticed any recent changes in your region’s population? Do you see any growing genetic trends in today’s youth?


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