Keeping cool: restoring natural areas with native plants can lower temperatures

Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods and thought the air felt a little cooler than where you entered the woods from? Chances are that it is. It’s likely cooler than your street, yard, or even the agricultural field nearby. These local temperature differences are real and noticeable.

Jonas Hamburg, a researcher from the University of Waterloo, looks closely at the temperatures of ecosystems. According to Jonas, looking at ecosystems from above and taking their temperature using thermal imaging can give us insight into their health beyond what we may see – or at times not be able to see – on the surface, and can let us know if restoration efforts are on the right track.

Originally from Sweden, Jonas has spent time working and studying in India, Brazil, South Africa, the U.S., and now Canada. Through his interest in restoration, he developed an interest in ecosystem energy balances and how ecosystems use solar energy in different ways.

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His research involves looking at the big picture – literally. He uses drones and satellites, including NASA Landsat satellites and a thermal camera on the International Space Station (ISS) called ECOSTRESS, to gather images and measure the heat coming off the surface of restoration areas and look at how temperatures at these areas change over time.

A primary site for Jonas’ research is right here in Norfolk County. Here, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has been undertaking large restoration projects to restore hundreds of hectares of forest, woodland, and tallgrass prairie. Working alongside NCC, Jonas has made some interesting findings with implications for climate change adaptation.

“I looked at how the temperature has changed in restoration areas over the last 12 years and found that they have decreased in temperature by about 4.5 degrees in summer daytime temperatures in that time. This is because the plants take in the solar energy that comes in and they use it for processes like photosynthesis and transpiration much more effectively than if that area was agriculture or unused.”

Rising temperatures are a concerning effect of climate change. Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. Among the impacts of rising temperatures are longer and more intense heat waves, which can be deadly for humans, animals, and plants.

Jonas notes the direct connection his research has to climate change: “I don’t know how big of an effect this has globally on large scale climate change, but it does have a big effect locally. Being able to say, ‘if you restore this area, that will cool it,’ will have an effect not just on creating habitat for animals who wouldn’t be able to deal with the heat as temperatures increase, but also cooling the area for humans and people living nearby which can help improve quality of life and create local adaptations to climate change. It’s more than just holding carbon in trees, restoring forests and such should have an overall net cooling effect.”

His work may be mostly looking from above using thermal images, but to understand the cooling process Jonas also does a lot of on-the-ground monitoring. This involves identifying and measuring the plants as well as using vegetation data recorded by NCC staff over the last 12 years, and then comparing that to the thermal imagery to see the connections.

“At one site, I think we identified 44,000 individual plants,” he said. “We found that the more biodiversity, the more different species of plants, the more the temperature decreased.”

It seems that native plants also play an important role. Jonas’ research points towards a correlation between native species and cooling. Overall, one additional plant species decreased temperatures by about 0.3 degrees, and only so for native species. Like many cautious scientists, Jonas says this with an asterisk beside it, noting that more study is needed to say this definitively.

“It makes sense though,” he explains. “Non-native species tend to spread and take up a lot of space, but native species are better adapted to the site. For example, native species in tallgrass prairie ecosystems have deeper roots than non-native plants to take up water on hot, dry summer days, and they seem to have more mycorrhizal connections to other parts of the ecosystem. These things make them more efficient at transpiration, photosynthesis, and taking up energy, thereby cooling the area more.”
Jonas’ research points towards the importance of restoration with biodiversity and native species in mind to produce healthy ecosystems capable of cooling local temperatures. However, these elements are sometimes overlooked in restoration efforts. While organizations like NCC have good track records in restoration and ecological monitoring, Jonas notes that the unfortunate reality is that not all do: “when companies do restoration, they often do it the cheapest way possible, and that’s often using few species, and often not native species. There’s also often not enough money or interest in post-restoration monitoring. That’s a problem.”

As more research like Jonas’ comes out which shows the mitigation effect restoration efforts and biodiversity can have against climate change, there is hope that more and more companies and people will realize that the cost of doing nothing, or the bare minimum, is greater than the cost of effective restoration and developing healthy ecosystems. Thermal imaging may provide a helpful tool in checking the pulse of restored areas. It can help detect if progress is being made through cooler temperatures, or in the case of a temperature spike, can indicate something is going wrong that requires action which may otherwise be missed.

Some more good news: the majority of the satellite imagery Jonas works with is publicly accessible. While it may take some training to understand and use the data and information these images can provide, they have a lot of potential to help in ecological fields, and Jonas is hopeful more people will utilize it.

While this area of research shows promise, it may not be for everyone. There are many other ways communities and individuals can help with restoration and conservation, beginning with thinking about their own backyard.

“Coming from my research, don’t just think about trees,” Jonas affirms. “Trees are very important of course, and people tend to like trees a lot, but there’s more to vegetation. Think about planting tallgrass, shrubs, bushes, and more. Creating diversity and structure is important, especially for animals. Human development tends to get very flat and perfect, but nature wants little holes and nooks.”

Thoughtful reforestation and restoration practices which focus on native plants and increasing biodiversity can help us keep cool and adapt to rising temperatures connected to climate change at a local level. When looking at your yard, garden, or any outdoor space you have access to, think about planting a variety of local, native species. Keep in mind that small positive changes can add up to have a big impact!

Keeping an eye on the sky

Paying attention to birds can help us recognize environmental changes

Whether we think about it or not, birds are an important part of our lives. They are as important to us as they are to the many ecosystems which they play integral roles in sustaining. They bring nature to people, wherever we are. Whether we live in a rural or urban community, hearing birdsong or catching a glimpse of a bird in flight can bring us moments of wonder and connect us to the natural world outside our windows.

“Waking up in the morning and walking out your door and hearing birds singing is always something that lifts people’s spirits. It makes you feel better. Along with giving people a lot of enjoyment, studies have shown that it can improve health and wellbeing tremendously,” says Andrew Couturier, Senior Director of Landscape Science and Conservation at Birds Canada, a partner in BirdLife International.

“They’re very beneficial for our human systems, and also for our natural systems,” he explains. “Birds are essential for pollination, spreading of seeds, rejuvenating forests, pollinating crops, and controlling pests. They’re an indicator species for biodiversity because they’re very visible and tangible. You can see and hear them so they’re easier and less expensive to study than other organisms, and they can act as a broadscale indicator of what’s going on in an ecosystem.”

A barn swallow, a threatened songbird in Ontario. Credit: Leanne Gauthier‑Helmer.

Andrew’s interest in birds goes back to a summer job at Point Pelee National Park as a nature interpreter during his undergrad: “that’s how I got introduced to the whole birding world, I learned all my birds there. It was quite an experience, being thrown into the fire right during spring migration.”

The experience seems to have stuck with him, as he has spent most of his career up to this point working at Birds Canada, a non-profit, charitable organization whose mission is to conserve wild birds through sound science, on-the-ground actions, innovative partnerships, public engagement, and science-based advocacy.

Having joined this organization when there were only 12 employees, he’s seen it grow to over 60, an impressive feat for any conservation organization. His involvement and leadership in bird conservation on wide-ranging projects of provincial, national, and international scope have been significant, and in 2018 he was elected to the College of Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

A major project that Andrew is contributing to is the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. The data collected in this enormous project provides important insight into the status, distribution and abundance of the whole province’s breeding birds, making it a useful tool for conservation.

This is the third iteration of this Atlas, which is undertaken every 20 years. The first round was completed in the early ‘80s and the second in the early 2000’s. With the soon-to-be many rounds of data collection, Andrew explains that this project provides the opportunity to reveal changes in populations and breeding over a 40-year period: “It will be interesting to see if we notice any changes and if we could attribute the changes to climate change.”

While birds extend their ranges at times for a variety of reasons, including temperature fluctuations and loss or gain of habitat, these factors can be exacerbated by climate change and pressures from increased human development.

Climate change caused by increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been shown to cause higher temperatures and extreme weather events such as drought, which can impact bird behaviour and nesting success. With a shifting climate, there is also increased opportunities for the spreading of invasive species and diseases moving into areas where they wouldn’t previously exist. These changes may be subtle, but as Andrew notes, some birds can be sensitive to these factors.

Andrew explains that climate change could also be having a negative effect on the timing of migration and some bird’s food sources: “aerial insectivores, which are birds such as swallows and swifts that feed on insects while flying, are declining throughout their range, so we’re trying to understand why that would be. One hypothesis is that there is a possible mistiming of when insects first come out in the spring and when birds are arriving. It could be that the birds are arriving earlier or later when the insects are already out or they’re not at their peak, so they’re not getting the benefit of that food source or rearing their young, and so on.”

Many migratory bird species, such as Tundra Swans (on the ground) and ducks (flying), rely on locations like Long Point for food and rest during their migrations. Credit: Andrew Couturier

With scientists agreeing that the effects of climate change will only increase over time, large numbers of birds could be put at risk for population decline, eradication from certain areas, and even extinction. While the effects of climate change on the populations of many bird and other species can be frightening to think about, projects such as the Breeding Bird Atlas are an important step in understanding what is happening and what can be done to conserve these important species into the future.
Two other projects Andrew is involved in are important conservation tools: Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs).

The IBA program is an internationally recognized designation that has been around since the late ‘90s to identify important areas for threatened birds, large groups of birds, or birds restricted to certain areas by range or habitat. Building on the success of this program and other similar ones, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) introduced the concept of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in 2016.

The KBA program, which Andrew is helping to lead nationally as they identify important sites for nature across Canada and the globe, expands the picture to consider the biodiversity of sites beyond birds alone to deepen our understanding of their ecological value.
While neither designation carries any legal protection, they’re valuable for identifying areas of high biodiversity value and supporting conservation goals. These projects are impressive in their global scope, but they have local importance as well.

“We happen to have two of these places within the Biosphere boundaries,” Andrew explains. “One is the Long Point Peninsula and Marshes, and the other is the inland Norfolk Forest Complex. They are designated IBAs, and it looks like both sites will qualify as KBAs.”

The wetlands and marshes in the Long Point area are some of the significant ecosystems found here that provide important habitat for many species. Credit: Andrew Couturier.

The reasons for Norfolk County receiving not one, but two possible KBA designations are many, and they largely relate to the important habitat and biodiversity found here.

“This area is considered the crown jewel of the Carolinian forest zone in Canada. It’s got the highest proportion of forest cover anywhere in southwestern Ontario, and it’s where you can find the majority of Ontario’s Species at Risk. It’s just a real gem within an area that’s otherwise pretty heavily developed. If you start going east or west, you can see a stark difference,” Andrew says.

While Norfolk County may stand out in its forested areas, the extensive plant and animal life here is threatened by increasing human development for urban and agricultural purposes, and the repercussions of these pressures such as nutrient runoff from agricultural fields. As habitats are fragmented and reduced to smaller areas farther apart, species populations can face declines. This can lead to a decline in ecosystem health, which impacts ecosystem services such as clean air, clean water, and healthy soil used to grow our food.

While programs undertaken by Birds Canada like the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, IBAs and KBAs are important tools for indicating areas of high biodiversity value for conservation efforts, Andrew notes that increased public awareness and action is needed make conservation goals a reality.

Birds Canada provides a lot of helpful resources, such as this article on the top 6 ways to help birds. They also have numerous citizen science opportunities for interested volunteers to share their energy, skill, and bird sightings. Even small decisions, such as the type of coffee you buy, can add up to a real difference, especially if enough people get on board.

Conservation can begin wherever you are by noticing and engaging the world around you, beginning with stopping to listen to a birdsong: “If people don’t experience nature, then they don’t really understand it and they don’t appreciate it, and therefore they don’t take an interest in conserving it,” Andrew says thoughtfully. “It’s great to see the lightbulb come on when somebody has a bird in their backyard or has planted a garden using native plants that are beneficial for birds and other wildlife. It feels like a real victory, so we try to provide opportunities for people to get involved and make connections with nature so that they will take more of an interest in conserving it in the future.”

Change doesn’t come so much from a central place off somewhere, as Andrew says, it comes from members of the community rolling up their sleeves and making things happen.

Watch for Wildlife on Local Roads this Spring

 

Now that the first turtles are emerging from their winter naps, motorists should start watching for them crossing local roads. That’s the message of a postcard being mailed out this week to all households in Norfolk County by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) in support of its Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place (LPWF) conservation project.

The front of the postcard features a painting by Long Point artist Cindy Presant of a Species at Risk Blanding’s Turtle being carried across a road while a snake, frog and snapping turtle wait their turn. The image of the hands helping the turtle was inspired by a photo of Long Point turtle rescuer John Everett, taken by his wife, Jan.  

“Local photographers and nature lovers have reported seeing turtles much earlier this year so we want to get the message out to watch for wildlife crossing roads to as many people in the community as possible”, said Mandy Karch of the Ontario Road Ecology Group (OREG). “Drivers should also be watching for snakes, and on the first warm rainy spring nights, frogs and salamanders crossing”.

OREG is managing the working group addressing wildlife road mortality issues in the LPWF.  Drivers are encouraged to keep the postcard handy in their vehicles so they can refer to the following tips on safely helping wildlife seen on local roads:


  • Drive carefully in areas with wetlands and forests.

  • Stay safe. Check for on-coming traffic if you see an animal on the road. Never put yourself or other motorists in danger.

  • Let the animal cross on its own if it can do so safely.

  • If moving a turtle, take it in the direction it was headed.

  • Never pick a turtle up by the tail!

  • Don’t pick up adult Snapping Turtles unless you have experience. Use a car mat or stick to help it across.

  • Don’t take the animal somewhere new.

A handy car kit would include work gloves, a high visibility vest, hand sanitizer, pylons and a tote box. 

The postcard also explains how to collect and record data on reptile and amphibian sightings on Norfolk County roads.

Take a picture and report your sighting to the Wildlife on Roads in Ontario iNaturalist project. Your observations will help identify road mortality “hotspots” where action can be taken to mitigate these sites.  

Reducing road mortality of local reptiles and amphibians is one of five priorities identified within the Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place. Other priorities include: eliminating invasive species such as Phragmites, restoring and protecting tallgrass prairie habitat, preserving forests and treed swamps, and working with local farmers on managing and maintaining marginal farmland for wildlife habitat.

Long Point Biosphere Reserve involves local schools in Project FeederWatch

Nearly 1,000  youngsters across Norfolk and Haldimand Counties will become junior citizen scientists this winter by joining Project FeederWatch, a Birds Canada research program to help study winter bird populations.

Thanks to extra funding from Nature Canada, the Long Point Biosphere Reserve (LPBR) is distributing FeederWatch kits to 50 elementary school classes in the Grand Erie District School Board. 

“Nature Canada has been supporting our efforts to connect young people with the natural environment through school groups tours for the past four years,” says Cynthia Brink, the LPBR’s Naturehood Outdoor Educator. “COVID-19 restrictions prevented tours last year so we’re grateful for this additional funding to get young people involved in Project FeederWatch.”

The kit includes a window feeder, bird seed, a bird identification poster and other supporting materials and a one-year membership with Birds Canada.  The LPBR was able to supplement the kits with a Junior Nature Journal from Nature Canada for recording observations and a sketch journal provided free of charge by the Bateman Foundation’s Sketch Across Canada project.

Working with their classroom teachers, students will learn to record and sketch their observations in the journal provided. In addition to recording the species of birds that visit the feeder and backyard, the students will make notes on the weather, season, behaviour, colour and songs of the different bird species.   This information will contribute to Birds Canada’s winter bird research.

The students may also try to sketch the birds they observe using drawing lessons provided on the Bateman Foundation’s website. https://batemanfoundation.org/digital-resources/

Karen Hammond of the Doerksen Country Store in Port Rowan was able to get a discount that allowed the LPBR to purchase and distribute 27 more bird feeders to youngsters in the Grand Erie Virtual Academy as well as another 58 for students of the Lloyd S. King Elementary School on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation whose school remains closed due to COVID 19 protocols.

“Watching and learning about the birds visiting their backyards can provide a meaningful connection to nature especially now with the extra screen time young people are having to do with their school work at home,” says Brink. “ Birds connect our world, for some this generates natural curiosity to discover more about the natural world around them”.

Birds Canada organizes several similar programs such as the Schoolyard Bird Blitz, the Christmas Bird County for Kings and the Great Backyard Bird Count.  For more information on these programs, visit www.birdscanada.org.

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Naturehood is a program of the Long Point Biosphere Reserves funded by Nature Canada. The LPBR promotes research, monitoring, community outreach and education, partnerships, and proje

cts that support the goals of biodiversity, conservation, and sustainable communities in Norfolk County. We exchange information and work collaboratively with the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association, as well as other biosphere reserves in Canada and around the world.

For more information, please contact Cynthia Brink at education@longpointbiosphere.com or (226) 567-0465

Popular Children’s Book about Saving Turtles translated into Ojibwe

Port Rowan, ON. Dec. 9, 2020 – An Ojibwe translation of a popular childrens’ book about a young boy helping turtles safely cross a busy road has been published by the Long Point Biosphere Reserve (LPBR).  The translation was a collaboration with the Ojibwe-speaking Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, whose Treaty Lands and traditional territory include the LPBR.

Entitled “Kaa Wiika Boontaake” (“Never Give Up”), the colorful book tells the story of little Johnny’s determination to protect his friend “Snapper” and other turtles from heavy traffic.  Written and illustrated by Long Point cottager Jan Everett, the story is based on her husband John’s efforts to save turtles along the Long Point Causeway, the unofficial gateway to the LPBR.

“Recognizing the significance of the turtle in Indigenous culture, we approached the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation (MCFN) to help us translate the book into Anishinaabemowin, the common language of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Pottawatomi peoples of the Three Fires Confederacy”, said LPBR president Rick Levick. An Ojibwe First Nation, the Mississaugas of the Credit have been allied to this Confederacy for more than 200 years.

The translation was done by James “Mawla” Shawana (Odawa/Pottawatomi from Wiikwemkoong First Nation), a language teacher at the Lloyd S. King Elementary School in the MCFN community near Hagersville, Ontario for the past 12 years.

“The Mississaugas of the Credit would like to thank the Long Point Biosphere Reserve for reaching out to our First Nation”, said Chief R. Stacey Laforme. “Our shared collaboration will allow students at the elementary school in our community to enjoy a special experience — reading this popular children’s book in Anishinaabemowin.”

Chief Laforme added, “Collaborations such as these are small but important steps on the journey of reconciliation, miigwech (thank you).”

Since 2014, more than 3,500 English and French copies of the book have been sold with the proceeds supporting on-going maintenance of exclusion fencing and wildlife culverts that were installed along the Causeway to reduce road mortality of turtles and snakes including several Species at Risk.

“The story of Johnny and Snapper parallels the 10-year, $2.7 million effort by the Long Point community that reduced reptile deaths on the Causeway by nearly 80 per cent”, said Levick.  Details about this effort and the role of the LPBR are included in English at the end of the book.

Never Give Up was translated in 2019, the International Year of Indigenous Languages but publication was delayed due to the COVID 19 outbreak.

“We are honoured that our book “Never Give Up” can now be enjoyed in Anishinaabemowin. This truly is a book for children of all ages”, said author Jan Everett and husband John.

Plans are underway to launch the book with a virtual reading by author Jan Everett and translator James Shawana’s daughter Nikki to the students of Lloyd S. King Elementary School.

The LPBR will be distributing free copies of Kaa Wiika Boontaake to other Anishinaabe communities across Ontario and offering it for sale at www.longpointbiosphere.com.

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The Long Point Biosphere Reserve promotes research, monitoring, community outreach and education, partnerships, and projects that support the goals of biodiversity, conservation and sustainable communities in Norfolk County. We exchange information and work collaboratively with the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association, as well as other biosphere reserves in Canada and around the world.

 The Mississaugas of the Credit are an Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) First Nation with 2,600 band members, of whom approximately 800 live on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation near Hagersville, Ontario. For more information please visit www.mncfn.ca.

For more information. please contact Rick Levick at president@longpointbiosphere.com or 416-723-2910.

Long Point Biosphere Reserve President Wins Ontario Nature Conservation Award

It is with great pride that the Long Point Biosphere Reserve congratulates our President, Rick Levick, for winning the Ontario Nature Ian Shenstone Fraser Memorial Award for his contributions to reducing wildlife road mortality and his work on the Long Point Causeway Improvement Project.  Rick was nominated by the Norfolk Field Naturalists.

Ontario Nature’s Conservation Awards recognize excellence by honouring the work of individuals, groups, government agencies and corporations to protect wild species and wild spaces in Ontario.

Community involvement defines Ontario Nature’s character and approach. Together with their member groups and individual members, they are protecting and enhancing our natural legacy for future generations.

In accepting the award, Rick said:

“In my 40 year in public relations and marketing, I’ve always made sure that my clients, in this case, the critters that crawl, slither and hop across the Long Point Causeway, get all of the attention and accolades.

While this award recognizes one individual, the success of the Causeway Project involved many people and organizations working together for more 10 years to make our conservation vision a reality. 

Those people include the members of the Steering Committee, the staff at our funding agencies, County staff, several local contractors, the consulting engineers and those poor students who were hired for the worst summer job in Ontario — recording, bagging and tagging road kill on the Causeway.

And it is with all of those people in mind that I am pleased to accept this recognition from Ontario Nature.”

Congratulations Rick, on such well-deserved recognition!

New Local Brewery wins Long Point Biosphere Sustainable Tourism Award

The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation (LPWBRF) has named the Charlotteville Brewing Company the winner of the 2019 Sustainable Tourism Ambassador Award.

Brewery owners Melanie Doerksen and Tim Wilson were presented with the Award by LPWBRF President Rick Levick at the Norfolk County Economic Development Symposium in Simcoe on February 13.

“Melanie, Tim and their staff certainly ‘walk the talk” of sustainable tourism through their company’s core values and actions,” Levick told the symposium audience. He said those values include:

  • Utilizing as much repurposed material as possible
  • Growing raw ingredients organically and/or purchase organic
  • Paying personnel a living wage so they can prosper
  • Striving to be as close to zero waste as possible
  • Serving artisanal beer and food that is as sustainable as it is delicious

Levick also cited how the company puts its values into practice.

  • 60 per cent of ingredients are grown on premises
  • 30 per cent of spent grains are used in food products
  • 70 per cent of the water used is recycled

The Charlotteville Brewing Company also received Norfolk County’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the symposium based on an entirely separate nomination and selection process, Levick noted.

For the past five years, the LPWBRF has presented this award to local businesses whose operations have achieved sustainable tourism goals by conserving the natural resources of the region and operating in an environmentally friendly way. As ambassadors, award recipients pledge to raise public awareness of how sustainable tourism can be achieved in the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve.

The Charlotteville Brewing Company has won the Long Point Biosphere’s 2019 Sustainable Tourism Ambassador Award. Biosphere President Rick Levick (left) presented the award to brewery owner Melanie Doerksen. staffers Emily Hoey and Mary Benedict and Melanie’s husband, Tim Wilson. (photo courtesy of Norfolk County)

Past recipients of the award include:

  • Whistling Gardens in 2014
  • Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery in 2015
  • Blueberry Hill Estates in 2016
  • Long Point Eco Adventures in 2017
  • Long Point Island Hugger Tours in 2018
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