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Insect Monitoring

Summer 2018, young Inuit and Cree participate in the week training in Kuururjuaq National Park. © Space for Life (Maxim Larrivée)

Nunavik Sentinels community science program

The story begins in 2014, when Elise Rioux-Paquette (Kativik Regional Administration-KRG) and Maxim Larrivée (Montreal Insectarium, Space for Life) introduced youngsters from various Nunavik communities to entomology by leading expeditions in national parks in order to inventory the diversity of insects in these protected areas. By sharing their experience with young Inuit and Cree, it became clear that many young people have a predisposition and a keen interest in entomology. Their eye for details, their hunting and fishing activities and the knowledge transmitted by the elders, help them retain a highly developed relationship with nature. In addition, they are very aware that their environment is changing rapidly and that the impacts of climate change are significant on their living environment. 

 However, these young people have little knowledge about insects and other arthropods (e.g., spiders and millipedes) in their area, let alone how to capture and conserve them. And they have practically nothing to arouse their curiosity or help them develop their entomological skills. The area to be inventoried is huge, the insects are active for only a very short time each year, which make training and supervising these youths a logistical challenge. 

Black flies and mosquitoes are certainly the first insects that spring to mind when you think of Northern Canada. Yet there are so many insects fulfilling essential ecological roles that go incognito: hundreds of beautiful butterfly species, colourful flower flies, and hard‐working bumblebees. Some are food for birds and other animals, while others ensure berry pollination, regulate pest species or recycle organic matter. This entomological diversity is rich, fragile, invaluable to humans ecologically and essential to the balance of Northern ecosystems. 

Bumblebee spotted during a hike in Kuujjuaq. © Space for Life (Maxim Larrivée)

Owing to the effects of climate change, living creatures are likewise changing, as are the bonds that connect them. These changes are happening even more quickly in the North. To date, the insects and spiders of Northern Canada have not been studied much and there is an urgent need for data on them. Collecting specimens and monitoring their diversity will help us learn more about their habits and distribution, discover new species and gain a better understanding of how to protect them. For example, a Transverse Lady Beetle was captured in Kuururjuaq in 2018 with the help of eight youngsters and KRG. It is a new extreme northern record for this special concern species. This is only a fraction of discoveries to come. These data will allow scientists, in collaboration with communities, to assess the consequences of climate change on insect fauna and to better define the actions to be taken to help communities prepare for these shifts. 

This is why the Nunavik Sentinels community science project was created at the Montreal Insectarium as a research and education program in entomology designed to appeal to the youth of all Northern communities to inventory not only in the parks, but throughout the ancestral lands. The program seeks to document the entomological biodiversity of the North and raise awareness to the essential roles of insects in these ecosystems. 

Youth are taught to inventory, preserve and identify insects and other arthropods found around their community. It is done by offering educative activities for schools and summer trainings to groups of a dozen youth per community every year for a week. Out in the field they are taught various methods to capture and observe insects, with the help of guides and proper equipment. At the same time, they learn about the morphology of various insect groups and their vital roles within ecosystems. They are also introduced to other scientific tools to monitor wildlife, ice safety, language preservation and weather conditions through the SIKU application (siku.org). 

If they like what they experience and learn, youth have the opportunity to get a paid job in the Nunavik insect monitoring program and collect insects in a habitat near their own community for a whole summer. This provides them with their first job experience and valuable income, while connecting to the land. The data collected by the participants is analyzed at the Montreal Insectarium and the results are returned to the communities in different forms for them to use to help understand how global warming is affecting the fabric of the land responsible for the pollination of berries and many medicinal plants. 

Kuujjuaq in 2019: Sentinels inventory insects with bee bowls and nets. © Space for Life (Maxim Larrivée)

Although the week training in 2020 and 2021 was cancelled due to COVID‐19, the Nunavik Sentinels program has hired students to conduct insect sampling in Kuujjuaq, Tasiujaq and Chisasibi communities. Community outreach and educative tool preparation is still ongoing. We will be more than prepared and ready to train motivated young members of Northern communities next year and beyond! You can also make an invaluable contribution by sharing your insect observation through the SIKU app with the Nunavik Sentinels project to increase the knowledge of the northern insect fauna. We need you! 

If you would like to learn more about the program, please visit our Facebook page @NunavikSentinels and Web site at https://m.espacepourlavie.ca/en/nunavik‐sentinels 

Maxim Larrivée, Ph.D., Director, is the Project Manager at Montréal Space for Life Insectarium. 

Amélie GrégoireTaillefer, Ph.D. is the Project Coordinator for Nunavik Sentinels: nunaviksentinels@gmail.com 

VIAMaxim Larrivée and Amélie Grégoire‐Taillefer
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