Transverse Lady Beetle  (Photo:  Henri Goulet) Transverse Lady Beetle (Photo: Henri Goulet)

Species at Risk Update

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) meets twice a year to assess the status of Canadian wildlife species as a first step towards protecting wildlife species at risk. At its November meeting, the WRRB supported COSEWIC’s recommended status of Threatened for barren-ground caribou and Special Concern for the Transverse Lady Beetle, both under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).   Both these species are found in Wek’èezhìı.

Following its consultations, COSEWIC met in Ottawa, Ontario from November 27-December 2, 2016 to determine the status of 40 species of plants and animals, including barren-ground caribou and the Transverse Lady Beetle.  At this meeting, COSEWIC assessed barren-ground population as Threatened and the Transverse Lady Beetle as a species of Special Concern.  

Wildlife species that have been designated by COSEWIC may then qualify for legal protection and recovery under SARA. COSEWIC will submit its assessment results to the Federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change (ECCC) in fall 2017 for listing consideration under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).   Before the Minister makes a final decision about listing, ECCC will consult with affected communities and wildlife management authorities. 

Once a species is added to the federal list, recovery planning begins.  In the case of a Threatened species, a recovery strategy is developed. A recovery strategy identifies what needs to be done to “recover” a species by stopping or reversing its decline. It includes measures to deal with known threats to a species and its habitat, and sets goals for recovering the species.  

In the case of a species of Special Concern, a management plan is developed.  A management plan sets goals for maintaining sustainable population levels for a species that is particularly sensitive to environmental factors, but is not yet considered in danger of becoming extinct.

At the territorial level, the Species at Risk Committee (NWT), SARC, is planning to assess NWT barren-ground caribou in April 2017.  COSEWIC’s assessment covers all herds, including the Porcupine caribou herd.  SARC will have two assessments: Porcupine and barren-ground herds separately.  

What are the population trends and threats for barren-ground caribou?

ɁEkwǫ̀ (barren-ground caribou) play a key role in the cultures and ecosystems in the North.  However, both science and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge indicate unmatched declines in several barren-ground caribou herds.  They include the Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds found in Wek’èezhìı.

The causes of these declines are complex and not well understood.   Ongoing cumulative changes to the caribou’s environment due to changes in weather (climate change) and disturbance from increased exploration and development activity are likely contributors to population declines.  Weather, for example, can affect a number of “limiting factors” for caribou.  In winter, deep snow or icing may prevent caribou from being able to get to their food.  In summer, mosquitoes and warble flies can interrupt feeding.  If spring comes too early, caribou on their way to calving grounds may miss the peak greening period for plants when they are most nutritious.  Forest fires can temporarily change the caribou’s winter habitat, reducing food that is available to them in an area.   Impacts to vegetation caused by weather (for example, drought) or by dust and other environmental contaminants can affect the quality of caribou food and caribou nutrition.  Predation, harvest, parasites and diseases, and changes to their habitat can also affect caribou numbers.  These stressors seem to be interacting in complex ways, making it even more challenging to understand reasons for the declines. 

Barren-ground caribou need large annual ranges so that they are able to select alternative habitats when conditions are unfavourable, such as places where snow cover is too deep or there are too many biting insects.  Their habitat includes all the areas they depend on, including all the land and water they inhabit, use or cross in their travels throughout the year.   In some cases, the amount of winter habitat has been reduced because of natural disturbance such as forest fires or human activity and infrastructure such as roads.  Caribou are adapted to changing environmental conditions, but unprecedented cumulative changes to conditions on their ranges are occurring and are expected to increase.  Those changes on the landscape may affect the caribou’s ability to access preferred habitats to meet their requirements. 

What are the population trends and threats for the Transverse Lady Beetle?

Once one of the more common and widespread lady beetles (“lady bugs”) in North America, found throughout Canada and into the North, the numbers of Transverse Lady Beetles  have been declining over the last 10 years.    While the Transverse Lady Beetle seems to be abundant and fairly common in the NWT, in many other parts of its range it remains either undetected in areas where it was common before, or detected in low numbers.

The specific causes of decline in the Transverse Lady Beetle are currently unknown, but recently arrived non-native lady beetles species (“alien” beetles such as the Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle) that have moved into North America are a possible threat through competition and predation.  Alien beetles can out-compete native species for space, water, food, and other essential resources.  They may also affect Transverse Lady Beetles indirectly by introducing pathogens that can cause disease. Lady Beetles are frequently found on plants where they may be feeding on other insects, such as aphids.  Parasites, habitat changes or loss of habitat, and agricultural pesticide or chemical use to control their prey –aphids and other insects—are other possible threats. 

Fact Box – Barren-ground Caribou:

  • Nine barren-ground caribou herds have part of or their entire range in the NWT: from west to east, they are the Porcupine, Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, Cape Bathurst, Bluenose-West, Bluenose-East, Bathurst, Beverly, Ahiak and Qamanirjuaq herds.
  • Barren-ground caribou are considered a “keystone” species –a species that plays a crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions and on which other species largely depend.   Barren-ground caribou are also a cultural “keystone” species, intimately connected to indigenous people’s identity and way of life.     

Fact Box—Transverse Lady Beetle:

  • Lady beetle’s colourful domed backs are actually modified wings.  When they take off for flight, they lift up these protective covers.  Underneath is another pair of slender wings which they unfold for takeoff. 
  • For some wildlife, one way to avoid being eaten is to be toxic or bitter tasting.  A lady beetle’s bright colours and markings are thought to warn potential predators that they taste bad. In fact, lady beetles have toxic chemicals in their blood that makes them taste very bad.  When they are attacked, they automatically leak out some of their blood in a phenomenon known as “reflex bleeding”.  Red, yellow and black are colours that could warn of danger. 

Fact Box – Species at Risk Categories

  • Special Concern:   may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats
  • Threatened:  may soon become endangered if nothing is done to change the factors leading to its disappearance