Experts and academics from around the world assembled at the University of Alberta from August 8th to 10th for a series of workshops to discuss a collaborative approach for dealing with the issues surrounding climate change and its effect on invasive species of plants, animals and insects.
AFNS Associate Professor Linda Hall brought together experts from across the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) to study the effects of climate change and invasive species. Specialists from the faculties of Science and ALES met with representatives from the universities of Sydney, Auckland, Western Australia and Pennsylvania State, as well as the Government of Alberta, in order to advance their knowledge on the issue and to develop collaborative research projects that can be used to fight the problem on a global level.
The Worldwide Universities Network is a system of 18 post-secondary institutions that enhances collaboration between its members in order to establish research excellence on a global level, and is currently chaired by U of A president Indira Samarasekera.
Although the thought of climate change typically conjures up images melting ice caps and severe weather, many of the species discussed at the symposium pose easily as great of a threat to the global environment. The Diversitas Global Invasive Species Programme, an international non-for-profit partnership dedicated to tackling the global threat of invasive alien species (IAS), estimates that the economic impact caused by IAS is a minimum of $1.4 trillion per year; nearly 5 per cent of the annual global economy.
“Species are designed to disperse,” said Hall. “That’s evolution. Unfortunately, with climate change there are a lot more places where these species can live. We used to be guarded by climate, but with climate change, we lose that protection.”
Despite the conference’s global theme, ramifications of climate change and its effect on invasive species can be felt close to home as with the mountain pine beetle epidemic in British Columbia. A 2012 report from the B.C. Ministry of Forests
reports that the tenacious insect has destroyed “an estimated 710 million cubic metres of commercially valued pine timber, 53 per cent of all such pine in the province.”
Several days of winter weather reaching below -35 degrees Celsius would traditionally kill off the beetles, keeping the population in check; however the B.C. Interior has not seen such conditions since 1996.
“You can’t prevent climate change,” noted Hall, “so the real goal here is to predict what’s going to happen, and then to do one of two things; prevent it from happening or mitigate the effects.”
With that thought in mind, Hall began recruiting academics from across the U of A and from member universities of the WUN. The collaboration included experts in invasive plants, insects and aquatic species, as well as statisticians and biological scientists, which provided attendees an exceptional opportunity to put together a series of collaborative projects. Work has already begun on a review paper and predictive models of the ecological and economic impact of different species.
“First of all we tried to develop some commonalities,” said Hall. “Then we looked at what’s different and what’s interesting, and the last day we started developing common research projects where the same species will be worked on in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which will allow us to study results in different areas and see what works and what doesn’t. Science is all about comparisons.”
This would appear to be precisely the type of effort that defines the Worldwide Universities Network. President Samarasekera describes the group as, “…dedicated to making significant advances in knowledge and understanding in areas of global concern, bringing together the experience, equipment and expertise necessary to tackle the big issues facing societies, governments, corporations and education.”
For more information on the Invasive Species Under Climate Control group
or the WUN
, please visit the WUN website..