Nunavik Sentinels preparing for insect research season

Participation of locally employed researchers helps understand northern biodiversity, program co-ordinator says

A chequered skipper butterfly, pictured here, is one of many insect species the Nunavik Sentinels have researched in the North. Locally employed staff play an important role in helping researchers understand insect biodiversity and ecosystems in the north, says the program’s co-ordinator. (Photo courtesy of Maxim Larrivée)

By Jeff Pelletier

Discovering insects in places where they don’t usually live is what has the Nunavik Sentinels eager to return to northern Quebec, program co-ordinator Amélie Grégoire Taillefer says.

On previous trips, researchers discovered a population of butterflies known as chequered skippers — or Arctic skippers — in Kuururjuaq National Park, 400 kilometres north from previously known populations. The Sentinels also discovered the presence of ladybird beetles — commonly known as ladybugs — a species of concern previously not known to be able to survive in extreme cold.

“Just knowing the species that are there, knowing what they are, what they need to survive, the information we need to protect them … that’s all important information to know,” said Grégoire Taillefer, the Montreal-based co-ordinator of the Nunavik Sentinels program and an entomologist — or insect researcher — herself.

“Just to get the baseline of what is there is a first important step.”

The Nunavik Sentinels hope to send more researchers to the North this summer and relaunch a scientific training camp to get more Nunavimmiut interested in the field of entomology.

Nunavik Sentinels is a program run by the Montreal Insectarium — an insect museum — that employs Inuit and Cree youth in northern Quebec to contribute to the research of various species of insects and spiders that live in the North.

The program launched in 2015, and has included the research of thousands of species including butterflies, moths and beetles, said Grégoire Taillefer.

After two years of being unable to travel north due to COVID-19 restrictions, Grégoire Taillefer says she’s hoping to see the Sentinels send more researchers to Nunavik this year, as well as the return of their weeklong introductory entomology training course.

“This summer, we’re hoping to be able to go up and do everything in person,” she saidl

Due to the climate in the North, the season to gather raw data on insects is short — approximately eight weeks from June to August.

To maximize the amount of data they are able to collect in that time, the program trains and employs mostly young northern residents between the ages of 15 and 30 to catch and trap various insects.

During the colder months, researchers are able to analyze the raw data and send what they’ve learned back to the communities.

Grégoire Taillefer says that local researchers through the Nunavik Sentinels have helped the insectarium discover new species in the region and understand how populations are distributed.

Having a thorough knowledge of insect biodiversity in Nunavik goes a long way, Grégoire Taillefer said. As the climate changes, understanding these populations and their impacts on other animals and plants in the ecosystem helps inform conservation efforts in the region.

With summer approaching, Grégoire Taillefer says she hopes to get more young people in Nunavik employed in entomology, so they can help researchers build a better understanding of the northern ecosystem.

“By participating in these scientific expeditions, young people become important actors in their community by contributing to the enrichment of biological knowledge,” she said.

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