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Green aracari (Pteroglossus virens).
Photo: Biodôme
Pteroglossus viridis

The primary mission of the Montréal Biodôme’s team of scientific advisors is to support the conservation, enhancement and development of living collections at the Biodôme and provide scientific support in managing these collections. Each of the scientific advisors also leads research in his or her field of expertise in regard to the institution’s mission and major research orientations. Some research projects support maintenance operations for the Biodôme’s living collections, while others are part of a collective effort from the scientific community to preserve nature. Certain projects conducted at the Biodôme or in the field help to broaden scientific knowledge about the ecology of species and habitats. Others support the protection of habitats, the conservation of biodiversity and the adoption of responsible behaviour towards nature that promotes sustainable development. The Biodôme’s research team is also interested in urban animal issues, conducting field work and advising managers in the public sector.

 

Support for collection maintenance operations

Reducing salinity and controlling operational costs related to the well-being of aquatic animals and ecosystem representativeness: A case study at the Montréal Biodôme

To comply with its priorities in terms of conservation, sustainable development and animal well-being, the Montréal Biodôme recently undertook an assessment of its main basin, in controlled conditions, of the effects of reducing salinity on organisms representing the collection of species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem. This measure was part of an objective to improve water quality and better utilize operational budgets; it also took into consideration the physiological adaptation mechanisms that come into play when there is a change in salinity. The tests we conducted using a range of saltwater concentrations enabled us to find the optimal salinity level for operating the St. Lawrence ecosystem. Salinity was reduced from 28 to 24 PSU.

Studying the role of the young in the green aracari’s parenting behaviour (Pteroglossus virens)

Cooperative reproduction is observed in 3.2 per cent of bird species. In most cases, the assistant is a juvenile that delayed its departure, staying on the parent’s territory. With green aracaris, the availability of nests, an ecological constraint, limits the departure of juvenile birds. In the Biodôme’s controlled environment, three juveniles were kept on the parents’ territory, which comprised four nests for shelter and reproduction. Our objective was to see if nest availability could influence reproductive assistance behaviour. Using surveillance cameras, we were able to quantify behaviour associated with parenting baby birds inside the nesting box. Our results confirmed that juveniles did help feed baby birds in the next two clutches for two consecutive years. Furthermore, a generous amount of nesting space did not seem to affect cooperative behaviour in this species.

 

Ecology of species and habitats

Impact of dissolved oxygen concentration on the survival, growth and metabolism of the Québec strain of spotted wolffish

The objective of this research project was to test the effects of hypoxia, hyperoxia and dissolved oxygen (DO) fluctuations on survival, growth and several other physiological indicators of stress and health in young spotted wolfish. The project also aimed to measure the effects of DO as well as size and diet on oxygen consumption (MO2) of the spotted wolffish, in order to better understand its tolerance to weak concentrations of oxygen often observed in conditions of captivity and in its natural environment. Experimental tests were used to determine the tolerance of the Québec strain of the wolfish to hypoxia and provide information about different DO levels on its growth and physiological adjustment mechanisms. A segment of this research project was devoted to constraints faced by this endangered species in their natural environment, helping us to understand phenomena related to the decline of natural populations in hypoxic zones of the St. Lawrence.

 

Protection of habitats, conservation of biodiversity and adopting responsible behaviour towards nature to promote sustainable development

Evaluating stress response of Anarhichas minor and A. lupus in terms of shelter availability 

Studies in progress, conducted in partnership with the New England Aquarium in Boston, involve the biological effects of “exclusion zones” in areas around natural gas terminals off the coast of New England. Prohibiting commercial and recreational fishing in these zones should rehabilitate benthic habitats ravaged by decades of bottom trawl fishing. It is commonly accepted that exposure to chronic stress can have a negative impact on the health and physiology of marine organisms. An omnipresent stress factor in marine environments under exploitation is the destruction of species’ habitats, a by-product of human activities like natural gas terminals and fishing. In theory, years of bottom trawling and degradation of the benthic habitat around natural gas terminals may have resulted in chronic stress for species that live in that environment, due in large part to the suppression or destruction of their natural refuges – particularly for fish and more sedentary invertebrate species that are less apt to actively seek out other viable habitats. In the study, a series of controlled experimental conditions will be simulated in order to acquire understanding of the physiological effects that occur when shelters are added or taken away. The objective of this study is to compare the chemical properties of blood over a period of time as an indicator of the physiological state of the spotted wolfish and Atlantic wolfish, and in relation to a series of changing conditions involving the presence or absence of a shelter or habitat.

Development of a monitoring program for five endangered species at the Oka National Park

For several years now, managers of protected areas have faced a great challenge: how to respond to an increased number of visitors while fulfilling their conservation objectives, which are at the very origin of the creations of these parks. The Oka National Park, located near the greater Montréal area and known for its beautiful beach, is no exception. Located in southern Québec, with mild temperatures, the park is home to exceptional biodiversity. Some 14 plant groups and 678 vascular plants were identified during a recent flora inventory, including 35 rare species. This exceptional wealth clearly illustrates the fundamental role that Oka Park plays in the conservation of rare plants in Québec. This project aims to identify a representative sample of rare plants at the park in order to create a monitoring program to document their evolution and ensure their conservation.

Four plant groups of interest in the park must be represented:

  1. White pine and red oak
  2. Open sandy areas and high shorelines 
  3. Sugar maple and butternut hickory
  4. Silver maple

This project, undertaken in close collaboration with park authorities, is being adapted to the needs and capacity of current monitoring conducted within this protected area.

Poor land use, poor health

A project concerning sustainable land use to prevent ill human health for small-scale farming communities of the humid tropics.

This program aims at reducing the gravity of two emergent and synergistic health issues in small scale farming populations of the Amazon: mercury exposure through contaminated fish consumption and transmission of Chagas disease through contact with triatomines, insect carriers of a deadly protozoan. Recent studies indicate that both hazards, which can severely and insidiously affect immune, neurologic and cardiac functions, appear to be directly linked to the rapid and generalized degradation of the environment, in particular to the ever-increasing “slash and burn” practices of the tropical rain forest.

The PLUPH program, acronym for poor land use – poor health, will contribute to primary health prevention by implementing and testing sound land-uses in typical pilot communities of the Tapajos. The program is being carried out by an interdisciplinary team, composed of university researchers from Brazil and Canada, representatives of the Brazilian government in agro-development, colonization practices and public health, as well as opinion leaders of local communities.

From a local to a regional scale

Participatory research that aims at understanding the sources, circulation and impact of mercury in the Brazilian Amazon to create solutions adapted to the diversity of ecosystems and populations.

This is the third phase of a project in the Tapajos region of the Brazilian Amazon. Since it was demonstrated that the cultural practices of the region were the main sources of mercury contamination, this project proposed a dietary modification for local inhabitants promoting the consumption of herbivore fish that are not as contaminated as carnivore fish. Cultural practices were studied in order to understand the social, economic and environmental dynamics in the context of mercury contamination.

 

Urban animal problems

Using vasectomy to control beaver population

The beaver, Castor canadensis, is commonplace in many parts of Québec, and can be a real nuisance in populated areas. The objective of this project is to keep subjects in their habitat while limiting their number. Young beavers tend to inhabit inappropriate spaces after leaving the family lodge. Vasectomy is used to sterilize males without interfering with their normal territorial behaviour. One of the goals is also to follow couples over a period of time and see if they stay together despite the absence of offspring.

Raccoon serology and population dynamics 

Since 1993, two populations of raccoons, Procyon lotor, have been studied in the Cap-Saint-Jacques and Île-Bizard nature parks on Montréal’s West Island. The animals are captured live using Havahart traps. They are then vaccinated against rabies and distemper, an identification chip is inserted under their skin and a blood sample is drawn. Every two years, raccoons are captured again and another blood sample is drawn and analyzed. This makes it possible to determine their level of protection against the rabies virus (raccoon variation), which has been present in Québec since 2006.

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