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By Dr. Kristin Bianchini, Postdoctoral Researcher, Birds Canada and Acadia University

 

Even with everything on lockdown due to COVID-19, science hasn’t stopped at Birds Canada! As field work was a no-go, scientists took advantage of extra time at home to get ahead and analyze some of the amazing data that have been collected by our Citizen Scientists.

For nearly 40 years, thousands of dedicated volunteers with the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey (CLLS) have monitored Common Loon chick production across Canada. In the past, loons were severely threatened by acid rain, which caused loons to raise fewer chicks. Even though acid rain levels have dropped, the extensive CLLS dataset was telling us that loon chick numbers were still declining, but the reason for these declines was not well understood.

A new study that I led helps to solve the mystery behind why loon chick numbers are decreasing over time. I worked with Dr. Doug Tozer at Birds Canada, Dr. Mark Mallory at Acadia University, Rob Alvo, a long-time loon researcher based in Ottawa, and Dr. Satyendra Bhavsar, with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to analyze 38 years of CLLS data from over 1500 Ontario lakes.

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Together, our team found that declines in the number of loon chicks in Ontario over the past four decades likely result from a complex interplay between damage from acid rain, mercury in fish, and climate change. Similar reasoning may also apply to declines in Common Loon productivity elsewhere across Canada (see our nation-wide study published in 2013 at https://www.ace-eco.org/vol8/iss1/art1/).

By better understanding the reasons behind declining chick numbers, it may be possible to slow or even reverse these negative trends.

This research was supported by the Long Point Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Program of Birds Canada, Acadia University, SC Johnson, The Bluff’s Hunting Club, and the Mitacs Accelerate Program.

The full article is available until the end of July at: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1bCg3B8ccoG2V. If you’re interested in more details on this research, take a look! Or you can read the abstract here.

To learn more about the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, find tips on how you can help Common Loons, or to register for the 2020/2021 survey season, please visit www.birdscanada.org/loons

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