Results of the 2002 James Bay Expedition
On the train to Moosonee, swaying north across the spartan but breath-taking Spruce-Heath-&-Sphagnum beauty of the muskeg, scanning the trackside trees for witches brooms that would indicate the presence of Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium pusillum, it came to me that: the naturalist's job is to love the whole world - with the corollary that we demonstrate that love by telling the truest and most detailed possible stories about the world.
The underpinning of these earthly love stories, as Newton, Lyell, Wallace and Darwin taught us, is history, and history played out in geography. History is unexpected and complicated - billions of years of contingent accidents multiplied together into a fabric so complex that it is not only queerer than we know, but also queerer than we can imagine - expressed as an inordinate fondness for Beetles and for other improbable creatures.
These creatures can't be classified by any simple scheme, because on Earth the quantum explosion of four-dimensional space-time is infinitely inter-reticulated with the innumerable twigs of the phylogenetic bush. In an historical universe, every population is both unique and representative. A museum's job is to preserve those samples of the intersection of phylogeny and space-time that will be most useful in testing stories to best improve our understanding of both - to increase the number and truth of true stories.
That means exploration: because the first thing you learn about any group of organisms is that not enough is known about distribution and abundance and there aren't enough specimens or data to answer the interesting questions. Finish and publish the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, (Cadman, Eagles, and Helleiner. 1987. University of Waterloo Press, Waterloo, Ontario. xx+617pp), take time to heave a single sigh of relief, and Bing! everything has changed. Ravens (Corvus corax) have moved into Grenville County, and Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda) have gone - and it's time to start reatlassing - and birds are the best-known taxon. Friends of Sowbugs (terrestrial Isopoda) atlas their distribution in Britain (http://www.bmig.org.uk/ ), but we don't even know what species occur in Ontario.
Given the lack of attention paid to so many aspects of natural history, everyplace is effectively unknown. Environmental change and advances in knowledge and interest constantly require re-exploration of every territory, and there are ever-increasing levels of spatial detail and environmental and biotic correlation at which every territory can be profitably explored. Henry David Thoreau 'travelled a good deal in Concord,' providing an unparalleled public record of its biota and making fundamental advances in ecology simply by constantly re-exploring his ancestral ground.
There are numerous criteria for situations where exploration can have the most effect. We want to look where 1) ignorance is greatest, 2) future change is expected, 3) re-visits can convert initial exploration into monitoring, 4) monitoring is already underway, 5) few species are known and extra effort is needed to show they really are depauperate, and 6) weather conditions that make it easy to survey particular taxa.
The museum expedition is the classical method of exploration, and the 2002 James Bay expedition as the the EOBM's first, had goals under each of these criteria:
1) general ignorance: we sought and found Boreal Chorus Frogs, Pseudacris triseriata maculata, in Quebec (taking the first Quebec specimen at Cabbage Willows Bay), surveyed the herpetofauna (with a northward range extension for Eurycea bislineata, the Two-lined Salamander along the James Bay highway), sought the rare freshwater limpet Acroloxus coloradensis, (thinking we'd found it at seven sites, though examination of the specimens reduced this to two sites, both considerable northward range extensions). We gathered samples of drifted snail shells from the shores of streams and lakes, and of living snails & slugs and Millipedes & Centipedes (providing the first records of their occurrence in many sites - a diverse fauna of land snails at the southern stations along the Bay faded out rapidly to the north), and we sought Dwarf Mistletoe north of Lake Abitibi (photographing or sampling witches brooms possibly due to this species well north along the James Bay highway and along the coast).
2) expectation of future change: we surveyed introduced slugs, Earthworms, and terrestrial Isopods, which are largely unknown in this area (we found widespread Earthworms, Terrestrial Isopods only as far north as Amos, Quebec, and Arion slugs irregularly northward), and the potentially invasive Reed Phragmites australis, (finding one clump at the south end of the James Bay Highway, near Matagami).
3) re-visits convert initial exploration into monitoring: We revisited 1971-72 range limits of Boreal Chorus Frogs around Moosonee (Chorus Frogs are now absent from the settlement of Moosonee, and from the fields around the airport, but persist in good numbers on the James Bay flats northwest of Moosonee), and sought Leopard Frogs, Rana pipiens, at sites where collections were made in 1971-1974, in order to assess the hypothesis that there has been a general decline throughout the Arctic drainages of Ontario and Quebec (not heard near where they were captured in 1971-1972 around Cochrane, nor in the town of Moosonee, nor on the James Bay flats NW of Moosonee. They were heard at one of two 1974 sites in Quebec, Lac Douay, and one was caught along the James Bay Highway).
4) monitoring already underway: we continued spring and fall monitoring at to our long-term monitoring site at Long Lake, south of Cochrane.
5) extra effort needed in depauperate areas: Land snails proved to be rare and not diverse at many northern Quebec sites, and Crayfish & Unionid Mussels seem very rare in lakes and streams around James Bay. Nightly setting of 100 snap traps produced only a few specimens of a few species of small mammals.
6) fortuitous weather conditions: These were mostly unfavourable, since rainlessness was combined with high water levels, which made it hard to find terrestrially rain-active Snails & Amphibians, as well as large aquatic invertebrates, which are best found when water levels are low.
So we face a winter of specimen sorting, identification, data entry, and writing. At home the calls for exploration at a smaller scale are just as urgent: members of the expedition are finding Four-toed Salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum) in the path of super-highways, Unionids in new Quebec rivers, Phragmites along Hwy 416, and Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) in Beaver Lake (where some of the first exploration done under the name of the EOBM found the rare Unionid Ligumia nasuta in 1998). Opponents of proposed ‘Factory Hog Facilities' near Tweed ask "Did you do any work at Mellon Creek?" and since we haven't, we have to put it on the list of places to learn to love next year...
SCHUELER and KARSTAD PUBLICATIONS
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route of the 2002 James Bay Expedition.
COMMENTS: This was written on 31 December 2002, in response to a call for a 'results' article about the James Bay Expedition, before specimen sorting, identification, data entry, or report- writing were completed. Since I couldn't reflect on what we'd found, I dealt with why we went. This loosely organized expedition was composed of Isabelle Picard, Jean-François Desroches, Louis-Philippe Gagnon, Larry Frazer, Aleta Karstad, and me. If there are questions about our results, write to me, and I'll direct the question to the appropriate expedition member.
The project was possible because of the financial, material and technical support of the Programme Faune-Nature (Québec government), the Eastern Ontario Biodiversity Museum, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Grand Council of the Cree, and Mountain Equipment Coop. We thank all these organizations for their great contribution and their vital assistance with the project. F.W.Schueler - March 2003.