North

Mosquito-free Northern summer a mixed blessing

Northerners might rejoice about this summer's relative lack of mosquitoes, but for wildlife, their absence is a mixed bag. Mosquito numbers are down across the country because of less precipitation this summer and lower snow pack levels last winter.

Fewer bug bites are great, but low mosquito numbers could have a major impact on wildlife

Fewer bug bites are great, but low numbers of mosquitoes across the North this summer could have an impact on birds and animals. (Shutterstock)

Northerners might rejoice about this summer's relative lack of mosquitoes, but for wildlife, their absence is a mixed bag.

Mike Jenkins, biological sciences technician with the City of Edmonton, says mosquito numbers are down across the country because of less precipitation this summer and lower snow pack levels last winter.

Luckily, he says mosquitoes are not a keystone species.

"It's not like anything really completely relies on mosquitoes as a food source or as a pollinator or anything like that," he says. "So, oddly enough, it seems like if you wiped out all the mosquitoes it wouldn't have as much impact as a lot of other organisms."

But Jenkins notes mosquitoes are more important to the Arctic environment than in a lot of other areas, saying migrating birds eat mosquitoes and their larvae.

Good for gardeners, bad for birds and animals

Bob Bromley, a Yellowknife MLA who's also a trained biologist, says he's already noticed birds straying from their usual habitat. 

"We're seeing things happen with the bird populations at a North American scale," he says. "But locally, I get the impression that bird numbers and diversity are down, just based on our backyard observations. But elders have certainly mentioned to me: 'where's all that bird sound we've heard in the spring?'

Mosquitoes — or a lack thereof — could also influence the migration paths of caribou trying to avoid their swarms, Jenkins says.

"[Caribou] like to face into the wind to keep mosquitoes off them a bit and so if that pressure were removed, it could actually change where the caribou are migrating through," he said. 

Meanwhile, the lack of mosquitos has been a boon for Yellowknife resident Aaron Laborde, who said his garden of marigolds, pansies and other flowers is healthier than ever.

"I haven't really noticed a big difference in the health of the plants," he said, "it's just easier to take care of them without the mosquitoes."

The climate change factor

Jenkins says if caribou movements were to change, it could have an impact on the food chain. And a climate unfavourable to bugs like mosquitoes and dragonflies is good news for other pests, such as caterpillars and grasshoppers, who flourish in dry conditions.

Jenkins says a handful of mosquito species may be vulnerable to habitat loss caused by climate change, but he's not aware of any conservation efforts to preserve those species.

He says the most obvious impact of a changing climate on mosquitoes is a possible increase in the range of the disease-carrying pests. Diseases like malaria and dengue fever, previously confined to tropical countries, have started showing up in the southwest United States, he says.

"It doesn't have take a huge amount of climate change to change the distribution of some of those mosquitoes."

With files from Kyle Muzyka

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