In the barren and rugged lands of the Mackenzie Mountains in the Canadian Northwest Territories, a research team from the Research Group for Arctic Parasitology at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada is examining the relationship between climate and parasite development in one of the region’s prettiest animals, Dall’s sheep. The parasite, a muscleworm spread by slugs and snails that can lead to respiratory disease in the sheep, was first discovered in Dall’s sheep in 1999, and is believed to be present in nearly 100% of the Dall’s sheep population in the Mackenzies.
According to Dr. Emily Jenkins, a graduate student with the university’s Department of Veterinary Microbiology, temperature plays an important role in parasite development and transmission. She explains that warm weather is crucial for parasite development, and that a warm year may result in rapid parasite development in the environment with a big increase in parasite stages that are infective to the sheep. This in turn could lead to outbreaks of disease in the Dall’s sheep. The primary goal of this research is to understand what the potential effects of climate change -- even a 1 to 2 degree Celsius temperature increase -- may be on the number of parasites available to infect sheep.
To monitor temperature, relative humidity, dew point, rainfall, photosynthetic light (PAR), wind speed, wind direction, and barometric pressure, Jenkins and her team rely on the HOBO® Weather Station from Onset. The battery-powered weather station was funded by a grant from the Arctic Institute of North America and the Department of Resources, Wildlife, and Economic Development (DRWED), Government of the Northwest Territories.
According to Jenkins, having a weather station on hand is a huge asset, as it gives the research team a way to collect critical climate data from October through May, when no one is present at the field site near an outfitting camp. Weather data from the local airport in the nearest town, Norman Wells, in the Mackenzie River Valley, isn’t useful in this regard since the airport, according to Jenkins, is “in a totally different ecosystem from the mountains.”
The HOBO Weather Station has been monitoring conditions in the Mackenzie Mountains since July of 2002, and the results so far are promising. A summer’s worth of data has already been offloaded for analysis. This data, explains Jenkins, has shown that the summer was particularly cold and wet, a finding that is consistent with signs of very slow parasite development in the area during that period. Data collected over the harsh Arctic winter will be examined when Jenkins and her team make their way back to the Mackenzie Mountains this spring.
For more information about data loggers and weather stations, please contact Onset Computer Corporation at 1-800-LOGGERS, or visit www.onsetcomp.com.