Dr. Tad McIlwraith among Researchers Awarded $250,000 to track biting flies in the Arctic

Posted on Monday, June 3rd, 2024

Dr. Tad McIlwraith, a member of the Anthropology department within the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences, along with Dr. Sarah Adamowicz and Dr. Joey Bernhardt from Integrative Biology, have secured $250,000 over two years through the New Frontiers in Research Fund Exploration competition. Their focus is on tracking the northward migration of biting flies into Arctic regions due to climate change and examining the resulting impacts on wildlife and human health.

Biting flies, like black flies and mosquitoes, play important roles in the ecosystem, but they can also be pests and carriers of disease. Climate change is pushing biting flies to northern latitudes and community members are concerned about their impact on wildlife, particularly the caribou population, which are essential both culturally and for food security. Swarms of flies can drive caribou into resource-poor environments and can also carry diseases, posing risks to wildlife. 

In collaboration with the community members of Kitikmeot, Nunavut, and incorporating both Inuit and Western scientific knowledges, the researchers plan to develop a program to monitor the flies and the microorganisms they carry, model the current and future ranges of these flies, and alert communities when new, potentially invasive or harmful species have been found. 

“A major challenge facing Arctic communities grappling with climate change and shifting species distributions is the lack of accessible, integrated data,” reads the research proposal. “Respectful sharing and co-analysis of knowledge is essential for understanding temporal trends and inter-relationships of species, and for both monitoring and predicting the impacts of climate change on wildlife, ecosystem services, human health and nutrition, and cultural practices.”

The New Frontiers in Research Fund supports world-leading interdisciplinary, international, high-risk/high-reward, transformative, and rapid-response Canadian-led research. 

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