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Women in Science – podcast with Dr. Mireille Marcotte

To date, scientists have catalogued about 1.5 million species of organisms on the planet, with insects making up about two-thirds of this bounty. This whole world of often very small creatures is simply fascinating to me.

Dr. Mireille Marcotte National Manager, Plant Health Surveillance

Watch out for the full moon because that is when mosquitoes are more likely to bite! While mosquitoes can definitely bug you, Dr. Mireille Marcotte explains how it is actually the Asian longhorned beetle that is the invasive pest Canadians need to watch out for.

Dr. Mireille Marcotte – Audio Transcript

Today we are joined by Dr. Mireille Marcotte, who works at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in the field of plant protection. But, Mireille does not just study plants. She also keeps track of the bugs and the pathways that can affect us all.

Thank you Mireille for speaking with us today.

You're welcome.

I know that you're an entomologist but is that your only area of study?

I studied in biology.

What is your current role at the CFIA?

I'm the National Manager of the Plant Health Surveillance Unit in Science Branch.

As the scientist who is responsible for the national surveillance activities related to invasive species in Canada, what currently are the biggest threats to Canada's plants and crops?

I would say that the biggest threat for us today is the Asian longhorned beetle. It's an insect native to Asia that attacks mainly maple trees but also many other species, including birch, willow and poplar. If that pest was to get established in Canada, the consequences would be enormous for our economy and our environment.

Another big threat is the spotted lantern fly. Also native to Asia, it has been recognized as a potential threat to the grape, fruit trees and forest industries in Canada. It was first detected in North America in Pennsylvania in September 2014, and since then its range has expanded to near the Canadian border.

That's a little bit scary. What are things Canadians can do to prevent or limit the effects of these types of invasive species?

Well, buying and burning firewood locally is probably the best thing Canadians can do to prevent the spread of invasive species. The movement of firewood poses a significant risk to the Canadian economy and environment. The movement of untreated firewood from or to the campground or cottage can spread invasive species and diseases that are hidden under the bark and that we do not see. Yes, this wood will eventually be burned but, in the meantime, insects can emerge from the firewood and then settle in the surrounding trees, some bringing with them diseases. Few people are aware, but the forest industry is already regulated with respect to the movement of logs to prevent the spread of forest pests. Everyone must do their part.

Canadians should also inquire about import requirements for plants and plant products, including wood souvenirs. It's very important these products be reported to Canada Customs so that the Border Services Officers can ensure that souvenirs do not pose a risk to our environment.

I would assume that this is something that Canadians really need to stay up-to-date on. Where can they go to get more information about invasive species and how to spot them?

Well, the CFIA website contains numerous fact sheets on invasive alien species. The Plant Pest Surveillance page for example provides many tools to help recognize the signs and symptoms associated with invasive species. The various provincial invasive species councils are also good sources of information.

What would you say then, in your opinion, what is an example of something the CFIA has done to minimize and eradicate an invasive species?

There are different things. One example is in 2003 the Asian longhorned beetle was detected in a small area of Toronto, Ontario. It took 10 years of efforts for the CFIA and its partners to eradicate this infestation. Unfortunately, in 2013 a new infestation was detected in another area of Toronto near the international airport. Once again, eradication measures have been taken and if everything continues as planned, the CFIA should be able to declare Canada free of this pest in about one year.

In the early 2000s, it was recognized that plant pests such as the Asian longhorned beetle often move by the displacement of wood packing materials used to support goods in containers or to prevent them from moving during transportation. For this reason, the International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures #15, the standard that governs the treatment of wood packaging materials used in international trade, was put in place in 2006. This standard requires that wood packaging materials be treated to kill any insect that may be hidden in the wood. The CFIA played a key role in the development and implementation of this international standard.

What I really appreciate, and especially I really notice that in your explanation of that last response, is you really have a passion for what it is that you do. What inspired you to study entomology?

Well, today's scientists have catalogued about 1.5 million species of organisms on the planet, with insects making up about two-thirds of this bounty. Although the world is often very small, it is simply fascinating to me.

I'm going to assume that this is something that you have studied for many years and even as a young woman. What would you say to other young women and girls to encourage them to study science?

Trust yourself and pursue your studies in the area that interests you. If you like discovering new things, exploring new topics, understanding how things work, science is definitely for you. Career opportunities in science are very numerous and varied.

I have heard many really interesting facts and information. What is a favourite science fact that you have that you think would be interesting for other people to know?

Did you know that mosquitoes bite more often when there is a full moon? Scientists haven't determined the reason yet, but studies show that mosquitoes are more active during the full moon. In fact, they can bite up to 500% more. So, something to think about when you plan your next camping trip.

I guess I better go out and get some extra bug spray. Thank you for speaking with us today about your work and about invasive species.

For more information about invasive species in Canada, please visit the CFIA website. And for more information about Mireille and her work, check out her science profile in the Open Government portal.

[End of recording]

Women in Science – Mireille Marcotte

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