Royal Alberta Museum
visitors since 1967

Invertebrate Zoology: Research & Projects

Current Projects

Almanac of Alberta Oribatida

A compendium of the oribatid mites known from the Province of Alberta through February 2012 (nearly 300 species distributed across 28 superfamilies). The Almanac is meant to be a "living document" that will be updated on a regular basis, rather than a static publication.

Part 1: Part I - Almanac of Alberta Oribatida (PDF)
Part 2: Part II - Almanac of Alberta Oribatida (PDF)

Paper wasps (Polistes) of North America

Paper wasps are distributed worldwide and have attracted considerable interest from scientists as model organisms for the study of social behaviour in insects. The genus Polistes includes over 200 species worldwide, and is represented in North America by approximately 25 species, two of which occur in Alberta. Despite their interesting biology and prominent status within the order Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants and sawflies) our knowledge of paper wasps is still fragmentary. The North American species are often very similar and therefore hard to distinguish. In fact, recent work by Assistant Curator Dr. Matthias Buck revealed that several species had been overlooked and confused with other species. In 2012, two new species were described from the eastern United States (in the scientific journal Zootaxa, vol. 3502, 2012), and descriptions of further new species are in preparation. This research project is ongoing and employs a variety of methods such as general morphology, advanced morphological tools (morphometric analysis) and DNA barcoding.

Stinging wasps of Alberta

Another focus is the faunistic and taxonomic study of stinging wasps (aculeate wasps) in Alberta. Aculeate wasps are interesting because of their diverse and often complex behaviours associated with prey capture, nest construction, and rearing of the brood. It is a poorly known fact that most stinging wasps are solitary and rarely sting or bother people. Within Alberta, the highest diversity of aculeate wasps is found within the Prairie ecozone, a region that is coincidentally most severely impacted by human activity. Many aculeate wasps live in sensitive habitats such as dune ecosystems, native prairie and badlands. Our research endeavours to document the still poorly known fauna of aculeate wasps in Alberta. In recent years, a substantial number of species has been discovered in the province for the first time, including several species new to science.

Lichen Flora of Alberta

Lichens make up a large proportion of Alberta's flora, with approximately 500 macrolichens and 400 microlichens recorded in the province to date. Previous lichen surveys in Alberta were focused in a few select regions, resulting in incomplete distribution maps for many species. The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI), as well as recent field work by lichenologists, are adding new species to the list and expanding our understanding of their distribution every year. A better understanding of the ecology of Alberta's lichens will help us assess their vulnerability to habitat loss and climate change.

One impediment to understanding lichen ecology in Alberta is lack of a lichen flora. To that end, a critical project of the museum's ABMI Lichenology team is creating such a resource. Preliminary identification keys are available for most macro-lichen genera (available by contacting Dr Diane Haughland), and images and species descriptions to support those keys are in progress. Spreadsheets are also being built that summarize important attributes and taxonomic resources by genera. Ultimately, we hope to create online interactive keys that support the more traditional flora in progress. Finally, ABMI has also supported Curtis Bjork in his production of an updated list of Alberta's epiphytic microlichens (excluding Calicioid species), a key to those species, and illustrated species descriptions (in progress).

Chironomidae (non-biting Midges) of Alberta

Chironomids are small two-winged flies that look similar to mosquitoes but lack biting mouthparts. They are one of the most prolific insects on earth and can form large mating swarms that appear as smoke-like clouds above roads, fence posts, or tree tops. The wormlike larvae are very abundant in aquatic ecosystems and usually outnumber all other aquatic organisms (their densities can reach tens of thousands per square meter). They are an important food source for birds, fish, frogs, and other insects, and can be found almost anywhere there is fresh water – from desolate high alpine lakes to ephemeral prairie ponds. Despite their ecological value, we know very little about the Chironomid species found in Alberta. Our research is focused on developing identification keys for Chironomid larvae and documenting the species present in the province. Additionally, we are studying the ecology of this group to better understand its role as an indicator of human impact and environmental degradation.

The Bug Room Gallery

The Bug Room gallery showcases more than 60 species of live invertebrates including insects, millipedes, tarantulas, scorpions and crustaceans. The gallery is supported by a culture laboratory for breeding and rearing invertebrates and greenhouse for growing food plants. Efforts to develop displays of exotic and local species are ongoing, so visitors can see an ever-changing variety of living specimens throughout the year.

Peatland restoration in Alberta's northern boreal forest

Peatlands are important wetland habitats in Alberta, covering a large proportion of the province's Boreal Forest Natural Region. These unique ecosystems have developed over thousands of years since the Last Glacial Maximum and are dominated by a high diversity and abundance of bryophytes that are well adapted to these wet environments. Industrial disturbances in northern areas of the province may have substantial impacts on peatland biodiversity and functioning, with implications for their successful recovery. Our research is examining the effects of oil sands exploration on the regeneration of bryophytes in wooded moderate-rich and shrubby rich fens, through a combination of retrospective studies and manipulative experiments. This is an extension of research conducted by Richard Caners during a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Alberta in collaboration with other university researchers.

Distributions and documentation of rare bryophytes in Alberta

There are more than 670 species of bryophytes known to the province of Alberta (Alberta Conservation Information Management System 2013) but the geographic distribution of many species remains poorly understood. Numerous species have restricted ranges within the province as a result of their specialized habitat requirements and potentially limited capacities for dispersal. Our research uses climatic, geological, and topographic parameters to model the potential distributions of selected rare species in the province. An improved understanding of species distributions may help to identify threats to their persistence and improve estimates of population viability. This research also examines the biological traits of species to see how well they predict the distribution of species on the landscape. Further, we aim to document rare bryophytes in parts of the province that are poorly described floristically, and work towards the development of a provincial bryophyte flora.

Previous Work