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60% of world’s wildlife has been wiped out since 1970

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Well over half the world’s population of vertebrates, from fish to birds to mammals, have been wiped out in the past four decades, says a new report from the World Wildlife Fund.

Between 1970 and 2014, there was 60 per cent decline, on average, among 16,700 wildlife populations around the world according to the 2018 edition of the Living Planet Report released Monday. 

“We’ve had a loss of nearly two-thirds, on average, of our wild species,” said James Snider, vice-president of science, research and innovation for WWF-Canada. 

“The magnitude of that should be eye opening… We really are reaching a point where we’re likely to see species go extinct. That’s true in Canada and abroad.”

The situation is most dire in the:

  • “Neotropical realm” made up of Central and South America and the Caribbean, where wildlife populations have declined by 89 per cent.

  • Freshwater ecosystems, which are plentiful in Canada, where populations have declined by 83 per cent worldwide.

Species in decline include Canadian species such as barren-ground caribou and North Atlantic right whales as well as many migratory species such as songbirds and monarch butterflies that breed in Canada.

Populations of vertebrates worldwide have declined 60 per cent on average, says the 2018 Living Planet report from the World Wildlife Fund. Barren-ground caribou are among the species that have seen dramatic declines in Canada. (WWF-Canada)

The WWF says the biggest drivers of the declines are habitat loss and overexploitation, but says climate change is a growing threat.

In Canada, habitat fragmentation due to human-built structures like roads, pollution and invasive species are all taking their toll, Snider said.

The Living Planet report, issued every two years to track global biodiversity, is based on the Living Planet Index, put out every two years since 1998 in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and based on international databases of wildlife populations. The two previous reports, in 2014 and 2016, found wildlife population declines of 50 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively, since 1970.

Snider said the results of the new report shows a trend in the wrong direction, and “there’s a real urgency” to take action to protect wildlife.

In Canada, he says, political leaders have committed to do that via the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, by protecting 10 per cent of marine areas and 17 per cent of its land, though we are not close to meeting those goals. 

“We’re quite far behind,” he added.

Protecting forests, wetlands and coastal areas to preserve wildlife can also have a side benefit, as those types of ecosystems also store carbon and prevent it from being released into the atmosphere, Snider said.

There can be a real benefit in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.”

The release of the report came just hours after two new studies in the journal PNAS underlining the findings.

A lake sturgeon swims in the Great Lakes. Freshwater ecosystems have seen some of the highest declines in wildlife populations globally, the WWF reports. (Engbretson Underwater Photography)

‘Escalator to extinction’

One, led by S. Blair Hedges at the Center for Biodiversity at Temple University in the U.S., found that less than one per cent of the primary forest in Haiti remains, and that many endemic species, especially amphibians and reptiles, have been wiped out with the trees.

The other, led by Benjamin Freeman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia’s Biodiversity Research Centre, says climate change is an “escalator to extinction” for tropical birds that live at high elevations.

The study surveyed bird species that live on the mountaintops in a remote part of Peru, where humans haven’t caused any habitat loss, and compared the results to a survey in 1985.

The russet-crowned warbler also inhabits high elevations in Peru. Eight other species found in a previous survey in 1985 could not be found during the more recent survey. (Graham Montgomery (University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT)

Nearly all the high elevation birds are declining dramatically in abundance,” Freeman said. Eight species from the previous survey couldn’t be found at all, and Freeman says for five of those, “we’re confident they’re gone.”

The study confirms predictions that climate change will cause population declines in such habitats.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Freeman added.

While his study looked at biodiversity in a small area, he said global measurements like the Living Planet Index are valuable, as they show the loss of biodiversity more clearly than measuring extinctions.

“Calling attention to the decline in abundance is an important thing,” he said. “That really is the main way humans are impacting plants and animals. We’re changing the landscape so there’s many fewer of them.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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