Two Norfolk County scientists have been named 2019 Scientists of the Year by Radio Canada.
Andrew Couturier and Denis Lepage, who both work for Birds Canada in Port Rowan, are among the four co-authors recognized for their study on breeding birds in Quebec.
The title is awarded each year by the Société Radio-Canada to a French-speaking Canadian scientist who distinguishes themselves in their discipline. The winner is chosen by a committee and very rarely awarded to a team.
The study for which this year’s recipients have been recognized is Quebec’s second Breeding Bird Atlas, a feat that is completed once every 20 years.
The atlas is completed over a five-year span of study to track changes in bird behaviour in certain areas.
“They’re repeated every 20 years so you can get a sense of the change in distribution and abundance of breeding birds within a province,” said Couturier. “That’s the goal of the projects, basically to map the breeding distribution across a large area.”
These atlases are then used by conservation groups to find out which areas are most important for specific species.
“These projects also tell you how birds have changed over 20 years,” said Couturier. “For example, we noticed swallows have all declined precipitously.”
This information makes it easy to gauge which species are declining and which are new to an area.
“One of the key things we’re trying to do with this is track population changes, and this gives us a large scale view of what’s going on,” said Lepage.
The study relies on citizen science to log the birds in different areas of the country.
“What we heard was that the review committee really liked the citizen science aspect involved,” said Couturier. “These projects involve thousands of regular people who are interested in birds.”
Lepage said he appreciates the work everyone put in towards the project’s completion.
“The entire project is being recognized, not just those four individuals,” said Lepage. “We’re obviously the lead in different aspects of the project but there are several thousands of people involved.
“It’s very nice for a community to recognize the scientific value of what we’ve done.”
Couturier echoed the same feeling towards being recognized.
“It’s an incredible honour,” said Couturier. “It’s a real validation of this important work that we’ve been doing for 25 years or so. It feels really nice to have this kind of profile of our work.”
There are similar atlas projects done in other provinces.
Couturier and Lepage will begin work on Ontario’s third atlas at the beginning of 2021.