A University of Saskatchewan biologist says many wetlands across the Prairies are being contaminated by a relatively new pesticide that is threatening the ecosystem.
Christy Morrissey says that over the past few years neonicotinoids have been used increasingly on crops in Western Canada and the chemical is making its way into wetlands, potentially having a devastating "domino effect" on insects and the birds that rely on them.
'The impact on biodiversity could be probably bigger than we've ever seen before.'—Christy Morrissey, biologist
Morrissey is just a year and a half into a four-year study, but she's alarmed by what she's finding.
"This is huge" Morrissey said. "The impact on biodiversity could be probably bigger than we've ever seen before if we keep going at this rate."
Neonics, as they're commonly called, hit the market in the early 2000s, but sales have taken off over the past five years.
They're used on a wide variety of crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, barley, potatoes and fruit. In Western Canada, neonics are most commonly found on canola. Virtually all of the 8.5 million hectares of canola planted in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta are now treated with them.
Based on confidential data obtained from the federal government, Morrissey said her conservative estimate is 44 per cent of crop land in the Prairies was treated with neonics in the year she reviewed.
"We're not talking about a little regional problem. We're talking about something that's happening over tens of millions of acres."
Morrissey said her study is the first in Canada looking at how the widespread use of this chemical may be affecting wetlands across the Prairies.
Her research has found the chemical is commonly showing up in wetlands in concentrations at least three to four times higher than what has been deemed habitable for insects.