Research calls for governance of wildlife trade in pandemic treaty

Black woman typing on a laptop

Researchers from York University’s Faculty of Health have co-authored a study investigating the governance of pandemic prevention in the context of wildlife trade.

Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the research considers the current institutional landscape for pandemic prevention and how prevention of zoonotic spillovers from the wildlife trade for human consumption should be incorporated into a pandemic treaty.

Raphael Aguiar
Raphael Aguiar
Adrian Viens
Adrian Viens
Mary Wiktorowicz

Professors Mary Wiktorowicz and A.M. Viens, along with doctoral candidate Raphael Aguiar, collaborated on the research with colleagues from the University of Washington. The researchers argue that a pandemic treaty should be “explicit about zoonotic spillover prevention and focus on improving coordination across four policy domains, namely public health, biodiversity conservation, food security, and trade.”

A pandemic treaty, they say, should include four interacting goals in relation to prevention of zoonotic spillovers from the wildlife trade for human consumption: risk understanding; risk assessment; risk reduction; and enabling funding.

Ideas about preventative actions for pandemics have been advanced during COVID-19, but researchers say more consideration on how these actions can be operationalized, with respect to wildlife trade for human consumption, is needed.

“To date, pandemic governance has mostly focused on outbreak surveillance, containment, and response rather than on avoiding zoonotic spillovers in the first place,” the study states. “However, given the acceleration of globalization, a paradigm shift towards prevention of zoonotic spillovers is warranted as containment of outbreaks becomes unfeasible.”

According to Raphael, “A risk-based approach to wildlife trade and its interconnected threats can be used to situate the governance of pandemic prevention in relation to their shared causal pathways. This approach enables more efficient coordination of responses.”

Trade-offs must be carefully balanced to meet multiple objectives, says Wiktorowicz. For instance, while bans on all wildlife trade could reduce health risks, they may undermine access to food for some local and indigenous populations around the world and alter incentives for sustainable land use.

“Pandemic prevention at source needs to be based on a better understanding of how interaction with wildlife increases health risks to humans along the entire trade chain, so that overregulation does not occur,” says Wiktorowicz.

The researchers note that containment of zoonotic outbreaks and prevention of spillovers into pandemics could become more difficult to manage with increased globalization and urbanization, and this calls for an international institutional arrangement that accounts specifically for these possibilities.

“The current pandemic treaty negotiations present an opportunity for a multilateral approach, to address deep prevention,” adds Viens.

Read the full study “Global governance for pandemic prevention and the wildlife trade.”

Wiktorowicz and co-author Eduardo Gallo Cajiao (University of Washington) will present the paper in a seminar at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research on April 26 at 1 p.m. See the event listing online for more information and details on how to attend.

Professor Laurence Packer spotlights bees of the world

Bee flying near yellow flowers

One of the world’s most renowned bee experts, Distinguished Research Professor Laurence Packer, has released a comprehensive guide to the world’s bees.

Laurence Packer
Laurence Packer

Bees of the World, published by Princeton University Press, is a 240-page celebration of the diverse types of bees living across the globe. The book features more than 100 genera of bees, accompanied by detailed descriptions of their anatomy, behaviours, life cycle, habitats, nest structure, social organization and more.

Beautiful photos compliment the text, including rare shots of bees in their natural environments foraging, nesting and raising their young. It highlights what Packer has always loved about the small creatures. “Their beauty is the main thing. That’s what got me interested in them in the first place,” Packer says.

When he was approached with the idea for the book, Packer agreed to write it because of the growing public awareness of bees’ importance to our ecosystems, but also awareness of the wide range of types of bees that call Earth home. “When I first started doing this work 40 years ago, when you talked about bees, people wouldn’t think of anything except honey bees,” says Packer. “Now, the proportion of people that understand that bees aren’t just honey bees is reaching critical mass.”

Female Callistochlora chloris bee
Female Callistochlora chloris bee

There are few people in the world as well suited as Packer to write a comprehensive guide like Bees of the World. Since he began collecting bees over 45 years ago, his collection at York has grown to represent more than 90 per cent of the world’s known bee genera, including specimens from more than 100 countries. He has become an international leader in bee taxonomy and systematics, biogeography, biodiversity, conservation biology and behaviour.

Packer also spearheads the Bee Barcode of Life project, a major international effort to develop genetic barcodes for all of the bees on Earth and created the first online image bank of the bee genera of the world.

He has authored over 160 research papers, and his bestselling book, Keeping the bees: why all bees are at risk and what we can do to save them, won the prestigious Canadian Science Writers’ Association General Audience Book Award, and was a finalist for the Rachael Carson Award of the Society of Environmental Journalists, as well as the Lane-Anderson Science Book Prize. In 2019, he won the a prestigious Nature Inspiration Award and in 2016, York gave him the title Distinguished Research Professor, which recognized his outstanding, sustained scholarly contributions to the University through research.

York researchers invited to share, collaborate at global health workshop

FEATURED Global Health

Call for presenters: The Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research invites the York University community to join the ongoing discussion on critical social science perspectives in global health research.

Critical research often involves the use of critical theory with social justice aims. Critical social science perspectives in global health (CPGH) are transdisciplinary, participatory, experimental or experiential analyses that seek greater effectiveness, equity and excellence in global health. This means engaging directly with global public health actors, structures and systems to transform global public health while remaining committed to social science theory and methodology. For more information, visit the CPGH project page.

There is an open call to York researchers to consider presenting at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research’s fourth annual, Workshop on Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health Research on March 29. The registration deadline for new research ideas presentations is March 20. Participants will engage with the research community at York University from a variety of disciplines to create new insights, foster collaboration and discuss research opportunities. The workshop will be an in-person event at the Dahdaleh Institute with continental breakfast and lunch. All are welcome to attend.

Critical Perspectives in Global Health Research Workshop Wednesday, March 29

Who can present?
York faculty and researchers (with the support of a York faculty member) are invited to deliver presentations.

What is the format of the presentations?
Interested participants are asked to prepare a brief five-minute, two-slide presentation on any research project, current or planned, which takes a critical social science approach to global health.

Seed grants
Following the workshop, the Dahdaleh Institute will launch the 2023 Critical Perspectives in Global Health Seed Grant program and award five research seed grants of up to $5,000 each. The seed grants will support critical global health research that contributes to the themes of the Dahdaleh Institute, which are planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, as well as global health foresighting.

For more information on these research themes, visit the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research website. For the event’s full agenda, visit the event page.

Distinguished Professor of Indigenous design and planning to visit York

Indigenous Canadians in Victoria, BC playing drums

York University welcomes Regents’ and Distinguished Professor Theodore (Ted) Jojola, creator and director of the Indigenous Design and Community Planning Institute at the University of New Mexico, to Toronto for a knowledge sharing trip. He hopes to learn from the conversations taking place at York around Indigenous community planning, share his unique research and experiences, and visit the Six Nations of the Grand River territory.

As part of his visit to the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC) and the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages, Jojola will host a discussion on Jan. 19, to which the York community is invited and encouraged to attend.

Theodore (Ted) Jojola close-up portrait
Theodore (Ted) Jojola

Jojola, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta, has connected with Indigenous communities around the world in New Zealand, Australia, across Africa and North America to explore how they represent themselves.

Through his research career, Jojola has published on Indigenous community development, education, planning and architecture, building an approach that unites place-based cultures and Indigenous agency towards a better understanding of the significance of life in community planning.

Jojola champions the “Seven Generation Model” as a tool to understand reciprocal learning to shape meaningful dialogue and better outcomes for our collective futures. The model challenges contemporary norms in planning, which often focus on time-based targets, and instead prioritizes a framework that values the continuity of life. This allows for ancestral learning to inform the present to build a collective vision for the future.

At home in New Mexico, Jojola and the Indigenous Design and Planning Institute are working on exciting local and international initiatives, and currently creating an online certification in Indigenous Community Planning.

PlaceKnowing and Rematriation: Indigenous Design and Planning

Jan. 19 at 5 p.m. – Join Jojola in conversation at the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies building, room 140 (HNES 140).

York University maps courses that teach about Sustainable Development Goals

Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery

York University is internationally recognized for its contributions to addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) through teaching, research, stewardship, and partnerships. York’s annual SDG report is a snapshot of some of the work the University is doing in collaboration with Canadian and international partners to advance the Global Goals.

“The University is making determined and substantial strides towards the goals, through the power of higher education,” says York University’s Provost and VP Academic Lisa Philipps.  

As the world rapidly approaches 2030, youth have been mobilizing to compel global leaders to take urgent action on the SDGs. “As a global SDG leader, York University and its students are already playing an integral role in this movement,” adds Philipps.

To continuously improve the support offered to students and graduates who are tackling these challenges, York University has embarked on a process of understanding how its courses address or are linked to the SDGs. This initiative maps York courses with one or more of the SDGs, as appropriate, and the University is making this information available to the community on its SDG website.

The goal is to better inform students about learning opportunities related to the SDGs, to understand York’s strengths and curricular assets across the disciplines, and to increase awareness and deepen SDG-related conversations at the University and beyond.

Teaching the SDGs: the number of York courses related to each Global Goal

The above graphic shows the number of courses that relate to each of the United Nations 17 SDGs

Lessons learned from mapping courses

In consultation with OSDG, an open access tool developed by the United Nations Development Program’s SDG AI Lab and the EU-based thinktank PPMI, York analysts were able to undertake this process. They looked at both undergraduate and graduate courses offered in both English or French across all Faculties and all courses offered at the time of this analysis.

This approach looked at the use of more than 20,000 keywords and with the help of machine learning identified courses that are related to one or more of the SDGs through course titles and official descriptions. The University learned about the OSDG tool from University College London.

York University is the OSDG’s first official North American partner, as the organization works with a range of global partners such as the University of Hong Kong. York analysts consulted other universities in Ontario, British Columbia, California, England and New Zealand, organizations like York that are recognized for their global leadership on SDGs. Those consultations focused on learning about best practices for mapping and sharing SDG-relevant courses with their respective communities.

In total, analysts identified 1,635 courses (38 per cent of all courses), that are related to at least one SDG. Mapping for SDG 17 is still in development. All Faculties were represented among the mapped courses and the above table shows the number of courses that were identified as being related to each SDG.

The OSDG’s machine learning-enabled course mapping functionality flagged SDG-related courses when they specifically referenced the SDGs in the curriculum or where the curriculum empowered students to independently tackle an SDG theme within or outside of the classroom.

Many courses also mapped to more than one SDG – in fact, 285 courses were simultaneously mapped to two SDGs and 43 courses mapped to three SDGs. The process of mapping courses to the SDGs is iterative and analysts recognize that it is reliant upon the use of specific keywords and phrases found in current courses descriptions. As course descriptions continue to evolve, the analysis will be updated.

This approach will continue to improve over time, as new keywords are contributed to the OSDG’s bank. The full list of mapped courses will be published by Spring 2023 on York’s SDG website for the benefit of prospective and current students. The University will invite feedback in the lead up to publishing these courses and will continue to welcome ongoing feedback thereafter to ensure the mapped list of courses are kept up to date, and remain helpful for the York community.

The current analysis will serve as a starting point to improve the process of capturing SDG-related courses and advancing SDG education, and research on the SDGs, as outlined in the University Academic Plan.

Feedback from former Provostial Fellow and Professor Cheryl van Daalen-Smith, associate dean, academic; the Sustainability Office; the UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education Towards Sustainability; and the Vice-Provost Students team has also been invaluable during this initial mapping endeavor. This Provostial initiative was supported by the Associate Vice-President Teaching & Learning, the University Registrar, the Office of Institutional Planning and Analysis and York International.

Workshop series brings SDGs to forefront of teaching and learning

Featured image for stories related to sustainability

A series of one-hour workshops at York University will launch in the new year and share ways in which educators can infuse the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SGDs) into teaching and learning.

Co-developed by York’s Teaching Commons and SDGs-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub, The Sustainable Development Goals in Teaching and Learning series launches Jan. 25, 2023 and presents five online workshops.

UN SDG wheel with the 17 SDGs

The series explores how educators might speak to the SDGs through curriculum, teaching practices, course design and assessments. The outcomes are developed to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable development and prepare students with the knowledge, skills and attributes to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.

The workshops, which run from 10 to 11 a.m., are:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub is part of the SDG Teach In, a campaign to put the SDGs at the centre of all stages of education, and across all disciplines. The SDG Teach In, hosted by Students Organizing for Sustainability United Kingdom (SOS-UK), is a student-led education charity focusing on sustainability with a belief that change is urgently needed to tackle the injustices and unsustainability in our world.

The 2023 campaign will run from March 1 to 31, 2023, and encourages educators to pledge to include the SDGs within their teaching, learning and assessment during the campaign and beyond. Educators can pledge to take part now via the SDG Teach in pledge form

New portable device detects glow emitted by plants to measure their health

hands holding plants in a circle

When plants are healthy, they emit red light that is nearly impossible to see with the naked eye, but with a new instrument developed at York University, it’s now possible to measure that light whether in a lab or out in the field.

Although it may sound like science fiction to say healthy plants glow, this delayed fluorescence comes from light absorbed from the sun, related to the photosynthetic activity and health of the plant. Plants emit this glow after they absorb a flash of light.

Ozzy Mermut
Ozzy Mermut

“We can tell how healthy the plant is by the robustness of the red light they emit. The weaker the light gets, the less healthy the plant is,” says Associate Professor of biophysics Ozzy Mermut of York’s Faculty of Science. “You can’t always tell the health of the plant just by looking at it. Often, it will look green and healthy until you test it.”

That’s where the new highly sensitive and portable biosensor Mermut and York chemistry Professor William Pietro engineered comes in. “We developed a device that can capture low intensity light emission from plants,” says Pietro.

The tool, a SiPM (solid-state silicon photomultiplier)-enabled portable delayed fluorescence photon counting device with integrated plug-and-play excitation of a simple LED, can easily be deployed remotely. This enables the device to help measure the health and sustainability of plants, especially those stressed by CO2 emissions, greenhouse gases and extreme weather events, and asses impacts of industrialization. Not only can it be used in a lab but, as it’s the size of a briefcase, it can be easily carried from site to site, whether that’s crops in Saskatchewan, where Mermut hails from, protected Indigenous lands across Canada, or the rainforests of Brazil.

A new highly sensitive and portable biosensor  engineered to capture low intensity light emission from plants
A new highly sensitive and portable biosensor engineered to capture low intensity light emission from plants

“The results of this can tell us about the reaction of plants under various environmental conditions, including drought, heat and cold shock stress or after floods. It does this in a powerful new way that enables us to study this phenomenon of plant emission directly in the field. It’s so sensitive it can count individual photons, particles of light, emitted from plants,” says Pietro.

This wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago. The technology was too large, not portable in the least, complicated, and expensive – all of which precluded field-based studies, until now. Mermut and Pietro are hoping other researchers will also start using the instrument in their studies, perhaps to study impacts of climate change over time on plants.

In the future, they hope to mount the equipment on a drone so it can fly over rainforests, conservation areas and agricultural fields – which may help farmers address food security – to gauge their health and how it changes over time or in reaction to environmental stressors.

Prototypes of the conceptual implementation of the device on a drone used to study and survey fields and forests
Prototype of the conceptual implementation of the device on a drone used to study and survey fields and forests

“This is so important because roughly 20 per cent of oxygen is produced by the Brazilian rain forests,” says Mermut, who has experience in creating remotely deployable medical devices for global health applications and space life sciences research. “You can imagine how useful such technology may become in the future, not only for plants, but for humans as well.”

The researchers published their proof-of-concept study, A SiPM-Enabled Portable Delayed Fluorescence Photon Counting Device: Climatic Plant Stress Biosensing in a special issue of the journal Biosensors – Photonics-Based (Bio-)Sensors for a Healthy Planet.

Already, they are teaching students in the biophysics undergraduate program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy about the concepts and how to use the research equipment in the MiBAR Lab, where they can simulate the stresses found in nature in greenhouses, to see the effects on various plants.

It’s an example of how cutting-edge research is not only being used right away in the classroom, but also out in the field.

The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia comes to York for inaugural artists in residence program

Indigenous feathers

The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia Girls Group (YIWU) uses ceremony, culture and artistic activism to combat gender-based and colonial violence. The group will debut its newest book, exhibit its art and launch a series of workshops at York on Nov. 24.

The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC) will also kick off the inaugural artists in residency program alongside their special guests from YIWU.

“These young women are inspiring leaders who have so much to teach us about leadership and Indigenous approaches to challenging injustice though the arts,” says Sarah Flicker, professor and coordinator of the environmental arts and justice program at EUC.

The group was initiated in 2017 as a part of the international research project “Networks for Change and Well-being: Girl-led ‘From the Ground up’ Policy Making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa,” supported by Flicker.

Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, YIWU worked with EUC alumnus Zachary Mandamin to create an edited collection of their essays and photographs. The collection became the backbone of Mandamin’s undergraduate thesis, which will debut at the upcoming book launch. “The process of making it was full of so much love and self-love! I am so excited to return to campus to launch it,” said Mandamin.

All events will be hosted from room 140 in the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies building (HNES). Registration is free and open to the entire York community.

Click here for more information and to register.

About The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia

Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia
Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia

Over the last seven years, YIWU has produced films and photographic essays, sewn red ribbon skirts as an act of resistance, released a self-published book and gifted a mural to downtown Saskatoon. It has also participated in multiple inter-provincial gatherings and conferences and facilitated several community, university and classroom activities and conversations.

“We do the work of reconciliation by teaching the girls to be proud of themselves, their heritage and their culture. One of our key teachings is that ‘self-love,’ despite all the harms wrought through colonial and institutional violence, is an act of resistance,” said group mentor Jenn Altenberg.

When the group began, the first cohort of girls ranged in age from 11 to 13. Girls from the first cohort visited EUC for the first time in March of 2020 to attend the eco-arts festival. While at York University, they offered guest lectures and hosted workshops at the festival. They also visited Indigenous sites around the Keele Campus and the Centre for Indigenous Student Services.

During the pandemic, the girls decided that they wanted to welcome a second cohort of younger girls (2.0 generation), with each older girl recruiting a younger “sister,” cousin or friend into their expanding circle. As older girls began to take up the role of “auntie,” they passed on teachings to share what they had learned. In turn, the 2.0 generation began their own education and outreach work.

New collaborative art installation reminds York University to care ‘For the Birds’

Environment and Urban Change Health, Nursing, Environmental buildings

The Sky Studio Collective (SSC) is hosting a launch party in celebration of the “For the Birds” collaborative murals on Nov. 22 at 10 a.m.

“For the Birds” is an art project created by Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change students and teachers over the past year. This project was part of a larger initiative by Professors Gail Fraser, Traci Warkentin and Lisa Myers, who imagined ways that different classes could connect to help address an area of deep concern: migratory bird deaths resulting from reflective windows on campus.

The team applied to the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) to co-design and implement a unique project that would provide hands-on engagement, and raise community awareness, across three different undergraduate courses: environmental science, environmental education and community arts.

The Community Arts for Social Change course (ENVS 2122) designed art for the windows which, after a full year of online learning, reconnected students for collaborative, in-person art creation for a cause. While activating their inner child with pencil crayons, stencils and scented markers, the group’s work centred around the bird’s view – the colours they see, the spaces they understand. Students conducted research and received Anishinaabeg teachings about the sky world from Myers, then worked in small groups to design window murals for the Heath, Nursing & Environmental Studies (HNES) building. These murals will sit alongside more conventional bird safety window treatments – such as dotted film – to offer a contrasting method for study.

The community arts course process was then adapted by the SSC who formed to design a united piece of collaged student imagery that represented the lifecycle of a songbird. The SSC, along with students from different faculties, gathered weekly to install the printed stickers on the HNES building.

“With the help of the Sky Studio Collective, a space was created for students to engage in conversation about how aesthetically appealing the colours and shapes are for the human eye amidst often colourless buildings, while understanding its importance for conserving birds living amongst us on campus,” said Sofia Colalillo, a third-year environmental arts and justice student.

In 2019, Warkentin’s environmental education course surveyed the community about the topic of bird strikes and will repeat the survey following the art installation. In 2022, Fraser’s first-year environmental science students examined windows for affected birds.

With approximately 1,000 deaths of migratory songbirds annually due to reflective windows across campus, “For the Birds” is an art piece that promotes awareness about how we can live among animal co-habitants. It examines how constructed spaces can intersect safely with the natural world. In addition to the physical mural, walkers-by can engage with the piece by scanning the QR codes embedded with videos and sound bites.

The “For the Birds” murals are best viewed from the outer, north side of the HNES building. Visitors are invited to share in science-informed, artistic student work that brings about environmental and urban change.

York professors explore histories of animals in new book

Traces of the Animal Past book cover

Elephants, horses, dolphins and bears have stories to tell about the past. Their lives and actions shape history and influence the lives of people in innumerable ways. How can these histories that animals make be studied and understood?

Jennifer Bonnell
Jennifer Bonnell
Sean Kheraj
Sean Kheraj

Professors Jennifer Bonnell and Sean Kheraj from York’s Department of History in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies recently published a new open access book exploring the ways that historians study and analyze the histories of animals.

Bringing together 17 original essays by a leading group of international scholars, Traces of the Animal Past: Methodological Challenges in Animal History showcases the innovative methods historians use to unearth and explain how animals fit into our collective histories. Situating the historian within the narrative, bringing transparency to methodological processes, and reflecting on the processes and procedures of current research, this book presents new approaches and new directions for a maturing field of historical inquiry.

“To understand our collective past, historians must engage with the more-than-human world and use new methods and approaches,” said Kheraj.

Traces of the Animal Past is available free online from University of Calgary Press here.

The Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies and the Department of History at York University will sponsor a book launch on Thursday, Nov. 24 at 12:30 p.m. in Vari Hall, room 2183. All are welcome.