Theme 3

Quantitative Indicators & Metrics of Ecosystems Services, Health & Function

The challenges of mapping the capacity of landscapes to deliver aquatic ecosystem services (AES) are extensive, especially considering service assessment across scales varies from the regional to national levels. Aquatic ecosystems are hierarchically organized, and thus depend on processes that may occur far beyond the sites where AES are delivered (e.g., nutrient distribution across watersheds and its impact on local lake fish productivity). As a consequence, we need quantitative spatial frameworks to generate hydrological data at several scales that can then serve as predictors against known values of AES, which in turn can be used as a way to predict key ecosystem services.

Key Objectives:

  • Utilize and further develop the HydroSHEDS database (Lehner et al. 2008) – a framework to generate consistent data and tools at multiple spatial scales to facilitate eco-hydrological modeling by generating information regarding watershed boundaries, drainage directions, flow accumulation, river networks, and others
  • Assess effects of single or multiple stressors in the river network through the use of HydroSHEDS model environment
  • Develop quantitative spatial frameworks to generate hydrological data at several scales that can predict key ecosystem services
  • Development of a Global River Classification (GloRiC), which will aim to derive functional ecosystem classifications based on physical and biological parameters at global and regional scales in order to better understand and recognize the various characteristics of habitats and their interconnections

Theme 2

Healthy Forests, Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems

Forests area key resource industry in Canada, and aquatic ecosystem services (AES) should be a central component of forest management practices. However, poor under standing of how forest cosystems attributes regulate these AES, an increasing shift from harvesting for wood products to supplying biofuels to meet emerging markets, and complexities posed by predicted changes to Canada’s climate have all hindered formal integration of AES into the decision making progress.

A comprehensive understanding of the controls on AES in forest landscapes via hypothesis testing will be developed using data collected from monitoring, experimental zanipulation, modeling, and scenario planning. Leveraging previous investments in catchment studies across Canada and working closely with our partners, a predictive understanding of the multiple stressors associated with forest management and explore the links and trajectories of process controls on AES will be developed. This will underpin evaluations of the cumulative effects of forest management on these services.

These results and partner participation within and among Themes will support scenario analyses to forecast future forest conditions and explore trade-offs between ecological and socio-economic risks in order to identify desired futures and management options to achieve these futures. AES indicators along with cumulative effect stresses and responses developed through the research will be used to evaluate strategies for forest protection, and compensation and mitigation strategies for offsetting impacts of disturbed forest lands on AES. The evaluation will result in a framework that can be

implemented by government and industry to develop management policies and practices that ensure ongoing provision of AES. Forest management will have a critical influence on the future supply of AES upon which many communities depend; this research will develop strategies for ensuring sustained delivery of these services that can informpolicy at a national scale.

Key Objectives:

Use an integrated approach to explore first the reference condition of AES and then the effects of forest management practices, specifically forest harvesting on AES

Determine how AES responds to disturbance by measuring targeted and rigorously evaluated indicators of the structural and functional integrity of the catchments ( that can provide meaningful estimates of the value of these services to dow stream users

Integrate catchment studies from across Canada that include gradients of naturally and anthropogenically disturbed forest catchments to address how underlying differences in climate geology, topography, soils, forest types and disturbance regime affect the sustainability and delivery of the AES water purification, storage and flood control

Design a series of manipulative experiments to test hypotheses about the mechanistic interactions among physical, chemical and biological responses to forest disturbance and how these affect AES

Identify the driving forces that influence ecosystem services in forested aquatic ecosystems, define critical uncertainties in the determination of these drivers, describe major characteristics of alternative scenarios, and develop logical forest management policy and practice options and an associated set of indicators that target desired future forest states

Integrate the theoretical advancements generated by network researchers and partners using scenarios associated with future landscapes

Combine ecological and socioeconomic perspectives in assessing the best combination
of planning versus incentivized approaches to managing AES

Theme 1

Coupling the Landscape, Aquatic Ecosystems, Services and Environmental Change in Canada’s North

Canada’s boreal and subarctic ecozones are its most geographically extensive and resource rich, but are also the most sensitive to change driven by development and climate. The Hudson Bay Lowlands, one of the five largest wetlands in the world, located in Canada’s subarctic region encompasses arguably the most vulnerable of Canada’s freshwater ecosystems, yet is virtually unstudied. An understanding of how these vast peatland systems link with northern rivers and support aquatic ecosystem functions remains largely unknown. The Canadian subartic will experience some of the most significant increases in annual average temperature on Earth (IPCC 2007), coupled with predicted increases in winter and summer precipitation for the region, significantly altering hydrologic regimes. The role of extensive northern wetland areas in the functioning and maintenance of freshwater and coastal aquatic ecosystems and their services has gone largely unstudied. Understanding how these vast peatland-dominated landscapes contribute to AES is critical in the face of regional climate change.

Key Objectives:

To address the knowledge gaps concerning the aquatic ecosystem services of water supply and safe freshwater foods that exist in the vulnerable watersheds of this region;

Synthesize existing knowledge from a range of private, public, and First Nations sources;

Develop strategies for classifying and modelling water flows in this largely unmonitored region, as well as better understand the sources of water to streams and rivers – processes that deliver energy, nutrients, contaminants, such as mercury, to aquatic biota;

Develop, extend, and test a Reference Condition Approach assessment of aquatic species diversity and abundance to establish a baseline against which all future environmental change and development may be gauged.