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.