Abstract Listing by Session

SY73 - Conserving Canada's ecosystems: threats and prospects

Salon 10      Tuesday, 08:00 - 12:30

   08:00  Preliminary findings on the Status and Trends of Canada’s Ecosystems Smith, R.B.*, Environment Canada
The Ecosystem Status and Trends Report for Canada is a joint federal/provincial/territorial initiative to assess the health of Canada’s ecosystems from a biodiversity perspective. The focus of the report is on ecosystem condition, drivers and stressors. The report is a science-based assessment which draws on peer-reviewed literature, government reports and monitoring results. It is intended to inform the national biodiversity agenda, complement the historic focus on species with ecosystem information and deliver in part on Canada’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to assess progress towards the 2010 biodiversity target ““to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.” Canada’s National Ecological Classification System (NECS) provides the main reporting units. The NECS been adjusted to reflect improvements resulting from ground-truthing exercises by provinces and territories, the addition of 9 marine ecozones and the addition of an urban ecozone and the Great Lakes as separate units. Key findings are organized in 5 theme areas: biome trends, human/ecosystem interactions, habitats and wildlife, ecosystem processes and the science/policy interface. Assessments on status and trends, rate of change and confidence in the results are made for each key finding.
   08:15  The Arctic ecozone : some fascinating paradoxes for conservation biologists Berteaux, D*, Université du Québec à Rimouski
The Arctic ecozone is Canada’s largest, spreading over 2.3 million km2 (3.5 times the size of Alberta or 5.5 times the size of California). The Arctic has low species diversity, and most organisms are highly specialized to cope with low temperatures and omnipresent frozen water. This ecozone is home to many charismatic species such as the polar bear, snowy owl, arctic fox and muskox. While vast expanses of the ecozone are still in a virtually pristine state, some of its core structures and processes are threatened by climate heating, increasing exploitation of mineral resources, and the invasion of southern species. For example, some high Arctic ponds, which have been permanent water bodies for millennia, are now completely drying in summer. In some areas, melting permafrost increases coastal erosion and no longer provides infrastructure stability. Disturbance to wildlife is increasing due a wide range of development activities. It is also possible that some feedback mechanisms (e.g., emissions of CO2 and CH4) specific to this ecozone might affect the whole biosphere. At the same time, Northern protected areas are under development, some species might be recovering from overexploitation during the past centuries, and both biological productivity and net biodiversity should increase during this century. These are some fascinating paradoxes for conservation biologists to explore through science and better use of local knowledge.
   08:30  Conserving Canada’s Taiga Plains, Taiga Shield, Taiga Cordillera, and Hudson Plains: Still intact, but for how long? Hik, DS*, University of Alberta
The vast subarctic conifer and shrub-dominated Taiga regions of northern Canada extend from Labrador to Yukon. Sandwiched between boreal ecoregions to the south and Arctic tundra to the north, the landscapes and species of the Taiga are experiencing rapid changes associated with climate warming and increased human activity. Although most of these landscapes are still intact, they have and will continue to experience industrial development associated with dams, pipelines, petroleum and mineral exploration, and road construction. Natural forces will also have a marked influence on the biodiversity of these ecoregions, including those associated with increasing thawing of permafrost and forest fire frequency; the advancing phenology of river, lake and sea-ice; and changes in the numbers and distribution of animals (e.g. geese, caribou) and plants (e.g. woody shrubs). Issues requiring greater attention in the northern Taiga and Hudson Plains include: invasive species; bioaccumulation of contaminants; the influence of increased or decreased primary production; and human needs (e.g. subsistence harvest, ecosystem services). This region also contains two poorly known northern great lakes. In recent decades, several new protected areas have been established but there has been little commitment to sustained monitoring or collection of baseline ecological information. However, there is some potential to make better use of existing research and monitoring efforts.
   08:45  Taking the Pulse of Ecosystems in Canada: The Boreal Plains in Perspective SCHMIEGELOW, FKA*, Dept Renewable Resources, University of Alberta
The boreal plains represents the fourth largest ecozone in Canada, and includes some of the most productive boreal mixedwood forests, with a diverse fauna reflecting the central position between western cordilleran and eastern shield systems, and the great plains to the south. Historically, forest clearing for agriculture resulted in the most extensive landscape changes, and rates of conversion along the southern edge of the ecozone continue to be high. However, more recent, widespread and rapid change has occurred in conjunction with the spread of industrial forestry throughout the region, and extensive energy exploration and development in the western portion. This ecozone boasts the largest forest tenures in Canada, and hosts the globally-significant oil sands developments, along with significant conventional oil and natural gas activity. The human footprint is heavy and growing. Not surprisingly, the boreal plains are a hotbed of controversy, as conservation is pitted against development, and climate change looms heavily on the horizon as both a product of current activities, and a major driver of future ecosystem change. If the current trajectory continues, the stress of anthropogenic landscape change coupled with a changing climate is likely to result in profound alteration of natural landscapes and associated processes. More so than perhaps any other region in Canada, future management of the boreal plains is an acid test of Canada’s national and international commitments to biodiversity and environmental sustainability.
   09:00  Boreal and montana cordilleras Hodges, KE*, University of British Columbia Okanagan
The montane and boreal cordilleras encompass the mountain ranges and associated plateaus and deep valleys of western Alberta, central and eastern British Columbia, and much of the southern Yukon. These ecozones contain a wide range of microclimates that result from both latitudinal variation and the highly variable topography; in turn, these microclimates collectively support a high diversity of species. Although several large provincial and national parks occur throughout the ecozone (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenai National Parks in the southeastern montane cordillera), unprotected parts of these ecozones are used for forestry, mining, and cattle grazing. In addition to these substantive human impacts, other major threats within these ecozones include climate change, mountain pine beetle outbreaks, invasive species, and even increased pressures from tourism. Aquatic systems are under strain, with changes in hydrology via damming and diversions disrupting salmon migrations and affecting other freshwater species. Another major concern is the ongoing severe declines of mountain caribou herds, which are negatively affected by habitat loss, changing predator-prey dynamics, and human activities.
   09:15  Status of the Western Interior Basin Cannings, RJ*, Bird Studies Canada
The Western Interior Basin of southcentral British Columbia represents the northernmost extension of the arid sage-steppe and grassland ecosystems of western North America. Numerous microclimates related to the rolling topography and deep valleys support a high proportion of the listed Species at Risk in Canada as well as BC-listed species, despite the tiny size of this ecozone within Canada. Habitats in this ecozone are threatened by rapid growth of the human population, a century of fire suppression that has turned park-like woodlands into dense forests, current severe mountain pine beetle outbreaks in upland forests, and conversion of grasslands to vineyards, orchards, and urban zones. Rivers and lakes are affected by channelization, dams, and water withdrawal for agricultural and other human uses. Likely future threats include the over-all lack of protected areas within the region, predicted large effects of climate change, and continued human population growth.
   09:30  Trends in the Ecosystem and Biodiversity Health of Canada’s Three Oceans Hutchings, Jeffrey A.*, Dalhousie University
The UN has declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity in response to initiatives by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to: (i) conserve biological diversity; (ii) use biological diversity in a sustainable fashion; and (iii) share the benefits of biological diversity fairly and equitably. As a party to the CBD, Canada is obligated to develop a national biodiversity strategy, one element of which is the Biodiversity Outcomes Framework. Under the auspices of this framework, the Ecosystem Status and Trends Report is intended, among other objectives, to assess the status of, and quantify biodiversity trends in, Canada’s nine marine ecosystems. The primary objective of this presentation is to describe trends in various ecosystem functions and processes in the Canadian Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific marine environments, including temporal changes in the abundance and at-risk status of marine fishes and mammals.
   10:30  Status and Trends of Biodiversity in the Pacific Maritime Ecozone of Canada Reynolds, John D.*, Simon Fraser University
This review is presented in the context of Canada’s commitments to the Biological Convention on Biodiversity. This Ecozone extends along the coast from southern British Columbia to the northwestern Yukon, including Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. Mountains cover most of the region, and their ecosystems are relatively intact due to inaccessibility. The Ecozone contains nearly all of Canada’s old-growth temperate rainforests, and many of the richest carnivore-ungulate assemblages in North America. Most changes have occurred in the south, due to pressures of high human densities on land conversion. For example, southern Vancouver Island and adjacent Gulf Islands contain Garry Oak habitats which are unique to Canada and shrinking rapidly. Conversion of wetlands in the lower Fraser Valley, includes 80% of tidal salt marshes having been lost by the 1930s, and 86% of streams classified as lost, endangered, or threatened. Remaining wetlands have high international significance for migratory and wintering shorebirds and waterfowl, and host Canada’s largest wintering populations of birds of prey. Recent and projected impacts of climate change pose an important threat to aquatic habitats and key species such as salmon, which provide a good index for changes in the rate of biodiversity loss. New threats include over 600 license applications for independent power projects, with associated roads and power line corridors. Thus, news since the Johannesburg Summit is mixed: most of the northern part of this EcoZone continues to support relatively intact ecosystems and nationally significant habitats and species, whereas species-rich southern areas face growing pressures.
   10:45  Status and Trends of the Prairies in Canada Davis, S.K.*, Canadian Wildlife Service
The Prairie Ecosystem of Canada represents the northernmost extent of the Great Plains of North America. The ecosystem is comprised of mixed-grass prairie in the western portion of the country and tallgrass prairie to the east. Approximately 30% of the mixed-grass prairie and <1% of the original tallgrass prairie remains in Canada. Grassland birds have shown the most extensive and steepest declines of any other avian guild in North America and a high proportion of federally listed Species at Risk rely on grassland habitat. Grassland habitats are threatened by conversion to annual cropping, exotic species and woody vegetation encroachment, oil and gas development, and inappropriate grazing management. Aquatic systems are affected by agricultural run-off and siltation, dams, and irrigation for agricultural and other anthropogenic uses. Current threats to terrestrial and aquatic systems are likely to continue into the future and will be exacerbated by predicted large effects of climate change overall and expansion of urban centres near grasslands.
   11:00  Boreal Shield and Newfoundland Boreal Ecozones – conservation issues into the 21st Century Thompson, ID*, Canadian Forest Service
This paper reviews conservation and management challenges in the boreal shield and Newfoundland boreal ecozones. These zones cover most of eastern Canada, to as far west as Saskatchewan. The southern Shield is characterized by transition forests, distinct from the conifer and mixedwood dominated north. Much of the Boreal Shield has been ‘managed’ for forests, but northern areas have had relatively little activity. Resource management issues in the south and central portions include forestry, mining, and hydroelectric development. Ecosystem resilience following harvesting has been a concern especially on areas logged from 1800-1990, when scant attention was paid to biodiversity. In the transition forest, old growth forests and some invasive species are major issues. Continued road development and mining developments present a major threat to the ecology of northern areas due to segregation of animal populations, increased hunting, and changes in groundwater resources. There are few threatened species, some key species such as caribou and wolverine are listed. Invasive species in true boreal forests are rare and unlikely to be a major disturbance. Climate change is a major concern, especially to the north where soils are poorer, often paludfied and tree growth is stunted and scattered; here future tree growth is not assured. A rise in temperature and a reduction in moisture, as predicted, will cause ecosystems to shift states as important processes such as wildfire and herbivory become more common. Protected areas cover <10% of the zones and were not designed for climate change. Lack of a long-term monitoring program for biodiversity across the boreal biome has resulted in difficulties in assessing changes as a result of any disturbance.
   11:15  Threats and prospects for Canada's Atlantic Maritime Ecozone Taylor, Philip D.*, Acadia University
Threats and prospects for Canada's Atlantic Maritime Ecozone will be considered in light of its current status and future scenarios for change.
   11:30  The Mixed Wood Plains Ecozone – Status, Trends and Stressors Dextrase, A.J.*, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
The Mixed Wood Plains of Ontario and Québec is Canada’s smallest and southernmost terrestrial ecozone. Despite its small size, the ecozone is home to 53% of Canada’s human population and the population is growing at a higher rate than in the rest of the country. Species diversity is high, and the region supports a large proportion of Canada’s Species at Risk. Most of the original natural cover has been lost and much of the remaining natural habitat is fragmented by agricultural and urban developments. Lakes and streams have also been affected by habitat degradation and fragmentation from multiple dams. Less than 2% of the ecozone is in protected areas, but there has been a recent trend towards the securement of private conservation lands and stewardship activities on private lands. In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation, the ecozone has been particularly affected by invasive alien species and pollution. Future threats include the cumulative effects of continued habitat loss and fragmentation associated with the ever expanding human population, the introduction and spread of invasive alien species, and the effects of climate change.
   11:45  Current status, trends, threats and future of the Great Lakes ecozone Mandrak, NE*, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
The Great Lakes have a combined surface area of about 244,000 km2 and is the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth. The Great Lakes have been an agricultural and industrial hub of northeastern North America for several hundred years. As a result, the ecosystem has undergone substantial changes. Although historically oligotrophic, large portions of the lower Great Lakes became increasingly eutrophied due to increasing nutrient inputs from urban and rural sources culminating in large dead zones by the 1950s. The large population of the basin (currently >35 million) has led to significant habitat modification and losses, most notably the loss of 35% of the coastal wetlands. Overfishing led to substantial declines in fisheries by the early 20th century, and remaining fishes contained increasing levels of toxic contaminants. There has also been a long history of invasive species introductions, deliberate and accidental, leading to significant changes in the ecosystem. Recently, nutrient and contaminant levels have declined, and remaining fisheries and habitat have been managed more effectively. Invasive species remain a major threat, and climate change is an emerging threat. Future management actions should focus on further monitoring and control of nutrients, contaminants and invasive species, and conservation and protection of native species and habitat.
   12:00  Habitat loss, climate change, and the evidence of their impacts on ecosystems and species at risk across Canada. Kerr, Jeremy T*, University of Ottawa ; Coristine, Laura, University of Ottawa
In Canada, habitat loss and climate change are exerting disproportionate effects on native flora and fauna due to the unique intersection of species richness gradients, climatic gradients, and patterns of habitat loss. The vast majority of Canada’s species at risk are found in the south, a highly agricultural region with expanding urban areas. As climate change accelerates, altitudinal and elevational shifts in range will become increasingly necessary for species. However, the loss of habitat connectivity throughout Canada’s southern areas could slow northward range expansion, particularly for species at risk. Even without the limits on dispersal ability imposed by highly concentrated habitat losses, climate change will impose dispersal requirements on many species that exceed their maximum capacities. Furthermore, climate change is causing phenological shifts and the resulting disparity between trophic levels lowers reproductive success. It is evident that habitat loss and climate change, individually and through their interaction, could disrupt biological systems pervasively in Canada, a trend that evidence indicates is currently underway.