Northern Boreal Mountains

Claire Singer  (PhD candidate, St. Mary's University). Climate change and non-native species introduction are recognized as two of the key factors influencing biodiversity changes globally and are becoming increasingly important forces of change in northern regions. My research examines (1) plant invasions following post-fire boreal forest state shifts and (2) changes in NWT plant communities, with a focus on berries, through the lens of Indigenous knowledge. This work addresses consequences associated with shifts in fire regimes as a result of climate change, and represents a first attempt to bridge habitat invasiveness and boreal forest state shifts. Our Indigenous knowledge study will document the relationship between people and the environment, speak to changes in plant communities, identify key habitat areas for various berry species, and shifts in how other species interact with berries. This will build our understanding of the NWT environment and inform decision-making by co-management partners.

Claudia Haas (PhD Student, Wilfrid Laurier University). Northern Canada has some of the last intact boreal forest in the world which is home to many healthy and intact wildlife communities with species that are at risk elsewhere. Yet comprehensive ecological information for many northern ecosystems is often deficient. Working with Indigenous communities, I'm hoping to use data from large arrays of camera traps and audio recorders across the territory to help answer local questions and fill gaps in ecological information to get a broad snapshot of wildlife communities. My main objectives with my research are to: find ways to better describe wildlife communities in northern ecoregions, with a particular focus on when and where different wildlife species are active; streamline and standardize data processing to ensure timely results for decision makers; and communicate the results in ways that are useful and meaningful to northern land managers.

Elise Brown-Dussault (MSc candidate, Wilfrid Laurier University). Caribou lichen can take 80 years to return after a wildfire, but the process can be accelerated by transplanting caribou lichen into burned sites. I am researching which kinds of burned boreal habitats promote lichen transplantation success.

Jocelyn Biro (PhD Student, Wilfrid Laurier University) is studying food for moose after forest harvesting, naturally regenerating wildfires, and wildfires modified by post-fire forest management actions in central British Columbia. Her focus is on how the amount and nutritional quality of food for moose develops through time after these disturbances. This summer, Jocelyn will return to the field to collect moose pellets that will be used to address a key knowledge gap surrounding what moose are eating during the growing season. Jocelyn’s research tests the common assumption that disturbances benefit moose because of an increase in vegetation that they like to eat. Her research will inform our understanding of the mechanisms contributing to moose population changes in disturbed landscapes. Jocelyn is grateful to live on Wet’suwet’en Nation land and conduct her research on the traditional territory of Witsuwit’en, Nedut’en, Sm’algyax and Dakelh speaking Peoples.

Natasha Ayoub (PhD student, University of Waterloo) is working to identify unknown rearing and overwintering habitats, as well as movement patterns and annual variability in habitat use by juvenile Chinook salmon in the Yukon River watershed. This investigation will use the isotopic chemical marker strontium (Sr) and will analyze ratios (87Sr:86Sr) found in water samples and adult Chinook salmon otoliths to determine important temporal and spatial use by these fish while in the freshwater phase of their life cycle. With the focus on land use planning in the Yukon right now, Indigenous, and non-Indigenous natural resource managers and salmon agencies have identified extensive knowledge gaps surrounding juvenile Chinook salmon and their use of rearing and overwintering habitats. By identifying habitat use and patterns, land use planning in the Yukon can be better supported, and we can work towards ensuring that healthy, connected habitats continue to be available for these fish.

Nicole Humeniuk (MSc Candidate, University of Alberta) is working with Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, using ethnographic methods to document Indigenous Knowledge. The goal of this project is to increase our understanding of the boreal forest and to braid Western Science and Indigenous Knowledge by centering equity and creating space for Indigenous Knowledge in the context of academia. There is a wealth of Western scientific information that comes from research and long-term monitoring in the Kluane Lake area. By bringing in Indigenous perspectives, we can create a deeper understanding of this important ecosystem and create better informed management strategies. I also hope to highlight Indigenous perspectives on current and future research and co-create recommendations for best research practices

Rasheeda Slater (MSc Candidate, Carleton University) is studying the relative impacts of various disturbances and environmental change on water quality of tributaries to Mayo Lake in the Traditional Territory of the First Nation of Nacho Nyäk Dun (FNNND). Mayo Lake provides vital habitat for wildlife and fish and supports traditional livelihoods within the community. Placer gold mines have operated for decades on some of these tributaries. Placer mining can generate increased sediment concentrations in downstream waterbodies, reducing water and habitat quality for fish and disturbing the natural water filtration capacity of riparian wetlands. The rapidly warming climate of the region has intensified rainstorms, increased forest fire frequency, and enhanced permafrost thaw, all of which can exacerbate sediment loading through loss of vegetation, slope failure, and runoff. This work aims to improve understanding of the potential cumulative effects of ongoing disturbances to water quality in the FNNND Traditional Territory.

Stephen Paterson (PhD student, Saint Mary’s University) is studying the spread of non-native earthworms in northern forests. Most earthworms in Canada are species introduced from Europe, and these ecosystem engineers (a species that physically alters the environment and how it functions) often negatively affect biodiversity and carbon storage in Canadian forests. Despite concern about their potentially detrimental effects, the large-scale distributions of earthworms and their mechanisms of spread remain poorly understood. This is especially true in the Canadian North. In 2022, Stephen conducted the largest survey of earthworms in the Yukon to date and found that non-native earthworm populations are mostly concentrated in urban areas. In 2023, he will build on this work to understand how their ranges may expand in the future. His research will help determine how much of a risk non-native earthworms pose to northern forests and inform management actions to limit their spread.

Zachary Fogel (MSc candidate, University of Alberta) is evaluating the effect of industrial activity on the abundance and distribution of wolverines and allied species in the Yukon’s Klondike region, in the Traditional Territory of Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation (THFN) and the South Beringia Priority Place. Wolverines are a bioculturally important species for THFN, who have identified mining as a threat to wolverines and other carnivores. To address this threat, collaborative research between the University of Alberta, THFN, Yukon Department of Environment, and Yukon University is quantifying the effect of mining and other industrial activity on wolverines and allied species (lynx, marten, and their prey). Zach monitors these species using trail cameras and quantifies industrial activity and disturbance using autonomous recording units and aerial imagery. His work will inform regional land use planning, promote compatibility between biocultural and economic interests, and support THFN’s stewardship of the land and its inhabitants.

Ontario Northern Boreal 

Arya Horon (MSc candidate, University of Guelph) is studying how woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) migration is driven by seasonal changes in available energy. Using a combination of field surveys and remote sensing, this research will produce maps of 'digestible energy' across northern Ontario. In theory, these maps will better capture energetic nuances relevant to woodland caribou than current popular methods and therefore help advance our understanding of how caribou migration may be affected by proposed industrial development and climate change.

Chrystyn Jones (MSc candidate, Trent University) is studying the effects of permafrost thaw in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Ontario on declining populations of arctic-breeding shorebirds. The objective of the proposed research is to assess how the distribution and quality of wetland habitat affect movements, territory placement and size, and breeding success of the whimbrel and Hudsonian godwit.  Using GPS transmitters and drone imaging, Chrystyn will track shorebird movement and create habitat maps to characterize the distribution of wetland habitat throughout the landscape.  Statistical models will then be used to relate patterns in habitat availability and distribution to nesting success.  Chrystyn’s project will provide information needed for predicting future distributions of arctic-breeding shorebirds in a changing climate and that can be used in creating adaptive management strategies.

Courtland Brown (MSc Candidate, Trent University) is investigating reproductive success for the Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) in Churchill, Manitoba. The Lesser Yellowlegs is a medium-sized shorebird that breeds in boreal North America and spends the non-breeding season as far south as Argentina. The species has declined precipitously in North America and is designated as Threatened in Canada. Effective, targeted management actions depend on knowing the causes of population gains and losses (demography) and his Churchill project provides a critical piece of that puzzle. Boreal Canada hosts eighty percent of the Lesser Yellowlegs' breeding range, yet this project is the first to investigate the species' reproductive success in Canada. Locating and monitoring the exquisitely camouflaged nests for this species is necessary to calculate a daily nest survival rate. These data will help the Lesser Yellowlegs Working Group to determine whether population losses are due to factors on the breeding grounds or the non-breeding grounds.

Julia Hathaway (PhD Candidate, University of Toronto) is examining environmental tracers found in natural archives (organic deposits, peatlands, and lakes) to reconstruct paleoecology and paleoclimate over non-glacial periods from Ontario’s boreal shield and James Bay Lowlands. She is also interested in peatland carbon storage dynamics and the relationship between regional variables (e.g., climate), self-generated processes, and carbon accumulation rates in downcore peat columns. Throughout the 21st century, temperatures in the boreal shield are expected to increase 3.3 to 5.4 °C relative to the end of the 20th century. This unprecedented rate of change can induce biome-level changes in biodiversity and peatland function, including carbon accumulation. The results of this research will support resource management and community-based planning by directly assessing the sensitivity of northern ecosystems to climate change in terms of vegetation succession, water supply, and long-term carbon storage dynamics.

Tabatha Rahman (PhD Candidate, Université Laval) is currently investigating the quantity and distribution of wedge ice (a category of ground ice) in a permafrost peatland in northern Manitoba. She is also interested in determining how this landscape developed over time, and how it will continue to evolve as permafrost thaws and ground-ice melts due to climate warming. Ice-rich permafrost is particularly susceptible to collapse upon thaw, so the lack of ground-ice information in northern Manitoba reduces northern communities’ ability to predict and mitigate risks associated with ground thaw. This study will provide new knowledge of ground-ice distribution and landscape evolution which may be used to support proactive adaptation to risks affecting natural habitats, infrastructure stability and traditional land use.

Taylor Nicholls (MSc Candidate, Laurentian University). Working closely with Wahnapitae First Nation (WFN), the overall goal of my project is to better understand the environmental variability seen in mercury, arsenic, and selenium levels in fish from two lakes within WFN’s traditional territory (i.e., Lake Wanapitei and Kukagami Lake). I will model the potential drivers thereof and assess contaminant interactions across fish populations. I am also interested in investigating contaminant ratios between and among three different tissues (muscle, liver, and pyloric ceca) in fish to better understand contaminant interactions within fish populations. The intent of the project is to address the long-standing concerns of potentially harmful contaminants in lakes in the WFN traditional territory. The project will provide scientific results that can be used to answer questions that WFN and its Community members may have regarding safe fish consumption and give the ability for more advanced Community-based monitoring moving forward.