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Hudson Plains Ecozone+ Evidence for key findings summary


Theme: Science/policy interface

Key finding 21
Biodiversity monitoring, research, information management, and reporting

Theme Science/policy interface

National key finding

Long-term, standardized, spatially complete, and readily accessible monitoring information, complemented by ecosystem research, provides the most useful findings for policy-relevant assessments of status and trends. The lack of this type of information in many areas has hindered development of this assessment.

The Hudson Plains Ecozone+ has received comparatively little inventory, monitoring, and research owing to its remoteness, limited access, harsh climate, wet edaphic conditions, and associated low amount of resource development interest to date. With certain exceptions such as climate station monitoring and some studies of waterfowl, polar bear (and sea ice in the broader geographic area), and fish mercury levels in areas affected by hydroelectric development, inventory and related work has been episodic and without continuity over the long term.Reference 4 The available scientific information is contained in disparate sources of variable accessibility, with Aboriginal traditional knowledge being even less accessible in a form suitable for incorporation into this type of reporting framework. The usefulness of remote sensing has been limited in this geography by the dynamic nature of interannual changes found there (for example, seasonality of swamps) and the paucity of ground truthing in this largely inaccessible terrain. A geographical bias to information is also evident, with most information pertaining to coastal areas (including the ecozone+ ’s limited number of climate stations), while inland areas remain largely unstudied, although this is changing.

In short, a relative paucity of status and trends information currently exists for this ecozone+. Reference 4 In this assessment there was, therefore, inherent difficulty in detecting changes, trends, and thresholds; describing natural ranges of variability; and, in many cases, even providing quantitative, baseline or other point-in-time measures of ecosystem attributes. Furthermore, much of the available information is now dated because it was generated during a hydroelectric development phase in the 1970s to early 1980s.

While there is a general assumption that the ecozone+ remains relatively healthy because of limited ecosystem conversion, minimal anthropogenic fragmentation, and other human influences to date, the human imprint is changing. Climate change is manifesting and resource development interests are increasing. Base data and tracking are now critically needed to inform land use and environmental conservation planning, and related policy and management decisions. Permafrost, hydrology, and carbon flux are particularly notable and important among knowledge gaps but better information is needed on most fronts, including cumulative impacts and climate modeling.Reference 4

Although not outwardly evident in this assessment, the state of knowledge about the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is currently in a state of flux. Collection of new information about the ecozone+ is currently being driven both by interests in climate change in the north and increasing interest in major economic development there. Some major research programs with components relevant to the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ are in their last phases (for example, Arcticnet, International Polar Year) and associated results are becoming available and more should be available within a few years. In addition, much new inventory, monitoring, and research is being generated in association with, for example, Manitoba’s Biodiversity Conservation program, Wapusk National Park, and Ontario’s relatively new Far North Land Use Planning Initiative. Future needs for trends assessment, including identification of rapid and unexpected changes (see section below), centre around long-term monitoring at ecologically relevant scales, across jurisdictions where needed. Research remains critical for identifying mechanistic causes of change and, thus, for informing adaptive management. Ecosystem components of particular importance because of their susceptibility to impacts from anticipated changes in human imprint (climate change and industrial development) include permafrost; hydrology; carbon cycling; coastal and tundra ecosystems; river and lake ecosystems; wetlands and bird populations; plant communities; and sensitive fish and wildlife species. The valuation of ecosystem services also requires advancement, so that non-market services can be adequately considered in policy and management decisions.

Key finding 22
Rapid changes and thresholds

Theme Science/policy interface

National key finding

Growing understanding of rapid and unexpected changes, interactions, and thresholds, especially in relation to climate change, points to a need for policy that responds and adapts quickly to signals of environmental change in order to avert major and irreversible biodiversity losses.

A somewhat anomalous finding for a relatively remote and undisturbed ecozone+ such as the Hudson Plains Ecozone+ is that a large amount of its coastal biome (~30% of the salt marsh habitat) has been severely damaged (see the Coastalbiome on page 20). Note, however, that this persistent, cumulative damage that has been occurring since the 1970s is not related to human influences in the ecozone+ itself, but rather to land use changes and other human influences outside the ecozone+ that have caused the migratory Mid-Continent population of lesser snow goose to quadruple over the last four decades. It is excessive foraging by these overabundant geese that is causing an apparent trophic cascade in the ecozone+ , leading to an alternate stable state of bare, hypersaline sediment along much of the coast, from which recovery may take decades.

Thresholds and natural ranges of variability are poorly understood for this ecozone+ but notable in reference to rapid changes are the correlated changes in sea-ice season in Hudson and James bays (shortening) (see Sea ice on page 26) and the deteriorating status of two polar bear subpopulations that use the ecozone+ (see Polar bear on page 54). Reductions in sea ice are already ahead of the projected rate of the summer retreat of the ice by nearly all of the general circulation model (GCM) projections used by the Arctic Climate Impact AssessmentReference 383 and the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AssessmentReference 250 (for example, Stroeve et al., 2007Reference 384 ; Allison et al., 2009Reference 385 ). The significant trends in sea ice signal impending change in the ecozone+ , given the strong influence that sea ice has on this ecozone+ ’s climate. Already the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation of polar bears, which occurs in the part of Hudson Bay where sea ice changes are the greatest, has declined in number (see Polar bear on page 54). The Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation has not declined in number (up until last assessed in 2003-2005), but shows significant declines in body condition and evidence of declining survival rates that together suggest that this subpopulation too may soon decline in abundance. Changes in polar bear subpopulations are attributed to the much shorter period they have on sea ice to put on fat stores for their seasonal period on land. Shifts in the relative amounts of ice-associated and open-water seal species consumed by the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation of polar bears (also associated with changes in sea ice) have interacted with pollution to affect contaminant levels in the bears (see Contaminants on page 38). On land, unexpected or little reported trophic interactions are now occurring between the earlier arriving bears and species such as geese (see Food webs on page 66).

Although permafrost data are currently insufficient to examine trends, rapid degradation of permafrost is expected in this ecozone+ as a lagged dynamic of sea ice loss. Permafrost is maintained in this ecozone+ largely due to the influence that the seasonal ice cover on Hudson and James bays has on the ecozone+ ’s climate. The projected degradation of permafrost will significantly affect the hydrology of this saturated peat plain, with significant consequences for biodiversity (see Climate change on page 42).

A responsive, adaptive management framework, supported by a sustained commitment to the collection, management, and sharing of both scientific and Aboriginal information (for example, to detect early warning signals and rapid changes before thresholds are crossed), will be key to the effective future management of this ecozone+. Reference 4 , Reference 148


Reference 4

Abraham, K.F., McKinnon, L.M., Jumean, Z., Tully, S.M., Walton, L.R. and Stewart, H.M. (lead coordinating authors and compilers). 2011. Hudson Plains Ecozone+ status and trends assessment. Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010, Technical Ecozone+ Report. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. xxi + 445 p.

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Reference 148

Goulet, S. and Kenkel, N. 1997. Habitat survey and management proposal for Manitoba populations of western spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis). Department of Botany, University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, MB. 89 p. 

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Reference 250

Alberta Environmental Protection. 1995. Management plan for white-tailed deer in Alberta. Wildlife Mangement Planning Series No. 11. Alberta Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Service. Edmonton, AB. xv + 142 p. 

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Reference 383

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. 2005. ACIA scientific report. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 1042 p.

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Reference 384

Stroeve, J., Holland, M.M., Meier, W., Scambos, T. and Serreze, M. 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: faster than forecast. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L09501, 5 p.

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Reference 385

Allison, I., Bindoff, N.L., Bindschadler, R.A., Cox, P.M., de Noblet, N., England, M.H., Francis, J.E., Gruber, N., Haywood, A.M., Karoly, D.J., Kaser, G., Le Quéré, C., Lenton, T.M., Mann, M.E., McNeil, B.I., Pitman, A.J., Rahmstorf, S., Rignot, E., Schellnhuber, H.J., Schneider, S.H., Sherwood, S.C., Somerville, R.C.J., Steffen, K., Steig, E.J., Visbeck, M. and Weaver, A.J. 2009. The Copenhagen diagnosis, 2009: updating the world on the latest climate science. The University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre. Sydney, Australia. 60 p.

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