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Boreal Plains Ecozone+ evidence for key findings summary

Conclusion: Human Well-Being and Biodiversity

The Boreal Plains Ecozone+ acts as a transition zone between agricultural areas in the south and forested areas in the north of the ecozone+. Historically, frequent wide-spread natural disturbances including fire, insect outbreaks and wind, created a heterogeneous landscape supporting a diversity of ecosystems, habitats and wildlife species. However, the Boreal Plains is also rich in renewable and non-renewable resources such as agriculture, forestry, and oil and gas deposits. These activities are now impacting ecosystems in a variety of ways, putting increasing pressure on ecosystem services across the ecozone+. In addition, climate change is a large-scale phenomenon that is predicted to impact all ecosystems in the Boreal Plains Ecozone+.

A large number of ecosystem services are provided by the Boreal Plains Ecozone+; for example, provisioning services, such as forest harvesting and agriculture, are important economic drivers in the Boreal Plains. Forests dominate the landscape of the Boreal Plains Ecozone+. Forest extent and intactness have declined due to forest harvesting, agricultural expansion, and increased industrial development (refer to the Forests section on page 11). The mountain pine beetle is of particular concern to boreal forests as it expands it range in the ecozone+ (refer to the Insect outbreaks section on page 74). Agriculture has driven human settlement in the Boreal Plains Ecozone+ and continues to expand; however, the potential of agricultural land to support wildlife has declined mainly due to the loss of natural land cover (see the Potential wildlife use of agricultural lands section on page 52).

The Boreal Plains also provides a range of other ecosystem services (e.g., water supply and regulation, biodiversity, cultural) that are under pressure from continued human and industrial activity. For example, water allocation of the Athabasca River for oil sands processing, and reduced flow due to climate change, could reduce available habitat for fish and other wildlife (see the Water stresses section on page 21). In addition, inputs of contaminants and nutrients from a variety of sources (e.g., oil sands development, forestry, agriculture) have reduced water quality across the ecozone+ (refer to the Water quality section on page 22 and the Contaminants section on page 30).

Climate change has impacted stream hydrology, lowered lake water levels, and altered flood regimes across the ecozone+ (refer to the Climate change impacts: stream flows, temperature and water levels section on page 19, the Water stresses section on page 21, and the Climate change impacts on ecosystems section on page 44). In addition, warming has resulted in a shorter ice season and has melted permafrost from the southern extent of its historical range (refer to the Permafrost section on page 23). Combined, these effects could result in large-scale changes to hydrological dynamics across the ecozone+ in the future.

Human activities in the Boreal Plains Ecozone+ are also impacting wildlife populations and food web dynamics (refer to the Species of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest section on page 55 and the Food webs section on page 76). Caribou have declined in response to increased wolf predation facilitated by human disturbance. Several commercial and sport fisheries have collapsed in boreal lakes as a result of overfishing. With the exception of the forest bird assemblage, all other bird habitat guilds are declining in the Boreal Plains Ecozone+ and the high rate of resource development further threatens bird populations (refer to the Birds section on page 59).Reference 255 However, other species, like Canada geese and white-tailed deer, are experiencing increases in their range and are likely benefiting from human disturbance and climate change.

Biodiversity and ecological integrity maintain the quality of life for humans.Reference 327 The steady visitation rates to national parks (refer to the Cultural services section on page 49) and the increase in protected areas in the ecozone+ (refer to the Protected areas section on page 25) indicate the value that people in this region place on preservation of the natural environment. Understanding ecosystem functions, monitoring ecosystem status and trends, and taking action to mediate negative impacts and preserve the natural legacy of the area, will ensure that the environment and the services it provides will be sustained for future generations.

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References

Reference 255

Environment Canada. 2013. Bird Conservation Strategy for Bird Conservation Region 6: Boreal Taiga Plains. Canadian Wildlife Service. Edmonton, Alberta. iv + 288.

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Reference 327

Herbers, J. 2005. Biodiversity needs in Alberta: a detailed analysis. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Program, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, University of Alberta. Edmonton, AB. 61 p.

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