RATIONALE AND OBJECTIVES
Arctic ecosystems are changing due to climate warming. Research is needed to monitor these ecological modifications, understand the impacts on species, and possibly predict the most significant future changes in biodiversity. However, effects of climate shifts vary across the vast Canadian Arctic. In the last 15 years, in collaboration with several colleagues, I have conducted detailed ecological research on Bylot Island (North Baffin). We have found that temperatures increase, spring starts earlier, summer lengthens, plants grow up more rapidly, but the abundance and reproduction of vertebrates did not vary significantly. Comparing these results with those from other research sites in Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia allowed us to much better understand the changing tundra ecosystem. These results have direct management implications because the rapid industrialization of the Arctic brings new ecological stressors, and sustainable development of the Arctic requires that impact studies are able to separate ecological changes due to climate warming from those due to direct habitat disturbance caused by industry. In addition, understanding changes in Arctic ecosystems is directly relevant to wildlife management.
In this context, the long-term objective of this project is to monitor tundra biodiversity and better understand tundra ecology at the coldest extreme of this biome’s temperature gradient, that is at the very northern tip of Ellesmere Island, where plant productivity is minimal, where very little information has been collected to date, and where is located the Canadian Forces Station (CSF) Alert. This long-term objective will be implemented over several years.
Our short-term objectives for 2017 are:
1- to explore Alert in order to plan future biodiversity monitoring protocols,
2- to evaluate the summer abundance and distribution of Arctic hare, the most influential herbivore at the site, 3- to determine if this herbivore is resident at Alert or engages in seasonal migrations between its summer and winter grounds.
KEY EXPECTED RESULTS AND MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS
Short-term objective 1 (plan future biodiversity monitoring)
I will gather enough information from my field visit to be able to plan detailed field protocols allowing the future monitoring of the tundra ecosystem at Alert. I am confident that this objective will be achieved given my past experience at doing this. In particular, I co-led the International Polar Year project ArcticWOLVES, during which we implemented many protocols at various sites across the circumpolar Arctic.
Management implications: this objective will allow structured ecological data collection, and these data will be freely available in the Polar Data Catalogue. They will serve as baseline information for any development project planned in this very poorly documented region of Nunavut.
Short-term objective 2 (abundance and distribution of hares)
I will describe the distribution of hares in the main habitats located within 5-10 km of CFS Alert. I will evaluate their abundance across these habitats using counts of animals seen per hour of observation. This objective is scientifically significant given the paucity of information on Arctic hares over the Canadian Arctic.
Management implications: Arctic hares are a food source for many tundra predators, and provide food and clothing to Nunavummiut who harvest them. The Nunavut General Monitoring Program (NGMP) Monitoring Blueprint Compendium (2013) has identified four key questions for future monitoring of Arctic hares, three of which relate directly to our expected results:
- What are the changes in populations of the Arctic hare?
- What are the changes in distribution of the Arctic hare?
- What changes could climate change bring about in the Arctic hare?
The NGMP encourages “research that addresses these key questions and monitoring gaps to build capacity to better understand the state of this Valued Ecosystemic Component, and any changes taking place, as a basis for management and decision-making going forward”.
Short-term objective 3 (migration of hares)
Arctic hares are rather easy to capture and I have had great success using satellite collars to track other small mammals in the past. Therefore I hope to fit 10 hares with satellite collars. To my knowledge, this will provide the most detailed scientific evidence about hare yearly movements in Nunavut. The topic of hare migration is controversial. It is unclear whether only some individuals perform occasional long-distance movements (as do, for example, Arctic foxes) or whether all individuals from some populations migrate seasonally in a coordinated fashion (as do, for example, caribou).
Management implications: same as for Short-term objective 2.
This work will be conducted in collaboration Dr. François Fournier (Environment and Climate Change Canada).