In celebration of World Wetlands Day 2018, we are profiling CRI research on river floodplains to draw attention to the perilous state of the world's river floodplains, currently the most threatened of river habitats.
In addition to their importance as reservoirs of biodiversity, floodplains are also key sources of ecosystem services, including food security for Indigenous peoples living across Canada. CRI's research on riverine wetlands is increasing our knowledge of how wetlands work, helping us to safeguard this unique, at-risk habitat for future generations.
The Peace-Athabasca Delta, located in Canada's largest mainland National Park, Wood Buffalo, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and home to North America's last intact wolf-bison predator-prey system. Despite its remoteness, this biodiversity hotspot is currently threatened by hydro-electric development to the west, encroaching oil sands mining from the south, and an ever-warming climate.
For the past decade, Dr. Donald Baird, Environment and Climate Change scientist and CRI Science Director, and his research team have been studying how global change processes are changing the character of these wetlands. Dr. Baird and his students have been collaborating with CRI Associate Dr. Daniel Peters (ECCC) and Parks Canada scientists. By using cutting-edge airborne and satellite observations, including NASA’s Surface Water Observation Technology (SWOT) program, they’re mapping delta ecology. These technologies are providing an unprecedented opportunity to fully explore pathways of connectivity across this unique floodplain wetland complex.
At the opposite end of the spatial scale, Dr. Baird and CRI Associates Dr. Mehrdad Hajibabaei (University of Guelph) and Dr. Wendy Monk (ECCC) are employing state-of-the-art environmental DNA analysis, successfully completing the world's first ecosystem-scale application of an environmental DNA metabarcoding monitoring project.
These techniques permit exploration of biodiversity in unprecedented detail, offering a groundbreaking new avenue to study ecosystem dynamics and how ecological communities are influenced by changes in wetland water level and connectivity. Wetlands monitoring methods developed in this research project are now being incorporated into Environment and Climate Change Canada's CABIN monitoring program, to supports rapid assessment of wetlands for a range of end-users including community-based monitoring groups.