Aquatic ecosystems in the Fort Good Hope area as indicators of environmental change
Principal Investigator: Comte, Jerome (2)
Licence Number: 17008
Organization: Institut national de la recherche scientifique
Licensed Year(s): 2021
Issued: Apr 27, 2022
Project Team: Kirsty Gurney, Irena Creed, François Guillemette, Isabelle Laurion, Daniel Jackson

Objective(s): To identify indicators of aquatic ecosystem health i.e., organisms such as bacteria, phytoplankton and invertebrates that are sensitive to environmental forces and play key role in aquatic food webs and to monitor and predict the response of aquatic ecosystems to environmental changes (e.g. permafrost thaw, hydrology, land use).

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.4823.

The purpose of this work is to identify indicators of aquatic ecosystem health i.e., organisms such as bacteria, phytoplankton and invertebrates that are sensitive to environmental forces and play key role in aquatic food webs, to monitor and predict the response of aquatic ecosystems to environmental changes (e.g. permafrost thaw, hydrology, land use). The research will focus on wetlands that vary in their exposure to natural (permafrost thaw) and anthropogenic (land use) stressors. To this end, the research team have identified four objectives to be addressed through a combination of short-term, directed research studies and longer term monitoring efforts: 1) Characterize the differences in dissolved organic matter (DOM) over a wide range of aquatic ecosystems in the vicinity of Fort Good Hope (FGH); 2) Identify and compare the communities of organisms at the base of aquatic ecosystems presenting varying DOM contents; 3) Identify the main drivers that shape these communities (e.g. DOM, hydrology); and 4) Compare patterns in DOM and aquatic diversity in other locations of the NWT to extend the scope of the work.

To identify how aquatic ecosystems respond to anthropogenic and natural stressors, separately and in combination, the study will focus on wetlands within the protected area and near FGH. Wetlands are commonly seen as sentinels of changes occurring in the surrounding landscape. Whereas some of these ecosystems in the area have already been impacted by a wide range of human activities, including development of oil and gas and associated infrastructure, others such as Ts'ude Niline Tu'eyeta have been protected from anthropogenic disturbance. Similarly, the region lies in discontinuous permafrost, which suggests that some aquatic ecosystems are fed with carbon and nutrients originating from thawing permafrost while others do not. For both areas, surface water will be sampled and analyzed for water chemistry (e.g. DOM, nutrients) at Guillemette’s lab, bacteria, phytoplankton and invertebrates’ diversity across both gradients. Invertebrates identification will be performed by students from FGH School as initiated and supervised by Gurney in past studies. Diversity of bacteria and phytoplankton will be performed at Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS). Meteorological and hydrological data will also be collected and analyzed at Creed's GIS/remote sensing laboratory.

During a visit in Fort Good Hope in December 2019, the project lead met in person and discussed this proposal with the K’asho Gotine Charter Community Council Chief, the president of Fort Good Hope Renewable Resource Council, the Executive Director of the Sahtu´ Land and Water Board, and the president of the Yamoga Land Corporation. The goal of the meeting was to assess the interest and level of support from the community for the project and the support was extremely strong as the health of aquatic ecosystems is of great concern in the community. The collaboration and support from the community members and agencies of Fort Good Hope is critical for this project. To maintain this good relationship, the research team will collaboratively build a research plan, and continue to work together through regular meetings and written communications. A community coordinator will provide guidance to researchers on how to appropriately engage with, hire and train community members to collect data and translate research findings. The engagement is driven by community voices and preferences ensuring equal opportunity for all. Engagement activities may include but are not limited to: community meals, site visits, instrumental measurements, regular results sharing meetings, and other methods as agreed on by community and research team members. The community’s partnership will be acknowledged in all communications and results will be shared with the communities through meetings and plain language reports. Data will be made available through the Mackenzie DataStream. Recent discussions with a program coordinator, DataStream (Gordon Foundation) has expressed great interest in the type of data this proposal will generate.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 20, 2022 to December 31, 2022