Diversity patterns of benthic diatoms and their use as potential bioindicators in western boreal wetlands

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University of New Brunswick


Widespread habitat degradation associated with resource development in Canada’s boreal zone is a major and ongoing threat to biodiversity and ecological integrity. Despite the extensive and intensive development occurring in these regions, little information exists on biological diversity and the potential impacts associated with expansion in Canada’s north. Wetlands are a prevalent landscape feature in the boreal zone and provide many ecosystem services currently at risk of being reduced or lost. In this thesis, diversity patterns of diatom communities in boreal wetlands in Canada’s largest freshwater delta - the Peace-Athabasca Delta in northern Alberta – are examined and assessed for their potential use as indicators in a large-scale biomonitoring program for the federal government. This work has shown that the traditional bioindicator, benthic macroinvertebrates, are not always sufficient indicators of all potential impacts on their own, and that diatoms may be responding to different environmental drivers than the benthic macroinvertebrates in these wetlands. In conclusion, this thesis establishes the need for expansion of standard biomonitoring protocols to include the primary producer community in order to effectively predict future anthropogenic-induced habitat change.