Freshwater is a major feature of the boreal forests of North America with tens of thousands of lakes and rivers and some of the largest wetlands in the world. All this provides habitat for many freshwater fish and for wildlife.
WCS is working to conserve freshwater fish across the boreal forest of Northern Ontario, by leading scientific field research, and by providing technical assistance and expertise to conservation partners and policy makers. There are 53 species of freshwater fish across Northern Ontario, in 15 taxonomic families. The most diverse group of fish are minnow (Cyprinidae) represented by 17 species. Other diverse groups include perch (Percidae), whitefish (Coregoninae), sculpin (Cottidae), and sucker (Catostomidae). Very little information exists on boreal fish, yet they are facing looming threats from mining, forestry, hydroelectric development, and climate change.
WCS is researching a subset of boreal freshwater fish in Ontario, including lake sturgeon, lake trout, brook trout, and walleye. These fish species are wide-spread and economically important to local communities. These species also act as an umbrella for all others so by ensuring the conservation of these fish we will provide protection for other freshwater fish with similar habitats and vulnerabilities.
Northern Ontario currently has a low human population and limited resource development and for this reason it contains the single largest area of high fish biodiversity with fewer human impacts in North America. The boreal forests of Northern Ontario are also one of the largest intact forest regions in North America. Yet pressure for resource development and climate change are threatening to alter this region and threaten freshwater fish and wildlife populations.
Gathering Local Knowledge
WCS is gathering knowledge from local resource users (First Nations and remote tourism outfitters) on lake sturgeon to tap into this potential wealth of local knowledge and supplement the relative lack of scientific information on these fish.
Determining Impacts of Hydroelectric Dams
WCS is examining the impact of hydroelectric dams on the genetic structure of lake sturgeon populations by comparing genetics of sturgeon in dammed and unaltered river systems.
Impacts of Lake Access on Fish Populations
WCS is researching the implications of increased access to remote lakes and rivers as a result of road construction for resource development activities by examining lake trout lakes before and after fishing of these previously protected lakes to assess changes in population abundance and size and age composition of lake trout in these lakes.
Impacts of Climate Change on Boreal Fish
WCS is examining how climate change may affect cold water fish species (i.e. lake trout and brook trout) by characterizing and documenting if populations differ in their response to extreme temperatures. Unlike wildlife on land that can potentially shift their ranges to adapt to changing weather fish within lakes are extremely vulnerable. They must either adapt quickly to these conditions or die.