Our Research

WCS CANADA

Photos: Malkom Boothroyd

Our research on climate impacts on Yukon landscapes

WCS Canada has undertaken a number of projects designed to help us better understand what climate change will mean for Yukon’s wild landscapes and wildlife. This research builds on the extensive research WCS Canada scientists have done on landscape-scale conservation and wildlife needs in Yukon.

Modelling climate futures

WCS Canada’s Northern Boreal Mountains Program initiated a new climate change adaptation project in collaboration with government partners to focus on the development of key species distribution models under various future climate change scenarios in Yukon. The models on endemic plants, invertebrates and other species such as caribou are projected across Yukon and can be used for wildlife conservation in land-use planning and management. So far, we have generated current and future models for 66 endemic plant species across the Yukon and Alaska and the resultant paper has been published in Diversity and Distribution.

We have also completed Phase I of the Yukon climate change adaptation web tool. Phase I is a web-based portal that will house data resulting from climate change adaptation research including those from endemic species distribution models mentioned above. All data are publicly available. We have now commenced the Phase II of the web tool, which is a data visualization, overlay and extraction tool. Phase III, which is a modelling tool will commence shortly. Collectively, these tools will enable Government partners and land-use planners to assess current and potential changes in their environments, enable plan reviews, and re-assess the ability of protected areas to support focal species.

Endemic modelling 

Modelling and mapping climate change refugia

WCS Canada’s Northern Boreal Mountains Program is working with government and academic researchers to map areas that are most resilient to climate change across Yukon’s Boreal and Taiga Cordillera ecozones.

Climate-change refugia are areas that are relatively buffered from regional and short-term changes in climate, such as cool, moist shorelines and north-facing slopes. Enduring features are physiographic features, such as canyons and sand dunes, that will not change nearly as fast as other habitat components. These characteristics will create greater habitat stability, giving species time and space to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.  By combining the identification of climate refugia and enduring features, we hope to identify a network of sites that should be prioritized for protection. This work will give us a foundation for planning for species persistence across a planning region.

This project builds on and combines two published refugia identification frameworks led by project team members: Climate-Change Refugia for the North American Boreal Region (Stralberg et al. 2020) and Enduring Features for the Northwest Boreal Region (Reid et al. 2020).

As part of the Yukon South Beringia Priority Place partnership, we are refining this framework to model and mapping habitat refugia potential for a suite of plant and animal species while developing a plan to monitor these features and habitats over time.

Cumulative effects of climate change and land use change

Too often, we look at land-use impacts in isolation.  We might consider the impact of water diversions in one part of a watershed without considering wetland drainage in another when it comes to considering how water flows might be affected, for example.  And far too often, we do not factor in the longer-term impacts of climate change, such as changing precipitation patterns or higher winter temperatures.

WCS Canada’s Northern Boreal Mountains Cumulative Effects Program is trying to address this gap by developing a better understanding of the cumulative effects of human disturbance and climate change stressors on wildlife and important habitats. This work can Inform conservation targets and help ensure they are built around scientifically sound ecological thresholds for sustaining healthy wildlife populations and ecosystems.

As part of the program, WCS Canada has initiated a new study that looks at the cumulative impact of surface disturbance and climate change stressors on water quality in the Indian and Klondike River drainages. We have presented this research to Government partners as an example of how linear density (number of roads, power lines or pipelines), surface disturbance (mining, development) and climate stressors can be linked to water-quality indicators, such as total suspended sediments in salmon spawning streams.

We are also investigating the cumulative effect of multiple stressors on the density, diversity, and community composition of terrestrial land birds across various levels of resource and climate stressors in collaboration with Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Yukon, Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation and the First Nation of Na-cho Nyäk Dun.

Other relevant papers:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40823-022-00074-7

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719345097

Watch this documentary clip for a recap on the project and how it fits into the bigger picture of a changing north.

How are environmental conditions influencing Yukon River Chinook salmon productivity?

Recent declines of Chinook salmon in Canadian waters of the Yukon River represent a growing crisis for thousands of Indigenous and other people residing within the Yukon River drainage and beyond. A recent study analyzing three decades of data found that Canadian-origin Yukon River Chinook salmon productivity was related to numerous environmental and ecosystem processes acting over multiple life stages.

Study findings at a glance

Research summary

How climate change will shift vegetation patterns

WCS Canada scientists reviewed the scientifically documented examples of vegetation change throughout Yukon. In a new academic paper, they summarized changes to vegetation communities that resulted from persistent trends in growing conditions (namely air temperature and moisture availability) and disturbance-driven abrupt changes to growing conditions.  Their findings are also presented in this visual storymap.

 

Other research

Boreal peatlands for wildlife and carbon: WCS Canada has developed a storymap that explains the importance of peatlands to carbon storage and wildlife habitat.  Our scientists have also collaborated on a scientific study of the climate importance of peatlands.  These and other resources are available on our main website’s Natural Carbon Solutions page.

Protecting ecological values of Yukon’s lakeshores: WCS Scientist Dr. Don Reid has coauthored a comprehensive look at the importance of lakeshore zones and how to conserve them, particularly in the face of a changing climate. Conservation of Lakeshore Zones in the Northern Boreal Mountains: State of Knowledge, and Principles and Guidelines for Planning and Management.

Managing burned forests for biodiversity: WCS Canada has developed a detailed scientific report on the values of burned and beetle killed forests in Yukon and how we can shape timber harvest (including biomass harvesting) in these areas to protect these values. Fire and Insects: Managing naturally disturbed forests to conserve ecological values.  A new study of bird specialists of recently burned habitats can also help guide our decisions on how to manage these areas.

Projected climate-driven biome shifts across Yukon: Using the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP), WCS Canada projected shifts in the distribution of climate-biomes (‘cliomes) across Yukon including loss of arctic and alpine tundra, expansion of boreal forest, and incursion of southern grasslands

Conserving Yukon’s intact landscapes: Using computer modelling, WCS Canada has mapped priority areas for landscape-scale conservation across Yukon’s boreal mountains.

Old spruce forests are important bird habitat: WCS Canada has documented the importance of old, white spruce forest alongside streams and wetlands to breeding birds in southern Yukon and provided recommendations for protecting this important habitat.

Mapping carbon in boreal biomass: Governments, scientists, industry, and civil society organizations are increasingly interested in identifying where and how much biomass carbon is held in North American boreal ecosystems. This WCS Canada report surveys publicly available spatial data quantifying biomass carbon in various subsets or pools (aboveground, below-ground, within soil, wetland, and permafrost) across the North American boreal and provides recommendations on the most useful data sources and data sets for each of the pools of biomass carbon.

Current and future drivers of landscape change in the northwest boreal: WCS Canada co-authored and edited a book synthesizing the latest research on projected changes to ecosystem processes and landscape-scale drivers resulting from human activities and climate change, and the impacts on important socio-ecological values.

Response of terrestrial and aquatic bird communities to placer mine reclamation. In this Muddy Boots blog, NBM field technicians discuss their experiences in the field.

 

A climate-resilient network for BC’s Greater Muskwa-Kechika: WCS Canada produced a science-based conservation plan for the Greater Muskwa-Kechika in northern British Columbia that proposes doubling the existing area of protection, including areas to support climate-change adaptation of woodland caribou, bull trout, Stone’s sheep and moose.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund also provides resources on planning for climate adaptation for planners, governments, agencies and scientists.

Arctic Biodiversity Assessment: This report prepared for the Arctic Council by WCS Canada scientist Dr. Don Reid and others looks at status and trends in Arctic biodiversity. 

The Use of Natural Outdoor Laboratories to Reduce Threats to Freshwater Biodiversity:  In a piece for the Conservation, we discuss how studies based in “outdoor laboratories” can help scientists grapple with the many overlapping and cumulative impacts on freshwater ecosystems.  The Conversation draws on research outlined in more detail in a paper published in Current Landscape Ecology Reports.