Interdisciplinary research to understand changing food-web dynamics and threats to food security in the northern boreal forest
Marie-Hélène Rousseau (Conseil des Innus de Pessamit), Yan Boulanger (Laurentian Forestry Centre), Philip Mcloughlin (University of Saskatchewan), James Hodson (Government of the Northwest Territories), Sabrina Plante (ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs), Joëlle Taillon (ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs)
Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs, Government of the Northwest Territories, Pessamit Innu Nation, Laurentian Forestry Centre
Our program goal is to shed light on the consequences of changes coming to the subarctic continental food web from human activity including industrial disturbance and directional climate change, and the processes occurring at fine scales from which broad-scale patterns are expected to emerge.
Our first objective is to map the subarctic food web in a novel way for two comparative study areas across the north (Boreal Taiga [Northwest Territories] and eastern Boreal Shield [Québec]) subject to similar disturbance regimes and predator-prey guilds (moose-boreal caribou-bear-wolf) but with one area also supporting a wood bison subsidy to predators (NWT). We will generate new datasets of comparative species abundance by leveraging newly acquired and Canadian-first expertise to conduct low-altitude remote sensing at regional scales using an airborne ultra-high resolution, multi-spectral imaging payload capable of mapping habitats as well as identifying and counting large mammal species from convolutional multi-class detection algorithms (rapidly mapping habitat but also wildlife resources substituting space for time for 18 sampling blocks).
In combination with local knowledge of food webs and GPS-tracking technology of the targeted wildlife species, we then aim to develop predictive models to understand direct and indirect food-web interactions; and model current and predictive scenarios of interaction, distribution (comparative space use), and abundance given anticipated environmental change (including invasion of alien species like deer) within and among study areas.
Our inclusive and interdisciplinary approach will allow us to better understand the consequences of the gradual but continuous shifts occurring in the subarctic continental food web, but also the causes of large-scale shifts in species distribution and abundance arising from underlying predator-prey-habitat interactions. The proposed research has great potential to transform our ability to monitor and predict the future security of northern wildlife food resources and, by extension, food sovereignty, and health and well-being of northern communities.