Importance of hydrologic connectivity for coastal wetlands to open water of eastern Georgian Bay

Fracz, Amanda,
2012. M.Sc. Thesis
McMaster University, 109 pp.


Coastal wetlands are hydrologically connected to their watershed and the lake. Water levels in Georgian Bay have been at a sustained low for thirteen years and thus connectivity of wetlands to the lake is being threatened as water levels decline. Decreased connectivity has likely caused changes in ecological and chemical characteristics. Future climate change models predict further water declines and potentially increasing the number of wetlands that will be hydrologically disconnected. The over-arching goal of this thesis is to investigate the role of connectivity between the lake and coastal marshes in eastern Georgian Bay on the amount of potential fish habitat, water chemistry and larval amphibian habitat. Bathymetric information is needed in order to estimate fish habitat and two approaches were utilized in order to collect these data. A site-specific method completed in 2009 used an intensive field survey in seven wetlands to create a digital elevation model and calculated the amount of fish habitat at 10 cm increments. A second, regional method, selected 103 sites by using a stratified random sample in 18 quaternary watersheds. In both methods, changes in water levels between 173 and 176 m asl resulted in the most drastic loss of habitat. Approximately 24% of the current fish habitat has already been lost due to low water levels. Water chemistry in coastal marshes is influenced by hydrologic connection. In the summers of 2010 and 2011, 35 coastal marshes were sampled, 17 of which had been impounded and disconnected by a beaver dam. Beaver-impounded marshes resulted in significantly lower pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and sulphate concentrations, but had significantly higher soluble reactive phosphors concentrations. These conditions are indicative of the lack of connection and reduced mixing with lake water. This altered habitat was shown to support breeding area for 7 species of amphibians, the most common being green frogs and the least common being American Toads and chorus frogs.

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