Long-term effects of impoundment on ecosystem functions of coastal wetlands in Georgian Bay

Taylor, Dallas
M.Sc. Thesis
April 2014


Seasonal and annual water-level fluctuation is a primary mechanism that maintains high aquatic biodiversity in coastal marshes of the Laurentian Great Lakes by preventing formation of dense mono-cultures of emergent or submergent plants. The past 14 years of sustained low water levels in Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) have prompted proposals to impound coastal wetlands as a way to mitigate against desiccation. We hypothesize that a loss of hydrologic connection with the Great Lakes would lead to altered water chemistry and an expansion of emergent vegetation at the expense of aquatic habitat. This could result in a fish community with reduced diversity which may positively impact the larval amphibian community. On the other hand, bird communities may respond with only short-term gains, and may not demonstrate long-term benefits without active management. We investigate how long-term severance of hydrologic connection between coastal marshes and Georgian Bay affect ecosystem functions. We compare food web components of a chain of three coastal wetlands in Tadenac Bay that were sequentially impounded by beaver activities over the past 5 decades. We also surveyed the food web of Wye Marsh, which was impounded over 80 years ago, and compare it with that of Matchedash Bay, which had never been impounded. In both cases, there were negative impacts of impoundment on water chemistry, vegetation and fish communities. Bird communities showed no significant differences but larval amphibian diversity was greater in the beaver impoundments than in the hydrologically connected coastal wetland. Based on our results, we do not recommend impounding Georgian Bay wetlands as a means to restore and maintain water levels.