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Threats to Georgian Bay wetlands: the interview with wetland ecologist Dr. Janice Gilbert

Dr. Janice Gilbert is especially noted and quoted frequently for her work on invasive Phragmites control; which is her passionate mission. She is a wetland ecologist with a PH.D and MSc in Environmental Science from Ohio State Univiersity, and MES and BES degrees from the University of Waterloo.

She kindly agreed to answer questions for Georgian Bay Forever around threats to wetlands in the Great Lakes region.

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How will climate change impact wetland biodiversity and how will this affect water quality?

Human-induced climate change is capable of significantly reducing biodiversity within our coastal wetlands through:

  • reduced water levels and water quality

  • increased exposure to intense storms and wave energy

  • warmer water temperatures

  • increased movement of invasive species northward

 

Water is what determines the presence and type of wetlands on the landscape. Water depth, clarity, temperature, chemistry, currents and flow—all have a major bearing on the ability of vegetation species to colonize, establish, and thrive.

 

The variety of plants present in a wetland determines the complexity of that habitat and its ability to support wildlife such as insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Diverse plant communities increase wildlife diversity by providing a larger variety of:

  • food

  • cover from the elements

  • resting structures

  • mating and brood rearing areas

  • hibernation sites

  • lifecycle requirements

 

The bathymetry along much of the Georgian Bay shoreline is too steep

to allow existing wetlands to migrate lake-ward as water levels decline.

Many wetlands will therefore shrink, become perched and isolated from

the Bay, or evolve into upland habitat. Such circumstances would

significantly impact the range and distribution of fish and affect freshwater

mussels, turtles, aquatic insects and other wetland-dependent wildlife.

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In your view, what top five native species in Georgian Bay are at risk?

Many wetland species are specialists, requiring specific habitat conditions, which is one reason why a high proportion of species at risk are wetland dependant. For this reason species at risk will be most vulnerable to the anticipated changes in their habitat due to Climate Change.

 

Five examples of wetland dependant species at risk in the Georgian Bay area include:

  • Least Bittern

  • Spotted Turtle

  • Blanding’s Turtle

  • Eastern Foxsnake

  • Common Snapping Turtle

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What are three things we need to do to support or protect the wetlands in Georgian Bay?

1. Let’s protect and restore our remaining wetlands, both small and large.
  • Be cautious and take steps to moderate development that severely impacts wetlands directly or indirectly i.e. roads, golf courses, cottage lots, trailer parks.

  • Organize a local shoreline clean up to remove plastics and other foreign objects that do not belong in our wetlands

2. Work with your community to stop harmful activities such as ATV use through coastal wetlands.
  • Not only is this activity very destructive to the native flora and fauna, it also promotes the introduction and spread of invasive species such as Phragmites.

GBF Note:
Enjoying the outdoors provides great satisfaction in life, but does disturb the environment for other creatures - some in ways that are more harmful than others. Certainly, we can take steps to reduce our footprint by following prescribed paths whether hiking, snowshoeing or using ATVs and snowmobiles as much as possible.

3. Institute an invasive species community watch program.
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