Terrestrial monitoring plot network – linking ecology, hydrology and Biogeochemistry

Project keywords:

Large ecosystem dynamics plots; eco-hydrological feedbacks; forest dynamic processes; climate warming; permafrost dynamics

Name of project lead: Jennifer Baltzer

Project team/partners: For each collaborator please specify: Team member name, role, organization and contact information
J. Baltzer (WLU), W. Quinton (WLU), O. Sonnentag (UdeM), R. Patankar (WLU; Postdoctoral fellow), K. Marshall (WLU; Postdoctoral fellow), T. Lakusta (ENR Forestry Division), L. Smith (ENR, Forestry Division), S. Kokelj (AANDC), P. Marsh (Env. Can.), L. Chasmer (University of Lethbridge), E. Johnson (BC ME), M. Hayashi (U. Calgary), S. Davies (Smithsonian Institute)

Status: In progress

Taiga Plains Ecozone extending from NE British Columbia (Horn River Basin) to Trail Valley Creek near Inuvik.

Year and month project started: May 2012

Anticipated completion year of project? Ongoing

Executive year of project (example, year 1 or 2 or 3…) 2

Brief project description: (objectives and rationale)
In Northern ecosystems, permafrost plays a central role in ecosystem processes and function. Climate warming is progressing rapidly in the NWT and one of the most immediate manifestations of warming is permafrost degradation. The Taiga Plains Ecoregion spans the entire gradient of permafrost from sporadic to continuous and this region is already experiencing ramifications of climate warming-related permafrost thaw. In order to facilitate predictive capacity and planning within the region, there is a need for a more comprehensive understanding the linkages and feedbacks among ecology, hydrology and biogeochemistry across these bands of permafrost and how degradation of permafrost will impact the resulting ecosystem processes and function.


1. Establish methodologically comparable terrestrial monitoring sites from the Horn River Basin (sporadic PF) to Havikpak Creek, NWT (continuous PF) to facilitate region-wide examination of specific mechanisms underlying climate warming related changes.

2. Incorporate and enhance measurement within an existing network of small terrestrial permanent sample plots to facilitate more spatially intensive analyses and region-wide change detection.

Methodology and sampling techniques

At each intensive study site, a large (10-20ha) mapped forest dynamics plot will be established according to the standardized protocols developed for the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Earth Observatory (SIGEO) large plot network. This network currently includes 47 FDPs representing all forest biomes globally except the boreal. This will facilitate both quantification and comparison of the dynamic responses of different portions of Canada’s boreal to climate change as well as global comparative studies. The FDPs will serve as the first boreal sites within the SIGEO network thus completing the global representativeness of this exceptional effort. Within these gridded plots, spatially explicit measures of a range of hydrologically-, biogeochemically- and ecologically-relevant variables will be made in addition to the tree mapping (e.g., frost table depth, soil moisture, nutrient pools and cycling, herbaceous vegetation plots) and overlaid on the pre-existing topographic data (LiDAR-based DEMs). These detailed monitoring plots will be linked with existing archival datasets and ongoing studies wherever possible (see also Remote Sensing of Change Detection across the Taiga Plains). A series of pre-existing small permanent sample plots were also established according to CFS National Forest Inventory protocols in 2006 by the GNWT ENR and the CFS. These will be resampled after 10 years (2016) providing region-wide forest dynamics data to augment the more intensive but spatially restricted study sites.

Describe how communities and/or partner organizations were involved

Given the large area over which this study will occur, partner organizations will be key in ensuring its success. Partners within the NWT ENR (Lakusta, Smith) have provided access to and collaboration on the regional PSP network data. Further, they are very interested in feedback on additional measurements to include in these plots that will arise from mechanistic studies within the intensive study sites. Ongoing research by government collaborators at a range of sites across the Territory (e.g., Kokelj, Marsh) will fill critical roles in understanding the range of conditions across the Taiga Plains. Partners at the Smithsonian (Davies) will provide important resources including training on data management and analysis for the large forest dynamics plots and linkage with this network provides ongoing opportunities for research funding for plot-related work.

Significance of the results (rationale): / project linkages

What are the key contributions to science/our knowledge base of northern environments

Few northern studies have taken a comparable integrative approach thus we anticipate that this research will substantially advance our understanding of northern ecosystems and their responses to climate warming.

What are the key contributions to cumulative effects monitoring in the NWT?

Understanding key ecosystem processes across the Taiga Plains and responses to climate is a critical first step in enhancing our knowledge of cumulative impacts of direct and indirect anthropogenic influences on this region.

What is the relevance to decision-makers?

The NWT’s Water Management Strategy requires scientific insights into the impact of climate warming on its fresh water resources. In order to make such assessments, we require an integrated understanding of the ecosystems that determine the flows of this resource. Our ultimate goal is to provide improved tools incorporating both ecological and hydrological processes for predicting ecosystem response to warming

Which decision-makers will likely be impacted by / interested in results?

ENR managers; Water Management Strategy implementation

What is the relevance to communities?

A holistic understanding of these processes and an assessment of how and why ecosystem function and services may change will be critically important to communities given the reliance of many communities on the land. Better predictive capacity means communities can prepare and plan for change.

What are the project milestones? (including beginning date and anticipated end-date)

March 2012: Scotty Creek FDP site selection (completed)
June – August 2013: Scotty Creek FDP establishment (in progress)
May 2013-September 2013: Analysis of GNWT PSP dataset with added points from the southern portions of the Taiga Plains in NE BC and NW Alberta as well as the Saskatchewan River Basin area (as part of the larger NSERC-funded Changing Cold Regions Network)
August 2013: Site selection in the Horn River Basin area
August 2014: Havikpak Creek FDP site selection
June – August 2015: Havikpak Creek FDP establishment

Ongoing data entry, analysis, manuscript preparation
Collection of complementary data whenever necessary
Regular recensuses for growth and mortality in intensive monitoring plots. On-going dissemination of findings to the NWT and scientific community.

Key deliverables and reporting: Link to needs of NWT

The proposed work will result in at multiple peer reviewed publications and presentations at international conferences

The ultimate goal of the proposed research is to develop improved regional models for predicting ecosystem change in response to warming

The proposed research will be reported to the Science Committee and appropriate GNWT agencies in the form of a manuscript/report

This work is part of two major networks (NSERC CCRN and SIGEO) and as a consequence will contribute to interdisciplinary regional analysis aimed at detection and prediction of changes.

Engagement, training and capacity building

Baltzer and/or Quinton will offer a workshop/presentation on ecosystem change across the Taiga Plains and as predictive tools come online, we will offer training

In August 2012, Baltzer will offer a 2-week intensive field course, a collaboration between Laurier and Dechinta, on climate warming, permafrost thaw and ecosystem change. This will be open to Dechinta students and will contribute to the expansion of their science offerings.

Links to WSI Plan and NWT Science Agenda

Water stewardship strategy keys to success

Collaboratively develop and implement an approach that provides for effective use of traditional, local and western scientific knowledge in water stewardship decision-making processes. 1 – With collaborative input from traditional, local and western scientific knowledge holders, develop an effective approach to inform water stewardship decisions. 2 – design effective tools to improve decision-making.

Assess the feasibility of filling identified gaps in water quality and quantity monitoring and research through use of alternative technological tools (e.g., remote sensing, aerial photography). 1- identify alternative technological tools that could be used to fill identified gaps in water quality and quantity monitoring and research. 2- Assess the potential to expand or improve current geomatics applications. 3 – determine the feasibility of using any of these tools in the NWT within current monitoring and research programs.

Develop and implement collaborative ecosystem-based research and monitoring programs. 2- develop collaborative partnerships that can enhance ecosystem-based water stewardship in the NWT.

Develop and implement collaborative research and monitoring programs for environmental stressors that can contribute to cumulative effects on NWT watersheds. 3- implement cumulative effects research and monitoring programs.

Key project tasks for next year (work plan pieces – research)

Completion of Scotty Creek Forest Dynamics Plot

Completion of analysis of GNWT PSP dataset

Site selection in the Horn River Basin and Havikpak Creek

Key project tasks for next year (work plan pieces – engagement, training and capacity building)

Baltzer and/or Quinton will offer a workshop/presentation on ecosystem change across the Taiga Plains and as predictive tools come online, we will offer training

In August 2012, Baltzer will offer a 2-week intensive field course, a collaboration between Laurier and Dechinta, on climate warming, permafrost thaw and ecosystem change. This will be open to Dechinta students and will contribute to the expansion of their science offerings.

Published Papers

Baltzer, JL, Veness, T, Chasmer, LE, Quinton, WL (2013) Forests on thawing permafrost: fragmentation, edge effects, and net forest loss. Global Change Biology, in review