Managing Cumulative Effects in the Muskoka River Watershed: Monitoring, Research and Predictive Modeling

Principal Investigator - Dr. Catherine Eimers, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Trent University, 2012 - 2014
Challenge

There are more than 2,000 lakes in the Muskoka River watershed which is in the heart of Ontario’s cottage county, and provides many ecological services, from supplying source water, regulating wastewater for numerous communities, maintaining biodiversity, and preserving natural habitats.  Additionally, this watershed offers an abundance of recreational and fishing opportunities.

Many of these essential ecological services rely on water quality, which is being degraded by a variety of stressors.  Phosphorous levels in the watershed have unexpectedly dropped, potentially lowering fish productivity and changing the phytoplankton communities on which other organisms depend.  Additionally, calcium levels have declined, potentially impairing the growth and health of many ecologically essential crustaceans.  Dissolved organic carbon and salinity have risen in many lakes and streams, with unknown impacts on nutrient availability, lake thermal properties and biodiversity.

This project addresses the needs of Muskoka River Watershed Monitoring and Management Consortium to develop best practices for a collaborative monitoring program to detect cumulative effects of multiple stressors in the watershed.  This project, led by Dr. Catherine Eimers, looks to determine the causes and implications of changes in key stressors and to develop a predictive model so the consortium can better manage the Muskoka River watershed today and in the future.

Project

To support a cumulative effects monitoring program in the Muskoka River watershed, the research team led by Dr. Eimers is conducting a series of 11 interrelated studies that are –

  • Deriving a conceptual model of multiple stressors (phosphorous, calcium, salinity and dissolved organic carbon) and of cumulative effects for the Muskoka River watershed
  • Evaluating physical, chemical and biological stressors and response indicators, and characterizing baseline conditions in the Muskoka River Watershed, the foundation of a cumulative-effects monitoring program
  • Modelling and predicting the cumulative effects of multiple stressors

In addition to generating findings to meet the Muskoka River Watershed Monitoring and Management Consortium’s research needs, this project is also providing exceptional training opportunities for eight MSc students, one PhD student and two postdoctoral fellows.

Outputs

Anticipated outputs include:

  • An expanded website, known as Muskoka WaterWeb, to disseminate the project’s findings to all stakeholders and include a summary of the project’s 11 interrelated research studies and their individual goals. Forthcoming research and monitoring results will be published as they become available.
  • A final report and presentation to summarize recommendations for the monitoring and modelling framework to the District of Muskoka
  • Development of predictive model of the cumulative effects of multiple stressors
Outcomes

Anticipated outcomes include:

  • Development of best practices for a collaborative monitoring program to detect cumulative effects of multiple stressors in the watershed
  • Improved management of the current and future effects of multiple stressors in the Muskoka River Watershed

Potential changes in practice related to the development of predictive models

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research team and partners:

Research Team

Dr. John Bailey, Ministry of Environment Research Scientist, Adjunct Professor, Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit, Laurentian University
Dr. Peter Dillon, Professor, Departments of Chemistry and Environmental and Resource Science, Trent University
Dr. Catherine Eimers (project leader), Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Trent University
Dr. Joerg Grigull, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, York University
Dr. John Gunn, Tier I Canada Research Chair in Stressed Aquatic Systems, Professor, Department of Biology Department, Laurentian University
Dr. Roland Hall, Professor, Department of Biology, University of Waterloo
Dr. April James, Tier II Canada Research Chair in Watershed Analysis and Modeling, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Nipissing University
Chris Jones, Scientist, Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Dr. Andrew Paterson, Research Scientist, Dorset Environmental Centre, Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Dr. Murray Richardson, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University
Dr. Shaun Watmough, Associate Professor, Environmental and Resource Science Program, Trent University
Dr. Jennifer Winter, Research Scientist, Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Dr. Norman Yan, Professor, Department of Biology, York University
Dr. Huaxia Yao, Research Scientist, Dorset Environmental Centre, Ontario Ministry of the Environment

Partners

District Municipality of Muskoka

RESEARCH SUMMARY

Muskoka Node Report Cover ENG