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Assessing Cumulative Effects in Georgian Bay, Ontario Using a Food Web Structure as a Metric

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Title: Assessing Cumulative Effects in Georgian Bay, Ontario Using a Food Web Structure as a Metric
Author: Salt, Rachel
Department: School of Environmental Sciences
Program: Environmental Sciences
Advisor: Rooney, NeilSibley, Paul
Abstract: Cumulative effects, often minor individually but collectively significant, are continually being grappled with by researchers, policy makers and practitioners. Despite this the Canadian approach to cumulative effects assessment is thought by many to be ineffective. In this thesis I investigate the literature that surrounds cumulative effects and uncovered three distinct themes that occur chronologically: genesis, project-based approach and integration. During the genesis phase cumulative effects nomenclature, ideas and frameworks was created. The main theme of this era was to asses these effects at a large scale and to have a strong understanding of a systems ecology prior to the assessment. This approach was found to be too complex and so a more narrow project-based approach was implemented and still remains today. This approach is heavily criticized and as such researchers are now trying to find an approach that integrates these two divergent themes into a regional level assessment. I have found there to be several frameworks but an absence of effective regional methodologies. There is a need for regional metrics if this approach is to ever be institutionally supported. Food web structure can be evaluated at multiple scales and has been shown to be responsive to environmental variation; thus, it has potential for application as a metric for cumulative effects. Here, using stable isotope analysis, I field test integrative measures of food web structure (food chain length, habitat coupling, trophic omnivory) at sites of varying degrees of anthropogenic stressors in Georgian Bay, Ontario to evaluate the use of food webs as a metric for cumulative effects assessment. I found that food web structure varied significantly among sites. Sites with high levels of stress displayed structural characteristics reflective of human activities such as shorter food chain lengths, increased trophic omnivory, and reduced habitat coupling relative to the non-stressed sites. These results indicate that food web structure as an ecosystem level metric may provide insight into anthropogenic activities, and may be applied routinely as a metric for doing Cumulative Effects Assessment.
Date: 2013-07
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