Tracking the long-term responses of diatoms and cladocerans to climate warming and human influences across lakes of the Ring of Fire in the Far North of Ontario, Canada
The extensive peatlands and lakes of the Far North of Ontario warrant committed scientific attention given their status as a significant carbon sink. Economic interest in this region has recently increased due to the discovery of vast mineral deposits (mainly chromite and nickel) known as the "Ring of Fire". Mineral exploration and infrastructure planning are underway, but environmental monitoring is only beginning. Detailed baseline ecological information is required to assess the impacts of future resource extraction within the context of multiple environmental stressors (including recent regional climate warming). Here we use sediment cores from two relatively deep lakes (10m) and two shallow lakes (2m), all located in the vicinity of the Ring of Fire, to examine biotic responses to warming prior to the commencement of mining activities. Our data show that, over the past 150 years, diatom and cladoceran sedimentary assemblages have transitioned from dominance by littoral/benthic forms to greater abundances of planktonic cladoceran (an increase of 3 to 34) and diatom taxa (an increase of 3 to 22). Increased relative abundances of planktonic taxa are consistent with warming-induced changes in lake properties including longer ice-free periods and increased production by planktonic algae. The response of diatom assemblages in shallow lakes to warming preceded the deeper lakes by 45 to 60 years, and substantial increases in aquatic production (4 to 15 times higher than in sediments deposited prior to 1900) were observed in the shallow lakes, in agreement with previous analyses demonstrating the heightened sensitivity of shallow systems to climate warming. These data provide important information necessary to distinguish potential ecological impacts related to resource extraction from natural variation and the ongoing responses to regional climate warming.