Project – 8 – Climate Change Impacts on Waterfowl Habitat in Western Canada

  • Location: University of Victoria
  • Research Team: Dr G. Cornelis van Kooten, Dr. Barrie Bonsal, and Dr. Terry Prowse
  • Duration: October 2009 – March 2011

Brief Project Description/Overview:
Climate change is expected to increase drought in Canada’s grain belt, with projections suggesting that the 21st Century will be substantially drier than the previous one. A major casualty will be North America’s duck factory – the pothole region of the southern Prairie
Provinces. A drier climate will reduce the number of wetlands, which will have an adverse impact on agricultural ecosystems and the region’s ability to produce waterfowl, as is clearly demonstrated by the high correlation between wetlands and breeding duck populations (figure).

Wetland ecosystems are important not only for producing waterfowl, but also for the ecosystem services they provide. The latter include filtration of agricultural and other pollutants (thereby improving quality of ground and even some surface waters), water for livestock and wildlife, visual and recreational amenities, greenhouse gas storage, and so on. Wetlands are also impacted by policies that seek to mitigate climate change, particularly policies related to the enhanced production of biofuels.

Objectives: The research objectives are: (1) to investigate the possible effect that projected future drought will have on the distribution of wetlands in the southern prairies, and the potential for the ‘duck factory’ to shift northwards; (2) to examine the impact that climate mitigation policies (particularly efforts to increase cropland used for biofuels) will have on wetlands; (3) to determine the socially optimal level of wetlands to protect, keeping in mind the amenity values provided by wetlands and their value in storing methane (e.g.); and (4) to suggest possible policies that help achieve optimal retention of wetlands in the face of drought and economic incentives (e.g., biofuels subsidies) to drain wetlands and covert them to agricultural production.