Part 1 – Interview with Dr. Janice Gilbert, wetland ecologist

Georgian Bay Forever posed a few questions to Dr. Janice Gilbert , wetland ecologist, to get her perspective on climate change, wetlands, and biodiversity for the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay. We are grateful for her time and insight.

Question 1. How will climate change impact wetland biodiversity and how will this affect water quality?

Human-induced climate change is capable of significantly reducing biodiversity within our coastal wetlands through:

  • reduced water levels and water quality
  • increased exposure to intense storms and wave energy
  • warmer water temperatures
  • increased movement of invasive species northward

Water is what determines the presence and type of wetlands on the landscape. Water depth, clarity, temperature, chemistry, currents and flow—all have a major bearing on the ability of vegetation species to colonize, establish, and thrive.

The variety of plants present in a wetland determines the complexity of that habitat and its ability to support wildlife such as insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Diverse plant communities increase wildlife diversity by providing a larger variety of:

  • food
  • cover from the elements
  • resting structures
  • mating and brood rearing areas
  • hibernation sites
  • lifecycle requirements

The bathymetry along much of the Georgian Bay shoreline is too steep to allow existing wetlands to migrate lake-ward as water levels decline. Many wetlands will therefore shrink, become perched and isolated from the Bay, or evolve into upland habitat. Such circumstances would significantly impact the range and distribution of fish and affect freshwater mussels, turtles, aquatic insects and other wetland-dependent wildlife.

GBF Fast Facts
  • Most climatologists project more extreme lows and possibilities of short term highs due to flashier storms for Lake Huron and the Great Lakes.
  • What is bathymetry? According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association), bathymetry is "the study of the "beds" or "floors" of water bodies, including the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes"
  • Between the high of 1987 and the low of 2013, GBF, NASA, and other partners found a 10.8 per cent wetland loss in the Southern region of the Georgian Bay and a 7 per cent wetland gain in the North.