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The changing water cycle: the Boreal Plains ecozone of Western Canada

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The Boreal Plains Ecozone (BPE) in Western Canada is expected to be an area of maximum ecological sensitivity in the 21st century. Successful climate adaptation and sustainable forest management require a better understanding of the interactions between hydrology, climate, and vegetation. This paper provides a perspective on the changing water cycle in the BPE from an interdisciplinary team of researchers, seeking to identify the critical knowledge gaps. Our review suggests the BPE will likely become drier and undergo more frequent disturbance and shifts in vegetation. The forest will contract to the north, though the southern boundary of the ecotone will remain in place. We expect detrimental impacts on carbon sequestration, water quality, wildlife, and water supplies. Ecosystem interactions are complex, and many processes are affected differently by warming and drying, thus the degree and direction of change is often uncertain. However, in the short term at least, human activities are the dominant source of change and are unpredictable but likely decisive. Current climate, hydrological, and ecological monitoring in the BPE are limited and inadequate to understand and predict the complex responses of the BPE to human activities and climate change. This paper provides a case study of how hydrological processes critically determine ecosystem functioning, and how our ability to predict system response is limited by our ability to predict changing hydrology. WIREs Water 2015, 2:505–521. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1098 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
The Canadian Boreal Plains Ecozone, as delineated by the National Ecological Framework for Canada. Sites where significant field research has been conducted are indicated by the * (BERMS Flux Towers) symbol. Orange shaded area indicates Forest‐Grassland Ecotone.
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The dominant controls of hydrological and ecological change in the BPE.
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A conceptual diagram of the hydrological regime in the BPE.
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Inter‐annual variability in the vertical water balance at the BERMS study sites in central Saskatchewan, for October to September hydrologic years between 1999 and 2011. P represents precipitation, E represents evapotranspiration (with an objective energy‐closure adjustment of +18%), ΔS represents soil‐water storage change, and R is the inferred lateral outflow, calculated as P − E*‐ΔS. The x‐axis labels are vegetation type: A = aspen, S = black spruce, P = jack pine, H = harvested (juvenile jack pine), F = fen, and B = basin (gauged streamflow). The box plots indicate the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles.
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Two main upland soil types of the BPE with their typical parent material association and canopy cover (http://www.soilsofcanada.ca/).
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Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems
Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change

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