Previously, there has been a lack of focus on the freshwater lakes and rivers within the Chic-Choc Mountain range, situated on the Gaspésie Peninsula in southeastern Quebec. With this information gap, it becomes challenging to predict the effects of future climate change on the ecosystems in the area. Luckily, Catherine Lambert and Louise Chaverie have been leading a new project to investigate all life forms in these lakes and rivers, everything from microplankton to various fish species, and to understand seasonal variations. Fieldwork is being done in all seasons, including in the winter, which is not a common trade in Canada due to the challenging conditions. Research on fish ecology in lakes during winter is heavily underrepresented, yet it remains crucial to comprehensively understand the overall ecosystems (Chavarie, 2024).
Researchers and indigenous people collaboration
One crucial aspect of the project has been the emphasis on collaboration and information exchange between the Mi’gmaq, the local community members, and researchers. This fosters the opportunity for a cohesive team of researchers and locals to work together toward the shared objective of protecting the essential freshwater ecosystems in the Chic-Choc Mountains.
Habitat use of Brook Trout among the four seasons
The project involves Leah Strople‘s thesis, in which she examines the ecosystem dynamics across seasons and years in six different lakes. The objective is to explore variations and consistencies in fish assemblages within these lake ecosystems. The most recent fieldwork concentrated on studying the habitat utilization of Brook Trout, investigating how this species utilizes habitats across seasons and its correlation with the available zooplankton in one of the lakes in the Chic-Choc Mountains.
Thelma Biotel temperature and depth sensor transmitters used to investigate Brook Trout
To study the behaviour of Brook Trout, 20 individuals were tagged with transmitters equipped with temperature and depth sensors. Additionally, a network of receivers was installed in the lake to precisely track the movement patterns of the Brook Trout. As a vital collaborator to the project, the Ocean Tracking Network supplied the receivers.
During the winter season, the use of acoustic telemetry equipment in lakes can be subject to several challenges. Solutions such as deploying receivers with release functions and underwater buoys can be helpful. The need for more research in the winter field of acoustic telemetry is evident, especially considering the vital findings of animal behaviour in frozen lake studies thus far (Chavarie, 2024).
We eagerly anticipate the results from the fieldwork conducted in the magnificent and vast Chic-Choc Mountains!
Unexpected differences across the lakes
The preliminary results from the data collected from various lakes reveal significant variability from one lake to another. This variability encompasses factors such as the size of Arctic charr and water coloration, indicating distinct nutrient systems among the lakes. Additionally, the results show a significant difference between the lake ecosystems from season to season. This highlights the importance of conducting winter fieldwork, which may yield novel insights into the aquatic environments of the Chic-Choc Mountains.
With climate change affecting the world and its ecosystems, it is crucial to establish baseline information to observe and potentially mitigate its impacts. Effects such as species reaching the limits of their distribution may vanish from ecosystems as temperatures change. The long-term monitoring program implemented by the team of dedicated scientists and the local community is essential for the management and conservation of the aquatic ecosystems in the Chic-Choc Mountains for the future.
Thelma Biotel is pleased that acoustic telemetry technology is a part of this incredible initiative for a growing body of knowledge. We are excited to see what results are to come from this project over the next years!
To hear more about the project, have a listen to the podcast episode “New Canadian mountain podcast episode: understanding aquatic ecosystems in the chic-choc mountains”
Chavarie, L. et al. (2024). Unpublished manuscript.