Assessing watershed integrity across the North Saskatchewan River Basin

Collaborators: Rolf Vinebrooke, Craig Emmerton, Mina Nasr, Faye Wyatt, Cristina Buendia, Stephanie Green, Maya Bhatia, Mark Poesch, Shelby Stenerson, Blake Stuparyk, Jillian Lightbown, Victoria Van Mierlo

This study is aimed to assess overall condition (i.e., integrity) of 231 watersheds across the North Saskatchewan River Basin using a paired geospatial modeling and field monitoring approach. We are testing statistical relationships between geospatial variables (63 anthropogenic and natural variables) and several indicators of aquatic ecosystem health (AEH) derived from field-based data i.e., water quality, river flow, and biological communities (bacteria, periphyton, benthic invertebrates and fish). The findings will enable us to identify the most important geospatial variables to be included in estimating a metric of watershed integrality and assign weights based on their relative importance. Besides identifying priority watersheds to focus management and conservation planning, our study evaluates strengths and weaknesses of multi-taxon bioassessments and appropriateness of indicator metrics based on taxonomic versus functional diversity of biological communities to better characterize AEH.