Modeling Wetland Plant Community Response to Assess Water-Level Regulation Scenarios in the Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Basin
The International Joint Commission has recently completed a five-year study (2000–2005) to review the operation of structures controlling the flows and levels of the Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River system. In addition to addressing the multitude of stakeholder interests, the regulation plan review also considers environmental sustainability and integrity of wetlands and various ecosystem components. The present paper outlines the general approach, scientific methodology and applied management considerations of studies quantifying the relationships between hydrology and wetland plant assemblages (% occurrence, surface area) in Lake Ontario and the Upper and Lower St. Lawrence River. Although similar study designs were used across the study region, different methodologies were required that were specifically adapted to suit the important regional differences between the lake and river systems, range in water-level variations, and confounding factors (geomorphic types, exposure, sediment characteristics, downstream gradient of water quality, origin of water masses in the Lower River). Performance indicators (metrics), such as total area of wetland in meadow marsh vegetation type, that link wetland response to water levels will be used to assess the effects of different regulation plans under current and future (climate change) water-supply scenarios.