To investigate the effects of multiple stressors, including climate change, on Ontario’s inland waters. To sustain the functions and services that these ecosystems provide.
History of the Dorset Environmental Science Centre
The Dorset Environmental Science Centre (DESC) is located in the heart of Ontario’s cottage-country. Found near the southern boundary of the Canadian Shield, about 200 km north of Toronto, the DESC serves as Ontario's centre of scientific expertise on inland waters. The Ministry conducts research on environmental issues impacting inland waters with many partners, academic and otherwise. Topics such as lakeshore development, acid rain, global climate change, algal blooms, and invading species are all part of the work we do.
DESC was established in the mid-1970s in response to the need for regulations on cottage development. To support this work monitoring began on a selection of lakes representing a range of human impact. This work quantified the effects of lakeshore development on inland lakes. Through this watershed level monitoring program, DESC also became aware of the importance of long-range atmospheric transport of acid emissions. As a result, DESC monitoring and research contributed to the development of regulations for reducing sulphur emissions across North America.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, research at DESC evolved to focus on multiple and interacting environmental stressors. This approach has enabled DESC to improve our understanding of lake responses to human activities. Water quality and ecology of Ontario’s inland waters reflect watershed geology and vegetation, but human settlement, land-use, climate, non-native species, and chemical pollutants change these influences. Ongoing research on these interacting stressors has uncovered many surprises. For example, calcium concentrations in Shield lakes are decreasing. Decades of acid rain, coupled with logging, have depleted watershed stores of calcium. Laboratory studies at DESC have shown that calcium loss is an essential stressor for many aquatic species. Especially when combined with lower food availability and warmer temperatures that are predicted in future climate change scenarios. Phosphorus, an important nutrient in lakes, is also decreasing. Less phosphorus means a decrease in algal production. But, surprisingly, a reduction in phosphorus has also been observed to increase the frequency of short-term population explosions (i.e., algal blooms).
Over the years, the lakes and streams that DESC monitors have changed substantially. Periods of relative stability have often been punctuated by rapid and dramatic shifts. Significant biological changes have been observed in most lakes, and many of these changes are linked to climate. For example, some types of algae have increased over the years, and changes in shallow-water invertebrate communities have also been observed. Multi-lake patterns suggest that larger factors, such as climate, are affecting the biota of Ontario’s inland lakes. We aim to detect issues early before damage is irreversible and to use this new knowledge to inform scientifically sound policies that protect our inland waters.