Relationships between water quality, species composition, biodiversity and ecosystem function in lakes and flooded pits exposed to uranium mining activities in Northern Saskatechewan
Uranium mining activities have the potential to impact aquatic systems through mine drainage (runoff) and the release of treated effluent into nearby watersheds. Such anthropogenic exposure can lead to elevated concentrations of metals and major ions, which may impact aquatic biota. Previous studies have looked at the effects of water quality on aquatic biota within flooded pit lakes and natural lakes that have been exposed to various mechanisms of mining exposure. However, the literature often only examines the effects of a limited number of contaminants on a limited number of species. Researchers have rarely looked at the effects of multiple contaminants on species composition, biodiversity and ecosystem function in aquatic systems. This study uses a multivariate approach to look for relationships between water quality (24 variables), plankton species composition and abundance, biodiversity (richness and evenness) and ecosystem function among lakes exposed to mining activities (n = 18) and non-exposed reference lakes (n = 8). Lake water quality data was used to cluster lakes into groups. Lake groups were then overlain onto multivariate ordinations derived from species composition-abundance data to determine if species composition was related to water quality. Ecosystem function variables included planktonic phosphorus cycling and planktonic respiration. The classified lake groups clustered well on ordinations derived from species composition-abundance data suggesting that relationships exist between water quality and plankton species composition. However, ecosystem function was similar among the majority of lakes and flooded pits despite differences in species richness, species composition and species abundance. Only a small number of aquatic systems had ecosystem function properties that were different from the majority of lakes and pits. These systems had the greatest concentrations of contaminants and had very low biodiversity (richness and evenness) compared to the other systems. Despite having differences in plankton species composition and species richness, all lake groups were functionally similar. This suggests that functional redundancy in species composition may be present in the majority of lakes and pits in such a way that ecosystem function is maintained.
Flooded Pits Lakes, Lakes, Plankton, Water Quality, Biodiversity, Ecosystem Function, Uranium Mining
Master of Science (M.Sc.)