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NSERC Canadian Network for Aquatic Ecosystem Services


Aquatic ecosystems are integral components of the Canadian landscape, culture, and economy. They provide valuable functions such as flood control and carbon storage, and are important centres for biodiversity. The numerous connections between terrestrial environments and aquatic systems through many small streams and rivers, are important to the fundamental productivity of our forest and aquatic ecosystems. Lakes and rivers produce fish that are important for commercial, recreational and subsistence fisheries, and are critical for transportation and hydro-electric production. Aquatic ecosystems provide important cultural and recreational activities across Canada and elsewhere in the world.

The economic value of such goods and services is both very high and critical for many aspects of the broader economy. However, due to their interconnected and flowing nature, aquatic ecosystems are highly sensitive to environmental changes that may be caused by global effects such as climate change, but also to local changes such as resource developments like mining, forestry, or even road construction. Cumulative effects from such stressors, are occurring more frequently but are poorly understood and quantified.

Increasingly the importance and associated economic value of these ecosystems are being recognized, including most recently by the United Nations General Assembly in creating the Inter-governmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES 2011). This, and related conventions and agreements, require Canada to develop detailed knowledge and policy to address issues specific to ecosystem services. Furthermore, there are plans for extensive development of remote northern areas throughout Canada (e.g. Quebec's Plan Nord, Ontario's Far North Act) for mineral, petroleum and hydroelectric resources. However we have limited knowledge about how these developments may impact these ecosystems, and how to manage these ecosystems to allow enhanced development.

Network Structure

The NSERC Canadian Network for Aquatic Ecosystem Services (CNAES) is a five-year Network funded by NSERC and various partners that began in 2012. It is a consortium of approximately 30 researchers from 11 universities, government, and industrial partners, plus many graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, that conduct research and training about aquatic ecosystems. CNAES is led by senior researchers on the Science Committee and is governed by the Board of Directors, ensuring that all stakeholders are represented and that the Network is actively moving towards achieving its research goals and objectives.

Research partner organizations include: Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, DeBeers Canada, Detour Gold, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Kongsberg Maritime, Le Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and NRCan – Canadian Forest Services.

Research Objectives

CNAES will provide the necessary collaboration from academia, industry and government to develop knowledge about, and provide training on, the relationship between these ecosystem services and stressors (e.g. development, climate change). Research will lead to the production of necessary tools to detect impacts on these systems, create appropriate restoration targets, and provide the understanding essential for policy and management development. Canada's aquatic ecosystems are tremendously varied, so CNAES takes a watershed-based approach to address understudied systems (i.e. northern wetlands), knowledge gaps associated with forest-stream and lake ecosystems, and linkages across these systems. CNAES will determine how properties of ecosystem services from these systems vary due to spatial and temporal scale in order to provide results that have general applicability, rather than being size or site specific. CNAES will develop understanding and management tools for government and industry through the study of predominant Canadian landscapes.

These objectives will be achieved under the following three research themes:

  1. Coupling the Landscape, Aquatic Ecosystems, Services and Environmental Change in Canada’s North
  2. Healthy Forests, Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems
  3. Quantitative Indicators and Metrics of Ecosystem Services, Health and Function


This work will provide government, industry, and other stakeholders with the information and approaches essential to make informed decisions regarding economic development while protecting the environment. CNAES will train the next generation of leaders in this field for both the public and private sectors.

With a focus on northern wetlands, forest-aquatic connections, and lake ecosystems within Canada, CNAES aims to:

  • Develop quantitative tools and knowledge necessary to understand these systems and their sensitivities and resilience to environmental disturbances.
  • Determine the transferability of such tools and knowledge across the diverse series of landscapes and environments within Canada
  • Develop tools and knowledge essential to inform government, industry, and other stakeholders in making informed decisions regarding development and environmental protection


Donald Jackson
Network Principal Investigator and Director
Tel: 416-978-0976
Fax: 416-978-8532

Jennifer Robinson
Network Manager
Tel: 416-946-7222
Fax: 416-978-8532

Mailing Address:
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
University of Toronto
25 Harbord Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5S 3G5

Contact us at 1-877-767-1767