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Factors influencing the structure of macroinvertebrate communities in subarctic lakes affected by wildfires

Publication: Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
20 October 2020


Fires are a natural phenomenon in the boreal forest, but their frequency is expected to increase over the coming century. Fires may affect water quality and invertebrates in lakes, but there have been few studies in the northern boreal forest to describe these impacts. We collected data on water quality, macrophytes, and invertebrates from 20 lakes in the Sahtú Settlement Area of the Northwest Territories. Nine lakes were affected by fires in their catchments 4–5 years before data collection, while eleven were not. Our results showed that few water quality variables were associated with fires. However, remote sensing and field observations suggested that macrophyte biomass was higher in lakes affected by burns, and this variable was a significant predictor of invertebrate composition. Burn history was an important predictor of the richness and abundance of invertebrates, but natural variability in lake properties was more important for explaining differences among lakes. Our results suggest that a better understanding of the effects of wildfires might be gained by examining how postfire changes in macrophytes affect other trophic levels.


Si le feu est un phénomène naturel dans la forêt boréale, sa fréquence est appelée à augmenter au cours du siècle à venir. Bien que le feu puisse avoir une incidence sur la qualité de l’eau et les invertébrés dans les lacs, peu d’études dans la forêt boréale septentrionale ont décrit ces effets. Nous avons recueilli des données sur la qualité de l’eau, les macrophytes et les invertébrés de 20 lacs dans la région désignée du Sahtu des Territoires-du-Nord-Ouest. Il y avait eu des feux dans les bassins versants de neuf de ces lacs au cours de 4–5 années précédant la collecte de données, mais non dans ceux des onze autres lacs. Nos résultats démontrent que peu de variables relatives à la qualité de l’eau sont associées aux feux. La télédétection et des observations de terrain donnent toutefois à penser que la biomasse de macrophytes est plus grande dans les lacs touchés par le feu, et cette variable constitue un prédicteur significatif de la composition des invertébrés. L’historique des feux est un important prédicteur de la richesse et de l’abondance des invertébrés, mais la variabilité naturelle des propriétés des lacs est plus importante pour ce qui est d’expliquer les différences entre lacs. Nos résultats indiqueraient qu’une meilleure compréhension des effets des feux pourrait être obtenue en examinant l’incidence des changements touchant les macrophytes après un feu sur d’autres niveaux trophiques. [Traduit par la Rédaction]

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cover image Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Volume 78Number 3March 2021
Pages: 218 - 231


Received: 21 April 2020
Accepted: 13 October 2020
Published online: 20 October 2020


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Thomas J. Pretty
Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Charles-Matthew Chanyi
Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Catherine Kuhn
Department of Environmental and Forest Science, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Derek K. Gray dgray@wlu.ca
Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


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