Earliest evidence of humans affecting aquatic ecology in Canada, United States

(Kingston, ON) New findings from Canadian scientists dispel the belief that European settlers were the first humans to cause major changes to Canadian and U.S. freshwater ecosystems.

A University of Toronto-led, multidisciplinary team including researchers from Queen's, McGill, and University of Ottawa show for the first time that prehistoric Inuit whalers dramatically altered high Arctic pond ecosystems through their hunting practices eight centuries ago a legacy that is still evident today.

The principal investigator on the team, U of T Geology Professor Marianne Douglas, is currently in Antarctica using the same kind of detection techniques to study climate change there.

"Our findings are an example of a long-term human intervention in a place where you really don't expect it," says Queen's Biology Professor John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and co-head of the university's Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL). "It seems totally ironic since we tend to think of the high Arctic as being unaffected by humans locally."

Results of the study will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on-line early edition the week of Jan 26.

The researchers conducted their study on Somerset Island in the Canadian Arctic, where prehistoric Thule whalers (ancestors of the present day Inuit) had the highest concentration of settlement between 400 and 800 years ago. They brought with them a well-developed whaling technology that included large open skin boats, whaling harpoons and lances, and seal skin floats. A semi-nomadic people, the Thule settled in temporary camps each summer, and in the winter returned to semi-permanent villages constructed partially from whalebone.

According to James Savelle, the McGill University archeologist on the research team, while the number of bowheads killed each year would have varied, during the more productive whaling

Contact: Nancy Dorrance
Queen's University

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