Westbrook, C. (2014). Wetlands of the Hudson Bay Lowland: An Ontario Overview.
Westbrook, C. “Wetlands of the Hudson Bay Lowland: An Ontario Overview” (2014).
Westbrook, C. Wetlands of the Hudson Bay Lowland: An Ontario Overview. 2014.
Riley’s Wetlands of the Hudson Bay Lowland: An Ontario Overview is a comprehensive catalogue of the ecological variation across one of the largest wetland complexes in the world. Undertaking a regional assessment of wetland variation that includes insight into the environmental factors regulating the variation is a formidable task, considering the remoteness, inaccessibility and harsh working conditions of the Hudson Bay Lowland. This compilation of 30 years of field data is not only essential, but timely, given that there are new resource developments (Whittington and Price 2013) and rapidly changing climate conditions (Rühland et al. 2013) in the Lowland. The book is divided into five main sections that build off of one another, which are followed by a chapter outlining a wetland classification scheme for the region, and several data archives. The “Regional Overview” chapter does an excellent job of contextualizing the major habitats, geology and climate of the Lowland. It goes further to describe the global importance of the region as a carbon store, albeit using mostly older references, and speculates on how climate warming could impact the ecological functioning of wetlands in the region. The “Regional Wetland Variability” chapter first defines the term “wetland” and then describes the history of its classification, which is important because of the changing approach to classification over the time in which the field data were collected. The chapter ends with a useful description of the six main wetland formations that occur in the region. It was thoughtful to add a tidbit on the origin of the names given to each formation, and a field key (Appendix A). The “Sampling Methods” chapter documents, with transparency, how and where field data were collected. Included was an example of the data collection sheets used, and a wonderful map (Fig. 5) that depicts the location of all wetlands visited over the 18 years of field work. Although summary data from each sampled wetland are given in Appendix C, making it an important catalogue, it would have been helpful to also include their approximate geographic location. Summary data from all sampled wetlands are presented in the “Environmental Variability” chapter. Variations in plant communities that occur across the Lowland are depicted with multivariate ordinations, and are related to environmental variables. The types of analyses presented are simple, yet effective for showing broadscale patterns. The provision of key indicator plant species for the different wetland formations should prove handy to those conducting future work in the region. The chapter was not overly technical, and is thus appropriate for an environmental assessment and land use planning audience. Researchers should also be able to use these data, as scientific names of all plant species are provided. The first four chapters culminate in one entitled “Wetland Succession,” which provides a broad-scale description of both temporal and lateral wetland succession of the Lowland. The strength of this chapter is that it offers a hypothesis of how the region is likely to evolve as it continues to grow in areal extent as it isostatically rebounds. Throughout the book, there are numerous colour photographs, which not only enhance its appeal but are critical in helping the reader visualize the complexity and remoteness of the landscape. There are, however, a few things missing from the book that would have been nice to see. For example, most of the work cited was completed more than a decade ago, despite there being a flurry of research activity in the region in the last few years. Also, I found it a bit odd that scientific names were used for plant species, but that wildlife are referred to exclusively by their common names. Overall, though, the Wetlands of the Hudson Bay Lowland: An Ontario Overview is an excellent sourcebook for anyone looking for natural resource knowledge of the Hudson Bay Lowland. It is a valuable manual that provides essential information that should be used to support sound environmental assessments and informed land use planning decisions in the North.