Our project investigates the drivers and dynamics of regime shifts in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region through examining interlinkages between beaver population change, changes in lakes and streams and fish population and the outcomes for Inuvialuit communities and their wellbeing. Species distribution change is occurring globally due to changing climate and changing human activities. Changes in the distribution and density of key species such as ecosystem engineers can reduce ecosystem resilience and create a fundamental restructuring of ecosystems, known as regime shifts; these impact ecosystems, ecosystem services, local livelihoods and wellbeing.
Within Inuit Nunangat, beavers are transforming ecosystems and impacting wellbeing. Recent observations include rivers running dry and changes in hydrologies impacting fish, dams creating barriers to accessing land and water and changes to on-land vegetation. Inuvialuit organisations have stressed that this is an urgent issue requiring action. We will bring together a diverse multidisciplinary team of experts to coproduce field, remote sensing and interview research that both addresses fundamental questions and provides important information to support decision-making and stewardship in Inuit Nunangat in the face of environmental and social change. To advance theoretical scientific understanding of regime changes, we will examine the role of species population dynamics on regime shifts. Specifically, we will test whether past dynamics of beaver colonies impacts the transitions to new ecosystem states and investigate what specific ecosystem changes are generated by beaver occurrence and permanent and transient beaver colonies. This will also advance system-specific knowledge of the changes occurring in beaver populations, lakes and streams and fish in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and their impacts on communities and wellbeing. Our research is focussed on responding to urgent priorities from Hunters and Trappers organisations, the Fisheries Joint Management Committee and Inuvialuit Game Council including assessing current beaver distribution, the magnitude of recent change and impacts on fish, communities and wellbeing. We will also support the long-term needs of communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and beyond by co-creating tools and infrastructure to support Inuit-led research such as beaver and fish monitoring toolkits which incorporate and value traditional knowledge in research and app infrastructure to support ongoing data collection. Our collaboration is led by Philip Marsh (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Helen Wheeler (Anglia Ruskin University, UK) and Herb Nakimayak (Inuvialuit Fisheries Joint Management Committee). We bring together expertise in wildlife ecology, hydrology, permafrost, biogeochemistry, aquatic ecosystems, fish biology and communities and wellbeing to address this timely issue. Our group include several researchers with long-term research within the Inuvialuit region, those with connections to international coordination of research on beavers in the Arctic and circumpolar freshwater monitoring and many with existing community-based monitoring programs that represent a coproduction between Indigenous organisations and communities and scientists. Our proposal has been coproduced from the outset with extensive consultation across Inuvialuit Joint Secretariat organisations. It is designed to sustain this close coproduction working with community researchers with consultation throughout and key dissemination products targeted to meet community needs for both more immediate decision-making and to facilitate ongoing Inuvialuit-led research.