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Assessing the long-term hydrological services provided by wetlands under changing climate conditions: A case study approach of a Canadian watershed


The water content of wetlands represents a key driver of their hydrological services and it is highly dependent on short- and long-term weather conditions, which will change, to some extent, under evolving climate conditions. The impact on stream flows of this critical dynamic component of wetlands remains poorly studied. While hydrodynamic modelling provide a framework to describe the functioning of individual wetland, hydrological modelling offers the opportunity to assess their services at the watershed scale with respect to their type (i.e., isolated or riparian). This study uses a novel approach combining hydrological modelling and limited field monitoring, to explore the effectiveness of wetlands under changing climate conditions. To achieve this, two isolated wetlands and two riparian wetlands, located in the Becancour River watershed within the St Lawrence Lowlands (Quebec, Canada), were monitored using piezometers and stable water isotopes (δD – δ18O) between October 2013 and October 2014. For the watershed hydrology component of this study, reference (1986–2015) and future meteorological data (2041–2070) were used as inputs to the PHYSITEL/HYDROTEL modelling platform. Results obtained from in-situ data illustrate singular hydrological dynamics for each typology of wetlands (i.e., isolated and riparian) and support the hydrological modelling approach used in this study. Meanwhile, simulation results indicate that climate change could affect differently the hydrological dynamics of wetlands and associated services (e.g., storage and slow release of water), including their seasonal contribution (i.e., flood mitigation and low flow support) according to each wetland typology. The methodological framework proposed in this paper meets the requirements of a functional tool capable of anticipating hydrological changes in wetlands at both the land management scale and the watershed management scale. Accordingly, this framework represents a starting point towards the design of effective wetland conservation and/or restoration programs.