Broad-scale lake expansion and flooding inundates essential wood bison habitat
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Understanding the interaction between the response of a complex ecosystem to climate change and the protection of vulnerable wildlife species is essential for conservation efforts. In the Northwest Territories (Canada), the recent movement of the Mackenzie wood bison herd (Bison bison athabascae) out of their designated territory has been postulated as a response to the loss of essential habitat following regional lake expansion. We show that the proportion of this landscape occupied by water doubled since 1986 and the timing of lake expansion corresponds to bison movements out of the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary. Historical reconstructions using proxy data in dated sediment cores show that the scale of recent lake expansion is unmatched over at least the last several hundred years. We conclude that recent lake expansion represents a fundamental alteration of the structure and function of this ecosystem and its use by Mackenzie wood bison, in response to climate change.