Human Activities and River Health
PDF version of the worksheet.
Rivers are freshwater ecosystems. This means that they contain water with less than 0.5 parts per thousand of dissolved salt, and provide habitat for many plants and animals. These plants and animals make up river biodiversity.
The term biodiversity comes from the words biological and diversity. It means "variety of life". Biodiversity refers to all the living things (including plants, animals and micro-organisms) and their unique characteristics, in a particular place. At the largest scale, it includes all life on the planet.
Species diversity refers to the variety of species in a given area, and is the most common type of biodiversity talked about. Other levels of biodiversity include ecosystem diversity, which refers to habitats, living communities and ecological processes, and genetic diversity, which refers to the genetic characteristics within a species.
Why is river biodiversity important? Biodiversity provides us with inspiration, beauty and wonder, and it represents life that has evolved so that it is in balance with its environment. Ecosystems depend on the combined contributions and interactions of the individual organisms within them, and the loss of any species can prevent that ecosystem from operating optimally. Furthermore, an ecosystem with a high level of biodiversity is more resistant to environmental changes.
River biodiversity also provides us with food, materials and medicines, as well as recreational and economic opportunities. It also helps clean the air and filter water. A biodiverse river contributes to good water quality, which is important to farms, businesses and homes.
What can affect biodiversity in rivers? There are many factors. Species need an acceptable range of temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and mineral levels. Latitude—the distance north or south of the equator—affects temperatures, although biodiversity is affected by latitude to a much higher degree in terrestrial ecosystems than it is in freshwater ecosystems. This is because of the lesser amount of nutrients available to terrestrial species, as well as the extreme temperature changes that make higher latitudes on land a much more difficult place than water for living things to exist.
Biodiversity in rivers can also be affected by human activities that change the levels of chemical or biological components in the water. This is often the result of leaching from industrial, agricultural or urban sources, and alteration to the shoreline and river flow.
Activity 1: Types of Water Pollution
Visit the pages about water quality in the website The Nature of the Rideau River, and look for the answers to the questions below.
1.1 Name four components (chemical and biological) found in natural bodies of water.
1.2 What happens when there is too much nitrogen and phosphorus in a river?
1.3 What are two sources of increased nitrogen and phosphorus in a river that result from human activities?
1.4 How do pesticides affect aquatic plants and animals?
1.5 List four possible sources of harmful bacteria in a river.
1.6 What could cause the level of dissolved oxygen in water to become dangerously low for fish and other organisms?
1.7 Where might excessive amounts of metals found in a river come from?
Activity 2: Impacts on Rivers from Human Activities
2.1 Research a negative impact on river biodiversity resulting from a human activity, and complete a written report based on a minimum of three sources of information. The report must be two to three pages long and include:
a) an overview of the problem that you are researching
b) specific examples and data
c) a summary of the data
d) recommendations of what must be done to counteract the problem
e) a list of references.
2.2 Prepare to present your report to the rest of your class. You can use slides, photos, video, audio, posters or other teacher-approved media.
Video: The Invaders (Invasive Species)
Canadian Museum of Nature scientist André Martel talks about an example of the impact on rivers by an invasive species.
Video: The Importance of Documenting Biodiversity
Canadian Museum of Nature scientist Noel Alfonso talks about the importance of documenting river biodiversity in order to better understand environmental change.
- The Nature of the Rideau River
- Threats to Sources of Drinking Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Health in Canada
- National Water Research Institute: Canada's Leader in Freshwater Research
- GEO-5 Report: Global Environmental Outlook (United Nations Environment Programme)
- RAMP: Impacts on Boreal Forests and Biodiversity
- Guide to Eating Ontario Fish
- Rapport sur l'état de l'eau et des écosystèmes aquatiques au Québec (in French)
In order to fully access some of the content on this page, you may need to download the following: