BIOL 312.3 Northern Ecosystems

polar bears

Winter 2008






Biol 312.3, Northern Ecosystems - Course Outline for 2008

Time: MWF 8:30-9:30

Location: Room 123, Biology Building

Instructor:  Dr. François Messier, Professor, Department of Biology

 Contact: phone 966-4400 (Room 152 Biology Building)

      phone 966-5031 (Room 150 Biology Building)



*06-Feb-2008 Short Answer Test 1

*12-Mar-2008 Short Answer Test 2

*09-Apr-2008 Research Paper Due


The primary aim of this course is to provide students with a more in-depth exploration of topics introduced in NRTH 101.3 and NRTH 311.3/Geog 351.3.  As in those courses, this course details the science underlying key issues involving interactions between people and their environment.


Upon successful completion of Life in the North, students will have:


¨       A more detailed ecological and biological knowledge of the general concepts underlying natural resources.

¨       An appreciation of how scientific studies contribute to the understanding of resource management, ecosystem functioning, and biohazards.

¨       Insight into the complexity of environmental and human systems, and the effects of change on northern ecosystems.

¨       An interdisciplinary understanding of relationships between cultures of the north, stewardship values and scientific knowledge.



This course has been designed for in class delivery. It consists of twelve interconnected modules.  The course has been designed to offer equivalency with Circumpolar Studies (BCS) 312: Land and Environment II designed for web based delivery.



-  Comprehensive final exam. (40% of final mark, during the final exam period, 3 hours)

-  Short-answer tests designed to aid the student in remaining current with material as it is introduced into the course. (2 x 20% of final mark; during regular lecture hours, 06-Feb-2008 and 12-Mar-2008, 50 minutes each)

-  Research paper (topics proposed by students but vetted by the instructor) on a specific problem or issue so that the student may acquire in-depth understanding of material introduced in the course. (20% of final mark). The research paper will be due 09-Apr-2008; late submissions will be subject to a penalty of 10% for each week past the due date.

- The final exam, the two short-answer tests, and the research paper are part of the “required course work” for Biol 312.

Research Paper Overview

Bibliography -- Potential references for your term paper



Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna: Status and Conservation. 2001. Helsinki: Edita (ISBN 9979-9476-5-9.  Free on-line textbook at the following web site:

If the above webpage does not work, try:


A student missing an examination must contact the instructor, in person or by email, within 3 working days of the scheduled exam, in order to present the necessary documentation explaining the student’s absence at the exam, and to initiate discussion concerning a possible deferred exam.  Otherwise, a grade of zero will be assigned for the missed exam.

 Students enrolled in this course must follow the University’s Guidelines for Academic Honesty (




Module 1: Frameworks for Analysis of Land and Environment in the Arctic

The application of scientific knowledge is essential in order to improve our understandings of northern and arctic environments.  Science draws on the accumulated knowledge over generations, and constantly synthesizes new information in order to explain land and environment relations in the circumpolar North. How do environmental factors affect habitat? What role do humans play in sustaining Arctic ecosystems? How is human health linked to environmental changes in the Arctic?

Module 2: Biocomplexity in the North

Life on Earth is supported by the natural cycling of chemical and biochemical elements. The availability and interaction of these elements on multiple scales has both direct and indirect influences on individual organisms and environmental systems. Living systems also depend on energy flow.

Understanding the sources, sinks, transformations, and feedbacks of these essential elements and energy is a critical step in determining their behaviour under specific environmental conditions. The consequences of human perturbations on essential nutrient cycles in soils, sediments, and other systems must also be recognized.

Module 3: Fisheries

This module outlines the history of fishing in northern Canada from prehistoric to modern times. There are detailed descriptions of harvesting methods including netting, spearing, ice fishing, and others. Fish is an excellent food and provides many nutrients that are identified and described. How fish are transformed into food and how they are stabilized against degradation through freezing or canning is described. There are many rules and regulations by which harvesters and processors must abide. Discussions of these, as well as of sustainable harvesting and the effective monitoring of fish stocks, are also included.

Module 4: Marine Mammals

This module evaluates declining marine mammal populations in northern Canada and the causes of such declines, as well as the science involved in counting and protecting these mammals. The module also evaluates the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Students will identify some of the political, economic, and legal implications of the decline and the subsequent reactions.

Module 5: Natural Resources

This module examines the mineral resources of Earth’s crust and identifies some metal elements that are extracted from ores. It also evaluates various alternative sources of energy, describes the origin and chemistry of the fossil fuels, and describes the environmental impacts of resource use.

Module 6: Water Supply and Waste Treatment in the Arctic

This module discusses water and waste water management options for Arctic communities. The module begins with a discussion of the relationship between clean water and disease in Arctic communities. An overview of how water is collected and treated for human consumption in the Arctic is then presented. Finally, methods for waste water treatment and disposal are discussed.

Module 7: Observations, Sustainability, and the Impacts of Change

This module evaluates international efforts to address environmental problems in the Arctic and the concept of stewardship. Furthermore, it examines scientific methods and uncertainty; reviews risk assessment; and identifies environmental threats, including pollution, climate change, and contaminants in the Arctic, and their effects on human and wildlife populations.

Module 8: Food safety, Subsistence Webs, and Nutrition

In this module, the structure and properties of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are identified; and the dietary needs for carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins are outlined. The laws of energy, caloric intake, and energy storage are examined. The presence of food additives and contaminants in the wild and in traditional foods, as well as their effect on nutrition and health, are considered.

Module 9: Diet and Community Health of Circumpolar Peoples

The aim of this module is to promote an understanding of a possible link between changing traditional diets and community health that may have substantial consequences for circumpolar peoples. The people living in Arctic and Subarctic environments have adapted to cold temperatures, short growing seasons, and low precipitation, but their traditional ways are now changing because of increased contact with Western society. The rapid alteration of circumpolar cultures has led to generational changes in diet from traditional foods to the processed groceries common in modern stores. This module examines the possible consequences of diet changes.

Module 10: Food Traditions and Food Systems in northern Canada

The study of regional food traditions and food systems is one way to understand individual and community identity and community health. In part, food system studies strive to identify and understand nutritional, physiological, and cultural dimensions of what people eat at home and in celebration, how and when food is prepared, and how food is shared among family and friends.

This module examines food systems and subsistence in northern Canada, the changes they have faced in the past 30 years, and the effects of these changes for wildlife and indigenous peoples.

Module 11: Radioecology and Environmental Stewardship

This module briefly examines the science of nuclear chemistry and radioactivity, the effect on health of radiation, and the need for effective stewardship and containment of radioactive waste. The module further investigates the implications of old mine sites and human developments in northern environments, and the associated biohazards.

 Module 12: Cancer and Biomarkers of Health

This module provides a brief background on cancer and its relation to environmental factors, including pollutants and the use of biomarkers in determining environmental carcinogens. The module also offers case studies, in the Arctic and around the world, to help explain incidences and complex ecological processes with implications to human health risks.


Module 1
Module 2
Module 3
Polar Bear Spatial Structure Lecture
Arctic Vegetation  
Note: some pictures removed to reduce file size
Module 4
Module 5
Module 6
Module 7
Module 8
Module 9
Polar Bears and Pollution
Module 11
Module 12

Precautionary Principle
Thar She Blows: History of Whaling
Athabasca Oil Sands
 Box 7.1: Example of Stewardship
Improving Regional Governance
Ferguson et al. article (not required reading)