Introducing Karen Dunmall – PhD level Larkin award winner 2015

Dunmall_March 2014_smlI am a PhD candidate at the University of Manitoba and I work in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. My research is on Pacific salmon in the Canadian Arctic. Although there is a long history of chum salmon harvest in subsistence fisheries along the Mackenzie River and its major tributaries, changes are occurring. Salmon are being harvested in a wider distribution in the Canadian Arctic, abundances appear to be increasing and the types of salmon being harvested are also changing. I combine community-based monitoring with innovative laboratory and field-based science to translate these observed anomalies in harvests into research that develops our understanding of how species and ecosystems are adapting to change, allows predictions regarding future responses, and contributes towards proactive management strategies.

The integration of local knowledge and community participation with science is critical in addressing ecologically-important questions regarding environmental change in the Arctic. I have developed community-based monitoring into a viable research tool for documenting baseline information and monitoring environmental change with broad applications in the vast and remote Canadian Arctic. Salmon are provided voluntarily from fisheries throughout the Canadian Arctic in a monitoring effort that is hinged on effective communication and reporting through multiple means including social media (

My specific research objectives relate to using these potentially colonizing salmon as indicators of ecosystem-level changes due to climate warming. I have developed international collaborations and am currently conducting genetic analyses using these salmon to identify potential historic and contemporary colonization pathways to the Arctic. I also complete winter fieldwork to identify potentially thermally suitable novel watersheds for colonizing Chum and Pink salmon.  By monitoring perennial groundwater springs in known char spawning sites and relating that to species-specific thermal requirements, I have developed a method to broadly predict watersheds vulnerable to colonizations by vagrant salmon and to assess the fine-scale risk of competition with native fish species.

The significance of this research is in its integration of local knowledge and community participation to tangibly address ecologically-important questions regarding environmental change in the Arctic. The resulting information will help scientists, managers and community members identify proactive management approaches and describe potential ecosystem-level implications regarding biodiversity shifts in dynamic Arctic ecosystems.