The impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on plant species richness in the freshwater lakes of Algonquin Provincial Park

  • Adrian Helmers University of Guelph
  • Alexis Platek University of Guelph
  • Melissa Ponte University of Guelph
  • Natalie Secen University of Guelph
  • Karl Cottenie Department of Integrative Biology, College of Biological Sciences, University of Guelph


This study quantified the impact of human activity on aquatic and shoreline plant species richness. We hypothesized that human activity at the shoreline would negatively impact plant species richness and that the extent of the impact would depend on the intensity of human activity. To test this, we sampled 11 lakes in Algonquin Provincial Park, of which five permitted motorboat access, and five permitted canoe access and prohibited motorboat access. The remaining lake, which had no designated access point for boats and was only accessible to researchers, acted as a control. To assess the impact of anthropogenic disturbance at each lake, we measured plant species richness in three 10 m by 2 m plots: a first plot at the access point, assumed to be the site of highest disturbance; a second at the site of intermediate disturbance, 30 m down shore from the access point; and a third at the site of lowest disturbance, 60 m down shore from the access point. We found a significant negative relationship between the level of disturbance and plant species richness, both in the motorboat-accessible and canoe access-only lakes. The control lake exhibited no correlation between disturbance level and plant species richness. However, there was no significant difference between motorboat-accessible and canoe access-only lakes in the relationship between disturbance level and plant species richness. Overall, this study highlights the consequences of anthropogenic disturbance on freshwater aquatic and shoreline plant communities, and provides a framework for future management and rehabilitation strategies.