With its variety of landforms and lush vegetation, the Peace-Athabasca Delta supports a rich diversity of animal species. 214 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, and 20 fish species are known to inhabit the delta during some part of their lifecycle.
Herbivores (plant eaters) thrive within the productive habitats of the delta. These include semi-aquatic animals such as beavers and muskrats, and terrestrial animals such as hare, moose, and wood bison.
The delta’s lakes and channels are important to beaver and muskrat, while grass and sedge meadows provide habitat and food for moose and wood bison. Species such as marten, lynx, bear, and squirrel are common in the more mature forested areas of the delta.
Herbivores are preyed upon for food by predators such as wolves, bears, coyotes, lynx, mink, otters, weasels, and foxes. The grazing activities of herbivores play an important role in maintaining the vegetative diversity of the delta. For example, grazing of meadow grasses by bison helps maintain open prairies, preventing shrubs such as willows from moving in.
Birds and Waterfowl
With 214 species of birds, the Peace-Athabasca Delta is a birdwatcher’s delight.
The marshes, lakes and mudflats of the delta provide critical breeding, moulting and staging habitat for waterfowl. Up to a million ducks, geese and swans, from all four North American flyways, pass through the delta in the spring and fall.
Among these are tundra swans, snow geese, white-fronted geese, Canada geese, Ross’ goose, and a variety of ducks and shorebirds. Many of the birds use the delta for resting and feeding during their migration, while others stay the summer to nest and molt. The majority of breeding ducks in the delta are diving ducks, with mallards as the dominant species. The delta is of particular importance to breeding ducks in years of prairie drought.
In 1982, the Peace-Athabasca Delta was recognized by the Convention on the Conservation of Wetlands of International Importance (also known as the Ramsar Convention) as an internationally significant site for waterfowl habitat (Ramsar site).
The shallow waters of the delta provide important spawning, nursery, and overwintering habitats for fish from the Peace and Athabasca rivers as well as Lake Athabasca. More than 20 fish species have been documented, with many of the species migrating extensively in and out of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, as well as within.
Fish species found in the delta include: arctic grayling, goldeye, northern pike, lake whitefish, burbot, trout-perch, yellow perch, walleye, lake chub, lake trout, flathead minnow, longnose dace, flathead chub, longnose sucker, and shortjaw cisco.
The delta is perhaps of highest ecological importance to lake whitefish, walleye, and goldeye, as it provides critical habitat for their spawning and reproduction, as well as overwintering.
Benthic invertebrates are aquatic animals without backbones that live on or in the bottom sediments of rivers, lakes and ponds. Examples include crayfish, clams, mayflies and a wide variety of worms.
Benthic invertebrates are a key component of the aquatic food web and serve as prey for numerous fish species and water birds. Because they are quite sedentary, benthic populations are often a key component for monitoring the health of aquatic ecosystems.