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We examine the role of local environmental and spatial factors in explaining variation in the composition of cladoceran assemblages from surface sediments within a set of 50 lakes spanning a broad southwest to northeast transect across the central Canadian Arctic treeline region from Yellowknife (Northwest Territories) to the northern boundary of the Thelon Game Sanctuary (Nunavut Territory). Within each lake, the cladoceran fauna was identified based on the subfossil exoskeletal remains preserved in recently deposited lake sediments. Physical and chemical limnological data were measured in August of 1996 and 1998. Spatial data were generated based on latitude and longitude using Principal Coordinates of Neighbors Matrices analysis (PCNM). The relationships between cladocerans and the measured environmental and spatial variables were examined using both unconstrained (Principal Components Analysis, PCA) and constrained (Redundancy Analysis, RDA) ordination techniques. Variance partitioning, based on partial RDAs, was used to identify the relative importance of significant environmental and spatial explanatory variables. Three environmental variables were identified as significantly influencing cladoceran community structure: surface water temperature, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and total phosphorus (TP). Five PCNM-generated spatial variables were also significant in explaining cladoceran distributions. Variance partitioning attributed 14% of the variance in the distribution of Cladocera to spatial factors, an additional 10% to spatially-structured environmental variables, and 8% to environmental factors that were not spatially-structured. Within the central Canadian Arctic treeline region, spatial and other environmental processes had an important influence on the distribution of cladoceran communities. The strong influence of spatial factors was related to the large ecoclimatic gradient across treeline. The distribution patterns of cladocerans suggest that they have potential for use in paleoenvironmental assessments of northern ecosystems, a region of considerable interest for environmental change research.
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