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Spatial Variability in Disturbed Boreal Ecosystems: Aboveground and Belowground Controls Open Access


Other title
Soil enzyme
Spatial variability
Oil sands reclamation
Nutrient availability
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Das Gupta, Sanatan
Supervisor and department
MacKenzie, Derek (Renewable Resources)
Quideau, Sylvie (Renewable Resources)
Examining committee member and department
Smithwick, Erica (Department of Geography, Penn State University, US)
Dyck, Miles (Renewable Resources)
He, Fangliang (Renewable Resources)
Department of Renewable Resources
Soil Science
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The recent open pit mining for oil sands in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR), northern Alberta has created an unprecedented industrial scale disturbance whose ecological consequences is not well understood, and requires intensive investigation. This study focused on the temporal dynamics of spatial variability in aboveground (canopy cover, understory vegetation cover and forest floor) and belowground (soil nutrient availability, microbial biomass, respiration and enzyme activities) processes in wildfire disturbed upland boreal forests to create a benchmark condition for measuring reclamation success. The wildfire chronosequence used for the spatial study contained three trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) stands; a one-year old post fire stand (PF), a 9 year old stand at canopy closure (CC) and a 72 year old mature (MA) stand. The PF stand had the highest total inorganic N, P and K availability compared to the CC and MA stands. Most of the above and belowground properties, including macronutrients, in the PF stand either had a large scale spatial pattern or did not show any spatial structure, whereas the CC and MA stands had a spatial range equal to or less than 10 m. The PF stand also showed the weakest spatial coupling between aboveground and belowground properties. The aboveground and belowground properties in the CC stand appear to be more similar to the MA stand. This indicates that natural recovery probably happen much faster rate than what is reported in the literature. The current research also quantified the spatial variability of soil respiration (Rs) in the same fire chronosequence over two growing seasons. No spatial structure was detected in Rs of the PF stand during the peak growing season (June-July), whereas Rs was auto-correlated at a scale of < 6 m in the CC and MA stands, which confirms the disturbance legacies in spatial patterns found in the nutrient study. Finally, the research investigated whether spatial patterns in biogeochemical properties were developed in a 14-year old aspen stand reclaimed after oil sands extraction. A fine scale (< 10 m) spatial pattern was found in the majority of above and belowground properties. However, soil chemical properties showed large scale spatial auto-correlation indicating persistence of disturbance effect. A strong soil microbial influence on the availability of macronutrients was found when compared to stand characteristics. The weak spatial coupling between nutrient availability and aboveground properties even after a decade of reclamation suggests that the ecosystem recovery rate in the reclaimed area is slower than in wildfire disturbed areas, and might require further time to develop. This research highlights the importance of spatial heterogeneity as a tool for measuring ecosystem recovery after disturbance and data on natural benchmark function to quantify reclamation success in oil sands mine disturbed areas.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Das Gupta, S., MacKenzie, M.D. and Quideau, S. A. 2015. Using Spatial Ecology to Examine Above and Belowground Interactions on a Reclaimed Aspen Stand in Northern Alberta. Geoderma 259-260: 12-22.

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