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Wetland assessment in Alberta's oil sands mining area Open Access


Other title
oil sands mining
landscape composition
submersed aquatic vegetation
index of biological integrity
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Rooney, Rebecca
Supervisor and department
Bayley, Suzanne (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Foote, Lee (Renewable Resources)
Naeth, Anne (Renewable Resources)
Chow-Fraser, Patricia (Dept. of Biology, McMaster University)
Vinebrook, Rolf (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Oil sands mining in Alberta will destroy tens of thousands of hectares of boreal habitat. This land will need to be reclaimed. Current closure plans call for the construction of shallow open water wetlands to cover about 10-30% of the reclaimed landscape. Already, several trial wetlands have been constructed by mine operators, but no large-scale wetland creation has been attempted. For wetland reclamation to be successful, clear targets and tools for wetland monitoring and assessment are needed. I characterized the local- and landscape-level environmental conditions and aquatic plant communities in naturally occurring, undisturbed shallow open water wetlands to serve as a reference for comparison with reclaimed wetlands. I developed two related tools to evaluate wetland condition; one focusing on levels of abiotic stress, another on biological integrity. Using these tools, I conclude that current constructed wetlands differ from reference sites in terms of aquatic plant community structure, nutrient levels, and exposure to contaminants like naphthenic acids. Using multivariate analyses, I identified seven distinct biotic assemblages, two of which might serve as targets for future reclamation. I modelled the relationship between local- and landscape-level variables and aquatic plant diversity to test hypotheses about the relative importance of relationships between environmental variables and species richness. I conclude that diversity is more strongly related to local variables than surrounding land use, but that land use does play a role, albeit one that changes with the spatial scale considered. My results can inform reclamation practices by setting clear goals for future projects and by providing tools to measure progress towards them.
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. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. 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.
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