Marsh reclamation in the oil sands of Alberta: providing benchmarks and models of vegetation development Open Access
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University of Alberta
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Department of Renewable Resources
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Doctor of Philosophy
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A key objective of the Alberta oil sands industry is to reclaim the post-mined landscape to “equivalent land capability” (Harris 2007). Vitt and Bhatti (2012) proposed a restoration framework for boreal disturbances. They suggested that to increase chances of achieving ecosystem equivalency and sustainability, created sites must have 1) species composition similar to natural reference sites, 2) species performance based on natural benchmarks, and 3) ecological processes similar to reference sites.
To provide reclamation benchmarks to which created marshes of the Fort McMurray region can be compared and reclamation practices adjusted, my work follows the rationale developed by Vitt and Bhatti (2012). In Chapter One, I provided an introduction to the major paradigms of community ecology. In Chapter Two, I identified, described and compared environmental and plant assemblage patterns present in different types of created and natural marshes. In Chapter Three, I examined the degree to which the addition of peat-mineral mix (PM) to different types of oil sands process materials (OSPM) affects C. aquatilis performance. I also tested the effects of oil sands process water (OSPW) on C. aquatilis performance. In Chapter Four, I defined and compared natural and created marsh zone area variation over time and identified abiotic factors that influence the patterns observed.
My results revealed that created and natural marshes were characterised by distinct environmental conditions and that the vegetation composition of some created sites was dissimilar to natural reference sites. The addition of PM to OSPM significantly increases C. aquatilis survival, below and aboveground biomass. The use of OSPW significantly reduced C. aquatilis belowground biomass and affected its physiological performance. Amending created marshes with PM may enhance plant performance but its effect at the community level remains to be tested. Unlike natural marshes the total areas of created marshes were dominated by stable submersed aquatic vegetation zone (SAVZ) in all years. Mean maximum temperature and annual total snow were identified as the simplest ways to predict SAVZ area within natural marshes for a given year. The ratio of marsh area to volume described SAVZ area variation and provided prescriptive guidance for construction of reclaimed marshes.
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- Citation for previous publication
Roy, M.C., P.O. Mollard, and L.A. Foote. 2014. Do peat amendments to oil sands wet sediments affect Carex aquatilis biomass for reclamation success? Environmental Management. 139: 154-163.
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