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Influence of Amendments and Soil Depth on Available Nutrients and Microbial Dynamics in Contrasting Topsoil Materials Used for Oil Sands Reclamation Open Access


Other title
Nutrient availability
Oil Sands
Peat Mineral Mix
Soil microbial ecology
Forest Floor Mix
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Howell, Daniel Mark
Supervisor and department
MacKenzie, M. Derek (Renewable Resources)
Examining committee member and department
Quideau, Sylvie (Renewable Resources)
Pinno, Bradley (Canadian Forest Service)
Department of Renewable Resources
Soil Science
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
As of December 2013, the cumulative area disturbed by oil sands mining in NE Alberta was 896 km2 out of an estimated final footprint of 4,800 km2 – all of which will require reclamation. Expensive handling costs and scarce soil resources necessitate judicious management and application of salvaged topsoils and soil amendments such that the post-mining landscape re-establishes an “equivalent land capability” of pre-disturbance conditions. Soil microbial communities and microbially mediated nutrient availability are largely overlooked in reclamation analyses, despite their potential in providing a sensitive measurement of ecosystem processes. Our study measured nutrient availability and microbiological parameters in directly-placed forest floor mix (FFM) and peat mix (PM), which were compared to natural reference sites. The study was divided into two components: 1) assessing fertilizer and charcoal amendments (reclamation to d ecosite); and 2) assessing topsoil application depths (reclamation to a/b ecosite). 1) The principal study on CNRL’s Reclamation Area-1 (RA-1) compares a fertilizer amendment on PM and FFM. Our study added a charcoal amendment to simulate natural soil additions from wildfire; and compared reclaimed treatments to recently burned and unburned natural reference sites. Microbial biomass-carbon was greatest in natural and reclaimed organic soils. Burning and charcoal amendments tended to increase metabolic quotient, indicating potential nutrient stress or decomposition inefficiency. Nutrient profiles differed mostly between natural and reclaimed sites, followed by sites receiving fertilizer. Fertilization increased inorganic-N availability by two orders of magnitude above unfertilized treatments, while P and K availability were below natural variation. 2) Syncrude Canada’s Aurora Soil Capping Study provided Shallow and Deep topsoil application depths of PM and FFM which were compared to a control receiving no topsoil and a harvested analogue (Harvest). Soil respiration rates were greater in FFM and Harvest than in PM treatments, with no difference attributable to subsoil type or placement depth. Phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA) and community level physiological profiles (CLPP) measured microbial community structure and function, respectively. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) ordinations revealed the greatest similarity between FFM and Harvest for available nutrients, PLFA and CLPP analyses. Deep FFM application shared greatest PLFA similarity to Harvest, but Shallow FFM was more similar in CLPP. Shallow PM was more similar than Deep for all parameters measured. PM indicated greater total inorganic N and S availability, and deficiencies in P and K compared to FFM and Harvest.
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.
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