Wetland assessment in Alberta's oil sands mining area

  • Author / Creator
    Rooney, Rebecca
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2011
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Chow-Fraser, Patricia (Dept. of Biology, McMaster University)
    • Foote, Lee (Renewable Resources)
    • Naeth, Anne (Renewable Resources)
    • Vinebrook, Rolf (Biological Sciences)