Wetland assessment in Alberta's oil sands mining area

Rebecca Rooney
2011
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
more » ... sessment 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. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Many helping hands are due credit here. First and foremost, Dr. Suzanne Bayley, who served officially as my thesis supervisor, but also unofficially as my role model: an example of the combination of tenacity, curiosity, good humour, and fearlessness required to be a successful scientist.
doi:10.7939/r3w634 fatcat:zuybcwy4pfaojjhxmn7z6bddpe