Date of Award

12-1-2010

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Plant Biology

First Advisor

Vitt, Dale

Abstract

In the boreal forest of Alberta, oil exploration has brought roads into previously undisturbed areas. Peatlands cover vast areas of the boreal forest, transmit water across the landscape, provide habitat for wildlife, and store carbon sequestered from the atmosphere. Roads crossing peatlands is inevitable, and little is known about how roads impact plant communities, water chemistry, and water tables. Few studies of large fen complexes have been conducted in the continental boreal forest, nor have many investigated the impact of roads. Understanding the relationships between species, water chemistry, and microtopography provides insight into the nature of continental fens and how they respond to disturbance. I examined plant communities and water chemistry characteristics of an undisturbed fen and compared the data to nearby peatlands that were disturbed by mineral haul roads. This study determined the control study site was an acidic fen with a pH generally less than 4.0 and four community types were recognized. Most of the complex was very wet, open, oligotrophic poor fen, with a treed, oligotrophic, species poor area extending between two water tracks. As the fen narrowed following its drainage, site type changed to mesotrophic poor fen, with mesotrophic rich fen communities in some marginal areas. The water table was very stable. The road sites showed signs of enriched water chemistry and changed plant communities within 50 meters of the road upstream. Downstream plant communities were less effected. Water tables appear to be influenced both upstream and downstream differently.

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