Christine Isabel
Master student
Department of Phytology
Laval University

Supervised by:

Line Rochefort (Regular member)

Research project description

Restoration of a peatland disturbed by a mineral road - an approach on organic substrates

Introduction: In Canada, 90% of wetlands are peatlands and are mostly located in the boreal forest (National Wetland Working Group, 1997). These ecosystems face numerous anthropogenic disturbances. In Alberta, one major peatland disturbance is bitumen extraction from oil sands (Schneider and Dyer 2006). Infrastructure such as exploration wells, extraction platforms and access roads are necessary for the extraction of bitumen. These structures built on peatlands result in the loss of many of the functions of the natural ecosystem including habitat loss and fragmentation as well as biodiversity loss (Schneider and Dyer 2006). In addition, the presence of roads modifies the water circulation patterns in peatlands by creating dam effects and by altering the physico-chemical integrity of the environment (Neilsen et al., 2012). My master's project is evaluating different methods for restoring a peatland disturbed by a clay access road used for in situ bitumen mining in the Fort McMurray region, Alberta. The objectives of the project are to: 1) restore, on the old road, hydrologic conditions favourable to the reestablishment of peat-forming plant communities; 2) re-introduce the sphagnum-dominated plant community on the organic substrate; (3) confirm if the restoration method limits nutrient contamination from the road’s mineral fill. Study sites: The study site for this project is located near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The road formerly used as a path to the bitumen extraction site was built with clay and directly on a Sphagnum-dominated peatland. A 200-metre section of this road is used to test different techniques of restoration of the peatland. Material and methods: During the restoration, a layer of clay was removed and partly replaced with peat to restore an organic substrate similar to the adjacent natural environment. To assess the return of peatland conditions, water level and substrate humidity will be measured. To assess the reestablishment of the sphagnum-dominated plant community on the organic substrate, plant material will be introduced on the peat using a method inspired by the Moss Layer Transfer Technique (Quinty and Rochefort, 2003). In addition, the effect of fertilization will be evaluated by the vegetation cover and diversity, which will indicate if this step is necessary. Physico-chemical parameters contained in water will be measured at different distances from the restored road to confirm if the restoration method limits nutrient contamination from the road’s mineral fill. Expected results: This project will compare methods used for the return of suitable hydrological conditions, the establishment of sphagnum-dominated vegetation communities and the containment of nutrients to select the best option to apply. The results of this research will be used to improve peatland restoration techniques, particularly in the case of linear disturbances of mineral origin. The developed techniques will be used in the context of Alberta's oil and gas industry as there are many access roads to extraction sites and will be useful in the forestry industry sector. References: National Wetlands Working Group, 1997. The Canadian Wetland Classification System. Wetlands Research Centre, Warner, B. G., et C. D. A. Rubec, 2nd ed., University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 76 p. Joosten, H. and D. Clarke. 2002. Wise use of mires and peatlands - Background and principles including a framework for decision-making, International Mire Conservation Group and International Peat Society. 304 p. Quinty, F., Rochefort, L. 2003. Peatland restoration guide, 2nd ed. Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association et New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy. Québec, Québec. 106 pp. Schneider, R. and S. Dyer, 2006. Death by a Thousand Cuts: Impacts of in situ oil sands development on Alberta’s boreal forest. The Pembina Institute and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Edmonton. 50 p.

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