Recovery after reclamation? Quantifying traits of plant communities in Alberta’s reclaimed grasslands

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Anne CS McIntosh, Randi C Lupardus, Kierann Santala, Ermias Azeria, Isabelle Aubin, Arnold Janz, Dan Farr

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Understanding the underlying processes affecting post-disturbance ecosystem succession can have practical implications in land use management and reclamation and restoration practices. We lack, however, a good understanding of the long-term recovery of areas affected by severe, anthropogenic disturbances. To address this, we examined changes in plant communities and their functional traits in 18 reclaimed grassland sites in southern Alberta disturbed by previous oil and gas well pad development (8-30 years since reclamation certification). These sites were then compared to proximate reference sites in natural grasslands. Young well pads, reclaimed using more recent approaches and criteria, showed evidence of expected ecological patterns after disturbance. These sites had a higher prevalence of plants and plant traits characteristic of sites at an early to midsuccessional stage. Conversely, old reclaimed well pads were not showing signs of ecological succession towards conditions typical of undisturbed grasslands. The old reclaimed well pad sites were characterised by plants possessing a narrower range of traits than those at the reference sites. Knowledge of plant species composition and their associated traits can greatly improve our understanding of the recovery process in reclaimed ecosystems and inform more effective restoration and reclamation practices in these highly impacted landscapes.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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