Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.Sc.

Department

Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Ciborowski, Jan

Keywords

Community Development, Invertebrates, Peatland, Reclamation

Rights

CC BY-NC ND 4.0

Abstract

The diversity-stability hypothesis suggests that diverse communities are resilient to change. Wetlands are especially diverse and are an area of concern in the Boreal Zone of northern Alberta, Canada, as they are affected by surface mining for oil sands. This thesis describes terrestrial and semi-terrestrial invertebrate community composition within the Sandhill Fen Watershed, the first-ever landform constructed on a foundation of oil sands tailings, in the post-mining landscape. Soil attributes and plant community composition were associated with spatial variation in invertebrate abundance, richness and composition at low-elevation (peat dominated) and upland (forest soil dominated) locations within Sandhill Fen, and in 8 reference fens. Peat-dominated sites in Sandhill Fen were typically wet, saline, and slightly acidic and supported a typical herbaceous wetland plant community. The invertebrates found in this habitat were those commonly associated with wetland plant communities and were similar in composition to invertebrates in Carex-dominated (‘rich’) reference fens. The Litter-Fermentation-Humic (LFH) soil dominated upland sites were drier, less saline, had a meadow plant community, and an invertebrate assemblage that was more variable than the peat community and distinct from the fauna of reference fens. Sandhill fen invertebrate abundance was equivalent to that of reference fens. Family richness in Sandhill Fen exceeded that of reference fen sites, likely reflecting associations with the greater plant diversity of low-elevation plus upland sites combined. Sandhill Fen soils were more saline than reference fen soils, but the plant community and invertebrate community of low-elevation peat sites fell within the range of variation observed in rich reference fens. Within Sandhill Fen, plant community assemblages are consistently associated with soil attributes (moisture, salinity). Invertebrate community assemblages are directly correlated with plant assemblages and indirectly with soil attributes. The present diversity of this community and its components indicates a stable, developing ecosystem mirroring some natural conditions.

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