Forming the majority of plant diversity in boreal forests, understory communities are important drivers of nutrient cycling and overstory succession. In western Canadian boreal forests, fire is the primary mechanism of natural disturbance, with oil sands mining a substantial anthropogenic disturbance in north-eastern Alberta. An operational reclamation trial, at an oil sands mine, was established the same year as a nearby forest fire, allowing for direct comparison of plant community development between reclaimed and naturally regenerated fire-origin and mature stands. This work reflects a case study with large, but unreplicated, areas of both fertilized and unfertilized reclamation treatments on forest floor-mineral mix (FFMM) and peat-mineral mix (PMM) capping materials. After three years, reclamation sites are compositionally distinct from post-fire and mature natural stands, with more non-native species in reclamation treatments than in natural stands. Communities developing on FFMM are more similar to post-fire successional communities than those on PMM, with high species richness and diversity on FFMM comparable with post-fire stands. Cover soil had a stronger impact on plant community development than fertilization, with fertilization effects dependent on cover soil. A standard dose of fertilizer lowered richness and diversity on FFMM and is not recommended for use with that soil.
Short- and Long-term Wildfire Threat When Adapting Infrastructure for Wildlife Conservation in the Boreal Forest