Islands – Soil Patches and Plant Community Dynamics on a New Oil Sands Reclamation Design

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Brad Pinno
Ira Sherr
Ruth Errington
Krista Shea
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The goal of land reclamation after oil sands mining in the boreal forest of northern Alberta, Canada, is to re-establish functioning forest ecosystems, including the development of natural plant communities. Reclamation practices include the use of upland forest soil, which has higher plant diversity, and lowland peat-based soil, which has greater tree regeneration, as operational reclamation soils. Building from experience in forest harvesting practices and natural landscape patterns, the "islands" reclamation concept was put into practice in a new reclamation area established in 2015, with islands of differing sizes and shapes of upland forest soil placed within a foundation of the more abundant peat-based soil. These islands of upland forest soil are intended to serve as lifeboats and colonization centers for native living things. Initial studies are focusing on determining the best size and spacing of the high-diversity patches. Results show that larger patches are better for the establishment of native plant species, especially woody species, while smaller patches favor the relative abundance of non-native species. This work on the islands approach will help in the development of more efficient and effective reclamation practices, which take advantage of the ecological differences in available reclamation soils. Islands - plant community dynamics on a new oil sands reclamation design