Re-establishment of Peatland Vegetation Following Surface Leveling of Decommissioned In Situ Oil Mining Infrastructures

Meike Lemmer
Bin Xu
Maria Strack
Linne Rochefort
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Peatland ecosystem restoration following oil mining activities in Alberta, Canada, aims at reestablishing crucial peatland functions, such as wildlife habitat, water storage and filtration, peat accumulation, and carbon sequestration. To reinstate peatland functions, characteristic hydrological conditions are necessary to support the establishment and growth of characteristic wetland vegetation. Following in situ oil sands well pad disturbances in the Peace River and Cold Lake Oil Sands regions in Alberta, we evaluated the efficiency of peatland restoration approaches including different groundwork and revegetation techniques. Groundwork techniques included the complete removal (CR) or partial removal (PR) of the former in situ well pads' mineral fill and revegetation included the spontaneous revegetation via natural ingress of diaspores from nearby peatlands, or managed revegetation via planting of Carex aquatilisLarix laricina, and Salix lutea. We assessed the plant species composition, biochemical and hydrological properties of all study areas, including restored peatland areas, an unrestored area, and reference areas (REF) for comparison. Ten years post-restoration, in the restored areas the mean total plant cover was 57% with an average of 35 vascular plant and bryophyte species, while in REF 68% mean total plant cover and an average of 64 plant species were recorded. Respectively, characteristic peatland species contributed to 61 and 100% of the species composition. PR and hydrological connection to the adjacent peatland resulted in near surface water table and the highest peatland plant species diversity, while CR promoted the formation of a shallow open water area.