Seismic Line Edge Effects on Plants, Lichens and Their Environmental Conditions in Boreal Peatlands of Northwest Alberta (Canada)

Anna Dabros
Kellina Higgins
Jaime Pinzon
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Boreal peatlands of Alberta (Canada) are heavily dissected by a large network of linear disturbances, including seismic lines used for Oil and Gas exploration. Edge effects resulting from these linear disturbances can increase their footprint and affect wildlife habitat, including the quality and quantity of plant and lichen forage. In 2012, seismic line restoration became a priority in Alberta, under the realm of restoration of habitat of threatened boreal woodland caribou. More accurate understanding of biotic and abiotic interactions leading to edge effects can be important in choosing appropriate restoration practices and prompting natural regeneration. We assessed the extent of edge effects of seismic lines on the adjacent boreal peatland near Peace River, northwestern Alberta. We compared plant and lichen community composition and environmental conditions on seismic lines and along 22 transects, which extended perpendicularly 75 m into the peatland from both lines edges. Soil moisture and light were higher on the lines, but frozen ground was less frequent than in the adjacent peatland. Seismic lines were also subsided by approximately 1.2 cm. Lichens were less abundant in the 2–25 m zone from the edge—indicating edge effects. On the lines, Sphagnum constituted a nearly 100% cover while lichens, trees, herbs, and other bryophytes were less abundant than in the peatland. We demonstrate how knowledge of edge effects on plants and lichens could be applied in assessing caribou habitat quality based on forage availability and predation risk, and how such knowledge could inform restoration practices of seismic lines in peatlands.