Nielsen, S.E., Dennett, J., Denny, C., Kohler, M. & Farr, D. 2017. Terrestrial Vascular Plant Monitoring Project for the Lower Athabasca (2012-2016). 166 pages.
Preserving biodiversity in human-altered landscapes is a critical conservation issue. Developing science-based recommendations and evaluating tools for land managers are important parts of the conservation process and the means by which biodiversity and ecosystem function can be preserved in close proximity to human disturbance. Vascular plants are rarely afforded the conservation limelight, despite being a critical element of regional diversity and providing an array of ecosystem services. Rare species are also an important aspect of regional flora but patterns in their occurrence, methods to monitor them, and mitigation options to deal with human disturbances are often poorly understood.
The effects of oil and gas exploration and extraction in Alberta’s boreal forest are wide ranging and in many cases not well understood, yet land managers require information and data to make decisions at site to lease-scales and where possible mitigate their impacts. Provincial monitoring efforts by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Program do not occur at the scale needed to provide information about regional diversity and rarity within Alberta’s oil and gas region.
In 2012 the Terrestrial Vascular Plant Monitoring Project for the Lower Athabasca, known at the time as the Ecological Monitoring Committee for the Lower Athabasca Rare Plants Project, was initiated to inform the status of rare vascular plant species, test protocols to improve sampling and monitoring, and develop models to assist with management of rare plants across the Lower Athabasca Planning Region (LAPR). Prior information on rare plants in the region was either too broad (i.e. ABMI 20-km grid) or too specific to individual parts of leases and developments (i.e. Pre-Disturbance Assessment). In the following report, we provide the findings of the past 5-years of research that addresses these challenges.
In the survey years of 2012 to 2015 a total of 602 Rarity and Diversity plots were completed, generating a comprehensive dataset consisting of 536 vascular plant species across regionally significant habitat types. These plots were selected in early years using an iteration of a landscape model of rare vascular plant occurrence, which was updated in later years using plot-level data generated by this project. This model has since been used to guide regional conservation and land use planning efforts through the Biodiversity Management Framework, while providing significant additional value as a tool to guide regional and lease-level survey efforts. We suggest that the rare plant and diversity models be used as planning tools to target surveys during environmental assessments and/or be used to avoid sensitive sites during construction and development.