Master of Science in Ecological Restoration Applied Research Projects | BCIT Institutional Repository

Master of Science in Ecological Restoration Applied Research Projects

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An ecological restoration plan for a weedy field at the University of British Columbia Okanagan
Grassland ecosystems are rare, in decline, and support a multitude of at-risk species in British Columbia. At the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna BC, a 3.3 ha site at the entrance of the campus is outlined as Okanagan grassland in campus design plans but currently lacks native bunchgrass communities. The goal of this restoration plan is to return grassland plant communities to the site despite the pervasiveness of noxious weeds. I characterised site conditions through soil and vegetation surveys. Restoration recommendations include managing noxious weeds through mowing, hand-pulling and some herbicide application. The site will be replanted with bunchgrass vegetation, two pockets of ponderosa forest, and two types of shrub communities. A walking path, signage, and two xeriscape gardens will also be included to control human use of the landscape. Long-term monitoring will be incorporated into classroom curricula to tie monitoring to learning opportunities., Grassland, exotic plants, Noxious weeds, urban restoration, restoration plan
The effect of prescribed burns on soil characteristics and plant communities in Garry Oak ecosystems. A case study on a three-year post-burn site on Tumbo Island, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
This research project evaluates the outcomes of returning prescribed fire to endangered Garry oak meadows as a restoration treatment. This project was done in partnership with Parks Canada and involved a case study on a three-year post-burn site on Tumbo Island in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Soil chemical properties were analyzed three years post burn in the summer of 2019 and compared to pre and post-burn vegetation survey results. Analysis identified beneficial changes in soil chemistry still present three years post treatment. Invasive species occurrences increased across the site, regardless of treatment, and around half of the invasive species occurrences were recorded on burn treatments areas in 2018. Prescribed burns on shallow soil Garry oak meadow sites showed beneficial outcomes for soil chemistry, reduced conifer encroachment, increased diversity and Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) seedling recruitment. These findings aid in determining restoration plans for shallow soil Garry oak meadows, highlighting the numerous benefits from prescribed fire, while also suggesting that additional treatments in conjunction with prescribed fire will be needed to control invasive plants when planning to restore these ecosystems., shallow soil, Garry oak meadows, restoration, prescribed fire, soil nutrients, invasive plant species
Effects of Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) and Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) herbivory on tidal marsh recession at the Westham Island Marsh
In the Fraser River Estuary of British Columbia, tidal marshes have been receding and converting into unvegetated mudflats since the 1980s. While there are many hypotheses for this recession, the effect of avian herbivory is poorly understood. This study assessed how Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) and Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) herbivory affected cover of tidal marsh vegetation that was comprised mainly of three-square bulrush (Schoenoplectus pungens) in the Westham Island tidal marsh. I conducted two field-based exclosure experiments, marsh edge and mudflat, that used exclosure plots to reduce specific goose herbivory in a randomized block design. Each experiment consisted of four blocks each of which was comprised of four treatments: open to goose herbivory, excluded all goose herbivory, primarily excluded Canada Goose herbivory, or primarily excluded Snow Goose herbivory. The marsh edge experiment used exclosures centered on the vegetated edge of the marsh, while the mudflat experiment was conducted in the unvegetated mudflat and were transplanted with S. pungens. Based on results from July to October of 2020, percent cover of tidal marsh vegetation was about 20% lower in plots open to Canada Goose herbivory versus those that excluded geese. Snow Goose herbivory could not be accurately assessed as they arrived when S. pungens were dormant. Thus, deterring goose herbivory may be an important consideration for land managers in restoring tidal marshes. Additionally, I compared percent cover from drone-derived remote sensing to traditional ground-based visual estimates of percent cover of S. pungens in the tidal marsh. One per month, from July to October of 2020, I used a drone to take photos of the exclosures from the previous experiments, and used pixel counts to calculate the percent cover of S. pungens. I then used a t-test to compare the drone-derived percent cover to the ground-based estimates and found no significant difference (t = 0.58, p = 0.56). I then plotted a linear regression model and found a strong correspondence between both methods (R² = 0.99, p = 1.3e-139). So, remote sensing using drones appears to be an effective alternative to visual estimates of percent cover of tidal-marsh vegetation in the Westham island tidal marsh., Tidal marsh recession, Goose herbivory, Canada Goose, Snow Goose, Schoenoplectus pungens, Drones
The effects of canopy closure on precipitation throughfall
Since the 1860s the watershed of Spanish Bank Creek has experienced many ecological disturbances due to extensive old-growth logging and urban development. Most notably, these disturbances have altered the vegetative composition and hydrology throughout the watershed. The historic old-growth forest has been replaced by species typical of earlier seral stages, as well as invasive species such as English ivy (Hedera helix). This disturbed vegetation mosaic is characterized by an arrested ecological trajectory that perpetuates degraded conditions. Urban development has eliminated over a third of the historic length of Spanish Bank Creek and storm drains were installed to direct residential drainage into the stream. The combination of a disturbed forest and degraded hydrology intensifies runoff and associated sediment transport, and decreases the hydraulic retention time of the watershed. This has led to a significant decline in abundance of chum, coho, and cutthroat salmonids in Spanish Bank Creek. Previous research has established how trees partition precipitation into throughfall, stemflow, and interception, however there are few studies examining the effects of canopy closure on throughfall within the context of ecological restoration. Thus, the objective of this paper is to determine if increasing canopy closure can be used as a restoration model to decrease throughfall, and consequently increase the hydraulic retention time of the watershed. Results indicated that greater canopy closure was associated with decreased precipitation throughfall. From these results I formulated a restoration goal and several treatments that would increase canopy closure, and also ameliorate the degraded vegetative composition and hydrology of the watershed. The restoration treatments prescribed in this paper constitute five years of physical enhancements from which self-sustaining biological processes will continue to restore ecosystem function and structure. Successful implementation of these restoration treatments will positively affect regional biota, as well as users of the Pacific Spirit Regional Park who come to recreate, learn, and connect.
The effects of tree thinning and broadcast burning on the quality of ungulate winter range: a case study within a Southern Interior Forest in British Columbia
Food limitation on ungulate winter range (UWR) has been a suspected factor in the regional declines of Odocoileus hemionus (mule deer) in the Pacific Northwest. Accordingly, enhancing browse resources in this critical habitat is increasingly recommended. At a dry forest site in Southeast B.C. called Fiva Creek (IDF dm1), I investigated the effects of two commonly prescribed methods for enhancing browse production: tree thinning and prescribed burning. Treatments were implemented between 2005–2008 and included three levels of thinning (all burned) and control areas (uncut and unburned). The response variables I measured included browse cover, canopy closure, security cover, visibility, and pellet abundance. I also evaluated browsing pressure on the indicator plant, Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia). Using linear mixed-effects ANOVA tests, I assessed how thinning (with follow-up burning) influenced forest and vegetation properties. There was no evidence of a treatment effect on browse production; however, browsing pressure was very high across the site (i.e., > 80% of A. alnifolia twigs showed evidence of browsing). Additionally, canopy cover was below recommended levels in all thinned treatments. My results suggested that restoration treatments actually diminished the quality of UWR at Fiva Creek. Further investigations are needed to develop effective UWR restoration methods., Mule deer, ungulate winter range, thinning, prescribed fire, restoration ecology
Evaluating stream degradation in Villa De Allende, Mexico
I examined the anthropogenic effects on the water quality of headwater streams in the western mountains of the state of Mexico. Rural development has negative effects on the ecology of local streams by diverting and pumping surface and groundwater, removing riparian forests for the construction of buildings, roads, and agricultural fields, and dumping refuse in stream channels. Local development, construction, roads, and agriculture also are sources of pollution that enter the streams during rain events. These negative ecological effects are common to many streams in the watershed of the Chilesdo dam. The combined effects of human development negatively affect the quality of surface water and groundwater aquifers. The issue of anthropogenic effects on the water quality of headwater streams is relevant ecologically because of likely effects on flora and fauna that depend on these streams and because of the role of headwater streams in the context of the larger watershed. Effects on upstream areas directly affect people, animals, and plants downstream. This issue is relevant economically because rural communities depend on the availability of water of suitable quality for agriculture and livestock. In addition, local water quality directly affects the cost of water purification downstream at dams that feed the Cutzamala system, a major source of Mexico City’s drinking water. This issue is relevant socially because the local community depends on this water for domestic consumption. Compromising water quality and abundance could destabilize the lives of local people because poor water quality and water contamination are a public health concern. Additionally, climate change is likely to make this resource scarcer. Projections for all major scenarios used by the International Panel on Climate Change indicate elevated year-round temperatures and decreased overall precipitation in the region (IPCC 2013). I addressed concerns over water quality by testing differences among streams with anthropogenic alterations and a stream that had few anthropogenic alterations. I sampled benthic macro-invertebrate communities as indicators of water quality within the streams. Benthic invertebrates are a useful bio-indicator for water quality and environmental disturbances in river systems because different taxonomic groups of invertebrates have different tolerances to water pollution. I measured the abundance and taxonomic richness of invertebrates that exhibit different sensitivities to water quality. My results revealed that taxonomic richness was lower in streams that had anthropogenic alterations. My results also revealed that the abundance of “sensitive” and “somewhat sensitive species” were lower and that the abundance of “pollution-tolerant species” was higher in streams with anthropogenic alterations. The stream with few anthropogenic alterations had the highest taxonomic richness and largest number of sensitive and somewhat sensitive species. These results indicate that human activities are having negative effects on water quality. Given my results, I suggest that restoration of degraded streams should reduce water diversion, riparian encroachment, and refuse disposal. I propose solutions to guide these restoration efforts. My data suggests that a coordinated local and regional effort is required to reduce the negative effects of human development and to restore local streams to an ecological condition that will sustain water quality and quantity to enable local communities and the local environment to thrive.
Exploring the relative effects of different wetland restoration sites on functional connectivity for the northern red-legged frog (Rana aurora)
Amphibian species are globally at risk, with a leading cause of decline attributed to habitat loss and fragmentation. The northern red-legged frog (NRLF) is one such species and listed as a Species of Special Concern by the Species at Risk Act. The Sunshine Coast Wildlife Project is creating new wetland habitat on the Sechelt Peninsula. In this research, I provide a tool to explore the relative effects on the functional connectivity of different potential restoration sites. A habitat suitability model (HSM) was created to describe the landscape in terms of conductance, or ease of movement for NRLF. Using this conductance map, I analysed the functional connectivity between wetlands by using Circuitscape, a software grounded in circuit theory. Three potential restoration options were compared against the existing landscape. Of the three options, one had a much greater effect in increasing the overall wetlands and its connectivity to the existing network of wetlands., Functional connectivity, wetland habitat restoration, northern red-legged frog (Rana aurora), circuit theory, Circuitscape, habitat suitability model (HSM)
Factors limiting the expansion of black-tailed prairie dog colonies at their northern extent
Prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are considered a keystone species due to their ecological role in maintaining the prairies. In Canada, they are federally listed as a threatened species. This study was conducted to identify the limiting factors to the expansion of prairie dog colonies in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. I tested different hypotheses to compare landforms, vegetation, and soil characteristics in three treatments: consistently occupied (Consistent), inconsistently occupied (Inconsistent), and never occupied (Buffer) by prairie dogs. I sampled four prairie dog colonies (blocks) from 17 July 2019 to 28 August 2019 using a randomized complete block design. I used ANOVA to test variables for significant differences among treatments. My results showed that hills, water channel, shrublands, grass cover, shrub cover and vegetation height classes (>30 cm) were significantly higher (p <0.05) in Buffer compared to Consistent and Inconsistent. Shrubs and tall vegetation should be mowed down to enhance the expansion of prairie dog colonies for restoring their population., restoration, prairie dogs, Cynomys ludovicianus, colony expansion, barriers, habitat use
Geochemical and biological response of an intertidal ecosystem to localized restoration efforts
Geochemical and biological attributes of three intertidal areas in the Squamish Estuary with different levels of disturbance (low, medium, and high) were assessed to determine short-­term ecosystem responses to localized restoration efforts conducted one year previously on a former log handing site. Sediment and macroinvertebrate variables were analyzed among sites to characterize the ecosystems response and provide insight on the nature and process of an assisted successional trajectory. Invertebrate composition and biomass were lowest on the site with the highest level of disturbance. The high disturbance site also contained the highest percentage of fine sand (0.0067 mm to 0.25 mm). This confirms that in the short term there are distinct site responses to disturbance and ameliorative restoration efforts – even in a highly dynamic estuarine environment. The medium site contained more invertebrates than the low disturbance site indicating that something other than localized disturbance is affecting the invertebrate community on the low site. All sites exhibited a less-­rich and less diverse invertebrate community than that of historical records (circa. 1970-­1980). Invertebrate community in the east delta today is more typical of estuarine environments with higher salinity levels -­ which indicates more widespread levels of disturbance throughout the Estuary is affecting the study sites. This study highlights the importance of considering temporal and spatial scales when setting restoration goals, objectives and creating monitoring plans. Additional monitoring of sediment, invertebrate, and other variables on restored and reference sites is recommended to characterize typical recolonization and reassembly attributes of restoring intertidal estuaries in coastal British Columbia. This would provide evidence and rigor in determining effective restoration techniques and management strategies for a critical and increasingly threatened ecosystem., Macroinvertebrates, Restoration, Sediment, Benthic ecology, Estuaries, Intertidal flats
A historical marsh vegetation composition comparison between five Fraser River foreshore marshes
A full composition study of some key Fraser River foreshore marshes, Boundary Bay, Brunswick Point, Westham Island, Lulu Island, and Sea Island, had not been done in several decades, during which a large-scale marsh recession event occurred at two of the marshes. The vegetation composition is measured in this study with relation to soil water, soil pore water salinity, and elevation. The results in this study show a shift in the vegetation composition in some areas of the Lulu Island marsh, with the other marshes remaining relatively similar to historical data. The plant species’ tolerance to soil water, soil salinity, and elevation vary in each marsh, illustrating the need for individualized restoration plans for each marsh. Conserving and restoring these marshes is critical in light of the many changes in the Fraser River delta, including sea level rise, increased geese populations, altered sediment regimes, and urbanization., Fraser River, brackish marsh, salt marsh, vegetation composition, salinity, elevation
Identifying temporal trends and mechanisms for successful reforestation on former agricultural land
This study investigates the outcomes of restoration efforts completed on retired agricultural land in Southwest Ontario. Sites acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Canada were planted to kickstart succession to native deciduous forests, but the results of the plantings are mixed. Analysis of soil conditions indicated that low levels of soil organic carbon were correlated to low water content and high density unfavourable for plant growth. Analysis of remotely sensed imagery was done to assess and compare vegetation cover to reference conditions at Walpole Island First Nation. Analysis revealed that successful restoration was dependent on multiple soil characteristics, but conditions correlated to higher total organic carbon favoured greater vegetation cover. Remote sensing data revealed that succession towards tree canopy development was accelerated compared to passive restoration, and a shaded understory was established approximately 8-12 years following restoration. Future work can expand on succession and the effects of other restoration treatments., Soil, Reforestation, NDVI, Agriculture, Restoration, Secondary succession
The impacts of exotic Typha on benthic invertebrate communities in the South Arm of the Fraser River Estuary
In recent decades, the exotic cattail Typha angustifolia and its hybrid Typha x glauca have invaded the Fraser River estuary. The impacts from this invasion on benthic macroinvertebrate communities, however, are yet to be studied. Macroinvertebrates play important roles in food chains, trophic dynamics, and nutrient cycling and are potentially at risk from this invasion. In this study, I compared the benthic invertebrate communities between exotic cattail stands and native vegetation stands at 25 paired sites. Sediment cores were analyzed for invertebrate abundance, biomass, and Shannon Wiener diversity index, and it was found that biomass and abundance were lower in exotic cattail when compared to native vegetation, however, there was no difference in diversity. Given the proximity to side channels, tidal inundation time would be a logical explanation for the differences in the benthic communities; however, it was not found to be a significant predictor. Given the invasive nature of exotic cattail and the correlations that were found, cattail should be removed in restoration projects where possible., Fraser River, Typha x glauca, Estuary, Invasive species, Typha angustifolia
Impacts of roads and cranberry agriculture on bog wetland hydrology with restoration recommendations for Langley Bog
Bog wetlands store a disproportionate amount of carbon for their size, making their conservation an important part of climate change mitigation. The goal of this project is to investigate how roads and agriculture impact the hydrology and vegetation composition of Langley Bog and to provide restoration recommendations. Langley Bog, in Langley Township, BC, is a formerly mined peatland with a fill road running through the center and surrounded to the north and west by cranberry farms. From November 2020 to November 2021, depth to water table and pH were measured monthly at nine wells. Twelve vegetation transects were completed in July 2021. Sites adjacent to the road were correlated with a decrease in summer water level, while sites adjacent to the cranberry farms were correlated with an increase in spring pH levels. A positive relationship was found between an increase in water-table level and percent cover of wetland obligate species. Roads may be lowering the water table through subsidence and drainage. The cranberry farms may be increasing the pH through the deposition of fertilizer. These impacts may have been exacerbated by the unusually dry 2021 summer season. To raise the water table, tree and road removal is recommended to restore lateral flow and decrease evapotranspiration. Culverts installed under the primary fill road will provide additional hydrologic connectivity. Building a berm at outlet points will also help prevent water loss, keeping a higher water table. To increase carbon sequestration, Sphagnum mosses are to be reintroduced to denuded areas in Langley Bog. Tree removal will help in moss establishment by maintaining open bog conditions free from shading. Existing rare ecosystems present in Langley Bog would benefit from the removal of point source pollutants and invasive species on the site. Given the urgency of climate change, restoring the functionality of Langley Bog and protecting the existing stored carbon is a practical and achievable way to move Metro Vancouver a step closer to carbon neutrality., peatlands, ecological restoration, water levels, pH, sphagnum
Investigating regeneration in a raised ombrotrophic bog after peat extraction
Burns Bog is a raised ombrotrophic bog in Delta, British Columbia and faced with myriad disturbances. This study is focused on the impact and restoration of peat extraction by the Atkins-Durbrow Hydropeat method. Depth to water table, relative abundance and distribution of vegetation, and the degree of peat decomposition at consistent-depth intervals were investigated to elucidate the status of passive and active ecological restoration in three fields previously harvested for peat approximately one decade apart and compared to a fourth unharvested field. Summary statistics, Redundancy Analysis, and regression were used to compare restoration status and trends in hydrology, vegetation composition, and peat accumulation. A lag period between cessation of harvest and implementation of restoration, coupled with rapid anthropogenic climate change, serve as impediments to restoration here. Intervention in the form of improved rainfall retention, assisted recolonization, and the introduction of nurse species are recommended to improve bog function and resiliency., Atkins-Durbrow Hydropeat method, Ditch blocking, Ecological restoration, Peat extraction, Raised ombrotrophic bog, Burns Bog
Investigating the effect of salinity, elevation, redox potential, and geese herbivory on planting success in a Pacific Northwest salt marsh
The MacKay Creek Estuary, is a severely altered estuarine ecosystem located within an active international port in Vancouver, British Columbia. Several elevated salt marsh terraces were constructed as part of a larger restoration project within the MacKay Creek Estuary. Site visits conducted in 2018 revealed 75% of the terrace surface area failed to establish salt marsh vegetation. Significant difference in soil pore-water salinity, oxidation reduction (redox) potential and tidal elevation were found between vegetated and unvegetated portions of the terraces. Additionally, exclusion from Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) herbivory increased total percent cover and colonization of the adjacent unvegetated area. The combination of soil parameters and herbivory, as well as potential interactions between factors may be responsible for the lack of vegetation progression within the constructed salt marsh terraces at MacKay Creek Estuary., restoration, salt marsh, redox potential, pore-water salinity, MacKay Creek, Fraser River, estuary, Canada geese
Investigating the role of elevated salinity in the recession of a large brackish marsh in the Fraser River estuary
At least 160 ha of the Sturgeon Bank low marsh in the Fraser River delta died off between 1989 and 2011. Humans have heavily modified the Fraser River estuary since the late 1800’s, including installing a series of jetties throughout the leading edge of the delta to train the course of the river. I established a reciprocal transplant experiment to determine the role of elevated salinity in the marsh recession and generate information needed to eventually revegetate areas of receded marsh as part of an intergovernmental collaboration to investigate the causes of this marsh recession. I propose specific actions to better monitor, maintain, and restore the Fraser River delta foreshore brackish marshes in response to ongoing ecological degradation of the estuary. The predicted effects of climate change and sea-level rise may cause us to rethink options for restoring the Sturgeon Bank marsh., Restoration, Fraser River, Schoenoplectus pungens, Reciprocal transplant experiment, Marsh recession, Brackish marsh

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