Ecological Team (Nielsen Lab)

Responses of woody plants to exploratory oil sands disturbances: recovery trajectories for passive (natural regeneration) and active restoration

Dr. Scott Nielsen
Associate Professor
Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chair

University of Alberta

My research focus is in terrestrial ecology (plant & animal) and biodiversity conservation where I work on land use planning and stewardship issues. Much of this work is on assessing the impacts to biodiversity from in situ oil sands disturbances and the development and testing of strategies to either minimize these impacts through geodesign principles or restoration. Our research in the lab combines field-based studies with laboratory computer modelling and analysis, including extensive use of Geographic Information Systems, landscape simulations/scenarios, remote sensing (UAVs), and other methods.  We are not tied, however, to any single methodology, discipline or taxa, but rather encourage problem-orientated approaches whereby the question (hypothesis) and application are the most important elements, not the method itself or traditions associated with a particular discipline.

Team Members

Tobias Tan 
Research Assistant

University of Alberta

Caroline Franklin

University of Alberta

Abiotic Conditions and Natural Tree Recovery on Seismic Lines

My research examines the effects of seismic line attributes on the abiotic environment and their relationship to tree recovery. First, I will use field studies to measure summertime light, temperature, and wind conditions on seismic lines as compared to nearby openings (well pads) and adjacent forests. Second, I will model the trajectory of natural tree recovery on seismic lines using tree growth data and landscape characteristics. The project also considers how current restoration efforts that use mounding further alter the abiotic environment and how that may relate to tree regeneration and growth. The study will contribute to a better understanding of seismic line effects on abiotic factors and spatial patterns of tree regeneration in landscapes impacted by in situ oil sands disturbances.

Angelo Filicetti
Ph.D Student

University of Alberta

Recovery Dynamics of Woody Vegetation on Seismic Lines

Linear disturbances in the boreal forests of Alberta have led to significant amounts of forest fragmentation.  The rate of natural succession/recovery in these disturbances is largely unknown yet necessary to understand for landscape-level restoration planning.  Furthermore, it is uncertain how beneficial past reclamation efforts have been and which factors promote natural recovery thus precluding the need for active restoration.  My project will examine vegetation succession/recovery dynamics associated with these disturbances across a range of conditions to develop woody vegetative trajectory and succession models.  The project entails use of a variety of field techniques, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and remote sensing information.  Models will aid in understanding and mapping which ecosites are most/least vulnerable, projecting future recovery rates both natural and actively reclaimed, and more broadly assisting with reclamation planning and monitoring efforts in the in situ oil sands region of Alberta.

Charlotte Dawe
B.Sc Student

University of Alberta

Effects of Linear Disturbances and Fire Severity on Velvet Leaf Blueberry Abundance, Vigor, and Berry Production in Recently Burned Jack Pine Forests

I am currently finishing my undergraduate degree in Environmental Sciences with a major in Conservation Biology at the University of Alberta. Throughout my undergraduate degree I have had the opportunity to work in the Nielsen lab. I was employed as a research assistant studying the recovery dynamics of woody vegetation on seismic lines. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to conduct my own independent research study. My research is focused on disturbance regimes in the boreal forest and their impacts to understory species, specifically to Velvet Leaf Blueberry. The disturbance regimes that were assessed were fire and linear features (seismic lines). My research suggests some important implications for assessing the ecological effects of fire on linear disturbances associated with energy exploration in the western boreal forest.

Cassondra Stevenson
B.Sc Student

University of Alberta

Micro-topographical influences on forest regeneration on disturbed seismic lines

I am currently completing my undergraduate degree in Environmental and Conservation Science at the University of Alberta. This previous summer I had the pleasure of working with The Applied Conservation Ecology Lab assisting PhD student Angelo Filicetti with his current work studying the recovery dynamics of woody vegetation on seismic lines. During this time, I had the opportunity to conduct an independent research study on the effects of microtopography on forest regeneration on seismic lines at different levels of fire intensity and severity. Analysis is still in the works for this project, however, we expect to see some interesting results that may hold implications for future regeneration and management techniques.