AbstractsGeography &GIS

Distribution of beaver impacted peatlands in the Rocky Mountains

by Alasdair Morrison

Institution: University of Saskatchewan
Year: 2014
Keywords: Mountain Wetlands, Mountain Peatlands, Stratigraphy, Inventory, Beaver, Ground Penetrating Radar
Record ID: 2029719
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10388/ETD-2013-12-1442


Peatlands provide a variety of ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling and increased biodiversity, and are thus an important Canadian natural resource. Mountain peatlands, including those in the foothill region of the Canadian Rockies are particularly important due to their proximity to headwater streams which supply the Prairie Provinces with water. Yet, distribution of peatlands in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is unknown. There is also a lack of understanding of the form of these peatlands and the processes influencing them. The purpose of this research is to improve our understanding of Canadian mountain peatlands in terms of their abundance, distribution and subsurface form. Specific objectives are to: determine the distribution of beaver impacted wetlands in the study area; quantify the proportion of these which are peatlands; determine the impact beaver have on one hydrological variable, the area of open water and; describe the stratigraphy of peatlands with beaver at their surface. Beaver impacted wetland distribution was assessed through manual analysis of georeferenced aerial photographs. Combining these data with an existing GIS layer provided the basis of a wetland inventory of the region, allowing wetlands to be separately inventoried by physiographic location (Mountain and Foothills) and jurisdiction (Alberta Parks, Municipal Districts, Improvement Districts and First Nations Reserve). Approximately 75% of wetlands are located in the Foothills and Municipal District areas. Beaver impact is evident in 30% of the 529 wetlands inventoried, with the highest number in protected areas. Area of open water on wetlands, as assessed by manual analysis of aerial photographs, indicated that beaver impacted sites have on average approximately ten times more open surface water area than non- beaver impacted sites. In total, 81 wetlands were ground-truthed of which 77% were peat-forming wetlands or peatlands. Ground penetrating radar surveys and soil coring performed at 9 peatlands with beaver activity at their surface showed structural differences from those peatlands for which ecosystem services are described in the literature in that they are stratigraphically complex. Little is known about the factors affecting how this form develops, and this requires further study. The distribution of peatlands in the study area highlights them as important landscape units, and that in order to best manage them, further research is required into the various influences on their hydrological and ecological function.