Aim: The goals of this study were to: (1) evaluate the environmental factors affecting fruiting shrub presence, cover, and fruit abundance; (2) develop models from these associations to predict spatially shrub distribution, cover, and fruit; and (3) create a digital atlas in order to inform land use planning, seed zone assessments, wildlife habitat mapping, seed collection sites for reclamation, sites for habitat enhancements, and identification of areas that may be of important cultural value to First Nations and Métis.
Location: Lower Athabasca region south of Lake Athabasca in northeast Alberta, Canada.
Methods: 510 quarter-hectare (50x50m) field plots from 2010-14 (Rare Plant Project) were used to assess shrub presence, while 335 field plots (0.01 ha 50 m belt transects) collected for this study from 2014-15 and used to measure shrub presence, cover, and fruit abundance for 21 fruiting (soft or hard mast) plants, including one herbaceous species and 20 shrub species. Statistical models were used to assess environmental associations and to predict shrub presence, cover, and fruit abundance across the region.
Results: Strong environmental relationships were found between landcover types and edaphic (soil), topographic, and climatic factors. Species presence models all had good to very good predictive accuracy. Species abundance (cover) was estimated for all species, while 14 of the 21 species had sufficient data to model spatial patterns in fruit production. Important areas for fruit production were identified across the region with perhaps the most common places for high production being the east slopes of the Birch Mountains, the Athabasca Plain, patches of forests on the east side of Stony Mountain, and the Lakeland / Sand River areas between Lac la Biche and Cold Lake.
Applications of products: Maps and ecological relationships were described for 21 fruiting plants. This provides an initial foundation from which to guide land use decisions, management actions, environmental impact assessments, and values for wildlife and aboriginal values.
Nielsen, S.E. (2016) Fruiting shrubs of the Lower Athabasca: Distribution, ecology and a digital atlas. A report to the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA). 29 February 2016. Edmonton, Alberta. 81 pgs.