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Determining the cumulative effects of sustained industrial activities on boreal forest in Alberta

Overview

Alberta’s Boreal forest region is home to thousands of plant and animal species, and contains 35 per cent of Canada’s wetlands. Substantial oil sands, forestry and other industrial activities occur throughout the region. In 2011, the provincial government, the University of Alberta, several large businesses, and a number of specialized groups collaborated with Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures (AITF) to study and assess the environmental impact of industrial and other human activities on this ecologically sensitive region.

Challenge

 
 Borrow pits are formed when fill is “borrowed” (dug up) along a
 developing road to build a road bed, usually for logging or oil and gas
 development. Technology Futures provided its partners with a snapshot
 of how the Boreal toad uses borrow pits. Further research will allow
 partners to consider the needs of this and other native species in land
 management tools and practices.
 The radios attached to the backs of Boreal toads have to be very light
 so they do not affect the toad’s behaviour or survival.
Determine the cumulative effects of sustained industrial activities on northwestern Alberta’s boreal forest.

Solution

The Boreal toad is possibly the most sensitive amphibian species in the region. It requires standing water for breeding and larval development, terrestrial habitat for foraging, and particular conditions for overwintering. Valuable information about wildlife’s habitat needs and the impact of manmade features can be gained by studying how Boreal toads use different habitats, how they move between them, and how they react to industrial activity.

A study of the adult Boreal toads’ use of available habitat and their reaction to disturbances caused by various industrial activities was conducted by researchers from AITF in 2011-12. Scientists strapped miniature radios to the toads’ backs and then tracked their movements in the boreal forest using radio receivers. Researchers paid particular attention to the toads’ use of so-called “borrow pits” – small, open pits and depressions formed when construction material, such as soil, gravel and sand, is taken for use as fill at another location– as breeding sites.

Outcome

The study determined that Boreal toads prefer certain types of habitats during the foraging season. By electronically tracking toads to their overwintering sites, researchers gained valuable knowledge and data on the specific habitats toads prefer for hibernation based on the body size of young toads (a.k.a. metamorphs). The research also suggests borrow pits may be of lower quality than natural sites for larval development.

Research results and technologies developed through these and other efforts enable enhanced and environmentally sustainable development policies and practices. In addition to providing a foundation upon which further research can be developed, insights gleaned from this study support the development of land management tools designed to address the needs of native species such as toads.

Partners: Shell Canada, Manning Diversified Forestry Research Fund, North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation, Daishowa- Marubeni International Ltd., Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (formerly Environment and Sustainable Resource Development), and the University of Alberta.



For more information, contact:


Brian Eaton
Team Lead
Ecosystem Management
Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures
780.632.8307
brian.eaton@albertainnovates.ca