Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Phosphorus forms and response to changes in pH in acid-sensitive soils on the Precambrian Shield
Catchment soil acidification has been suggested as a possible mechanism for reducing phosphorus (P) loading to surface waters in North America and northern Europe, but much of the research that has been conducted regarding P immobilization in pH manipulated soils has been performed at high P concentrations (> 130 μM). This study investigated how soil acidity was related to P fractionation and P sorption at environmentally relevant P concentrations to evaluate the potential influence of long term changes in soil pH on P release to surface waters. Total phosphorus (TP) concentrations declined between 1980 and 2000 in many lakes and streams in central Ontario; over the same time period forest soils in this region became more acidic. Soils were collected from 18 soil pits at three forested catchments with similar bedrock geology but varying TP export loads. The soil pH at the 18 study soil pits spanned the historic soil pH range, allowing for `space for time' comparison of soil P factions. Soils were analysed by horizon for P fractions via Hedley P fractionation. Batch P sorption experiments were performed on selected B-horizon soils at varied solution pH. Soil P fractions varied by horizon but were comparable among the three catchments, with only apatite (PHCl) differing significantly across catchments. Contrary to expectation, both soluble and labile P showed negative relationships with pH in some horizons. Mineral soils were able to sorb almost all (> 90 %) of the P in solution at environmentally relevant P concentrations (4.5 - 45.2 μM). Phosphorus sorption at environmentally relevant P concentrations was unrelated to solution pH but at high P concentration there was a positive relationship between P sorption and solution pH, suggesting a P concentration dependant P sorption mechanism. Phosphorus budgets indicate that P is accumulating within catchments, suggesting that P is being immobilized in the terrestrial environment. An alternative hypothesis, which attempts to explain both the decline in stream TP export and terrestrial P accumulation, is discussed. The results from this study suggest that acidification induced P sorption in upland soils are not a contributing factor to decreases in stream TP concentration in the study catchments. Author Keywords: central Ontario, Hedley fractionation, phosphorus, podzols, soil acidification, sorption
Factors Controlling Peat Chemistry and Vegetation Composition in Sudbury Peatlands after 30 Years of Emission Reductions
Peatlands are prevalent in the Sudbury, Ontario region. Compared with the well documented devastation to the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in this region, relatively little work has been conducted on the peatlands. The objective of this research was to assess factors controlling peat and plant chemistry, and vegetation composition in 18 peatlands in Sudbury after over 30 years of emission reductions. Peatland chemistry and the degree of humification varies considerably, but sites closer to the main smelter had more humified peat and the surface horizons were enriched in copper (Cu) and nickel (Ni). Copper and Ni concentrations in peat were significantly correlated with Cu and Ni in the plant tissue of leatherleaf, although the increased foliar metal content did not obviously impact secondary chemistry stress indicators. The pH and mineral content of peat were the strongest determining factors for species richness, diversity and community composition. The bryophyte communities appear to be acid and metal tolerant, although Sphagnum mosses are showing limited recovery. Author Keywords: anthropogenic emissions, bryophytes, community comspoition, heavy metals, peatlands, wetland vegetation
Hydroclimatic and spatial controls on stream nutrient export from forested catchments
Winter nutrient export from forested catchments is extremely variable from year-to-year and across the landscape of south-central Ontario. Understanding the controls on this variability is critical, as what happens during the winter sets up the timing and nature of the spring snowmelt, the major period of export for water and nutrients from seasonally snow-covered forests. Furthermore, winter processes are especially vulnerable to changes in climate, particularly to shifts in precipitation from snow to rain as air temperatures rise. The objective of this thesis was to assess climatic and topographic controls on variability in stream nutrient export from a series of forested catchments in south-central Ontario. The impacts of climate on the timing and magnitude of winter stream nutrient export, with particular focus on the impact of winter rain-on-snow (ROS) events was investigated through a) analysis of long-term hydrological, chemical and meteorological records and b) high frequency chemical and isotopic measurements of stream and snow samples over two winters. The relationship between topography and variability in stream chemistry among catchments was investigated through a) a series of field and laboratory incubations to measure rates and discern controls on nitrogen mineralization and nitrification and b) analysis of high resolution spatial data to assess relationships between topographic metrics and seasonal stream chemistry. Warmer winters with more ROS events were shown to shift the bulk of nitrate (NO3-N) export earlier in the winter at the expense of spring export; this pattern was not observed in other nutrients [i.e. dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total phosphorus (TP), sulphate (SO4), calcium (Ca)]. Hydrograph separation revealed the majority of ROS flow came from baseflow, but the NO3-N concentrations in rainfall and melting snow were so high that the majority of NO3-N export was due to these two sources. Other nutrient concentrations did not show such a great separation between sources, and thus event export of these nutrients was not as great. Proportionally, catchments with varying topography responded similarly to ROS events, but the absolute magnitude of export varied substantially, due to differences in baseflow NO3-N concentrations. Field and laboratory incubations revealed differences in rates of net NO3-N production between wetland soils and upland soils, suggesting that topographic differences amongst catchments may be responsible for differences in baseflow NO3-N. Spatial analysis of digital elevation models revealed strong relationships between wetland coverage and DOC and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations in all seasons, but relationships between topography and NO3-N were often improved by considering only the area within 50 or 100m of the stream channel. This suggests nutrient cycling processes occurring near the stream channel may exert a stronger control over NO3-N stream outflow chemistry. Overall, topography and climate exert strong controls over spatial and temporal variability in stream chemistry at forested catchments; it is important to consider the interaction of these two factors when predicting the effects of future changes in climate or deposition. Author Keywords: biogeochemistry, forest, nitrate, south-central Ontario, stream chemistry, winter
Seasonal variation in nutrient and particulate inputs and outputs at an urban stormwater pond in Peterborough, Ontario
Stormwater ponds (SWPs) are a common feature in new urban developments where they are designed to minimize runoff peaks from impervious surfaces and retain particulate matter. As a consequence, SWPs can be efficient at retaining particle-bound nutrients, but may be less efficient at retaining nutrients that are present primarily in the dissolved form, like nitrogen (N). However, the forms of nutrients (e.g. particulate vs. dissolved) likely differ with hydrologic and seasonal conditions and few studies have examined year-round differences in nutrient forms and concentrations at urban SWPs. In order to contrast total suspended solids (TSS), phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) levels between low and high flow conditions, sampling was conducted at an urban SWP in Peterborough, ON between November 2012 and October 2013. Only an increase in TSS levels at the outflow between low and high flow conditions was observed, as well as a decrease in TSS levels at the outflow compared to Inflow 1 under low flow conditions. Nitrate-N (NO3-N) was the dominant form of N entering the pond under all flow conditions, whereas the fraction of total-P (TP) that was particulate increased under high flow conditions. Nevertheless, the dissolved fraction of TP was consistently high in these urban inlets. Only NO3-N was significantly greater in the inflows than outflow and only under low flow conditions. Increases in the proportions of organic-N and ammonium-N in the outlet suggest that biological processing is important for N retention. Author Keywords: nitrogen, Ontario, phosphorus, stormwater ponds, total suspended solids
The objective of this thesis was to assess the influence of anthropogenic sulphur (S) and nitrogen (N) deposition, and harvesting on soil acidity and calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), potassium (K+) and N soil pools in plantation forest soils in Ireland. The response to reductions in anthropogenic S deposition was assessed using temporal trends in soil solution chemistry at two long-term monitoring plots--one on a blanket peat, the other on a peaty podzol. At the peat site, there was little evidence of a response to reductions in throughfall non marine sulphate (nmSO42-) and acidity; soil water acidity was determined by organic acids. In addition, temporal variation in soil water did not respond to that in throughfall. In the podzol, reductions in anthropogenic S and H+ deposition led to a significant improvement in soil water chemistry at 75 cm; pH increased and total aluminum (Altot) concentrations declined. The impact of harvest scenarios on exchangeable Ca2+, Mg2+ and K+ pools was assessed using input-output budgets at 40 sites (30 spruce, 10 pine). Harvest scenarios were stem-only harvest (SOH), stem plus branch harvest (SBH) and stem, branch and needle harvest (whole-tree harvesting; WTH). Average K+ and Mg2+ budgets were positive under these scenarios. However, exchangeable K+ pools were small and due to uncertainty in K+ budgets, could be depleted within one rotation. Average Ca2+ budgets for spruce were balanced under SOH, but negative under SBH and WTH. Nitrogen deposition was high, between 5 and 19 kg N ha-1 yr-1, but was balanced by N removal in SOH. However, N budgets were under SBH and WTH, indicating that these harvesting methods would lead to depletion of soil N over the long-term. Finally, monitoring of N cycling at a spruce plot indicated that N deposition was contributing to large NO3- leaching, and as such the site was N saturated. However, N cycling did not fit the criteria of the N saturation hypothesis; instead leaching was directly related to N deposition and supported the model of kinetic N saturation. Author Keywords: acidic deposition, base cations, input-output budgets, Ireland, nitrogen, whole-tree harvesting
Early Responses of Understory Vegetation to Above Canopy Nitrogen Additions in a Jack Pine Stand in Northern Alberta
Abstract Early Responses of Understory Vegetation After One Year of Above Canopy Nitrogen Additions in a Jack Pine Stand in Northern Alberta Nicole Melong Nitrogen (N) emissions are expected to increase in western Canada due to oil and gas extraction operations. An increase in N exposure could potentially impact the surrounding boreal forest, which has adapted and thrived under traditionally low N deposition. The majority of N addition studies on forest ecosystems apply N to the forest floor and often exclude the important interaction of the tree canopy. This research consisted of aerial NH4NO3 spray applications (5, 10, 15, 20, 25 kg N ha-1yr-1) by helicopter to a jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) stand in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) in northern Alberta, Canada. The main objective was to assess the impacts of elevated N after one year of treatment on the chemistry of understory vegetation, which included vascular plants, terricolous lichens, epiphytic lichens and a terricolous moss species. Changes in vegetation chemistry are expected to be early signs of stress and possible N saturation. Increased N availability is also thought to decrease plant secondary compound production because of a tradeoff that exists between growth and plant defense compounds when resources become available. Approximately 60% of applied N reached the ground vegetation in throughfall (TF) and stemflow (SF). Nitrate was the dominant form of N in TF in all treated plots and organic N (ON) was the dominant form of N in SF in all plots. The terricolous non-vascular species were the only understory vegetation that responded to the N treatments as N concentration increased with increased treatment. Foliar chemistry of the measured epiphytic lichens, vascular species, and jack pine was unaffected by the N treatments. Based on biomass measurements and N concentration increases, the non-vascular terricolous species appear to be assimilating the majority of TF N after one year. Vegetation from the high treatment plot (25 kg N ha-1yr-1) was compared to a jack pine forest receiving ambient high levels of N (21 kg N ha-1yr-1) due to its proximity to Syncrude mining activities. Nitrogen concentrations in plant tissues did not differ between the two sites; however, other elements and compounds differed significantly (Ca, Mg, Al, Fe). After one year of experimental N application, there were no environmental impacts consistent with the original N saturation hypothesis. Author Keywords: Athabasca Oil Sands Region, Canopy Interactions, Jack Pine, Nitrogen, Secondary Chemistry, Understory Vegetation
Spatial and Temporal Variation in Peatland Geochemistry in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
The damage to Sudbury's landscape from over a century of smelter and logging activity has been severe and impacts well documented. However, despite their abundance in the region, wetlands have received little attention. Recent studies have identified that nutrient limitation is as much a problem as metal toxicity and highlighted not only the importance of wetlands but also the need for more detailed studies examining the role of wetlands in the recovery of lakes. The objective of this work is to characterize the spatial and temporal variability in the geochemistry of 18 wetlands (poor fens) surrounding Sudbury, Ontario. Peat and water chemistry in the wetlands exhibited large spatial and temporal variability. Copper and Ni concentrations in surface peat decreased with distance from the largest smelter in the area, but water chemistry was also strongly influenced by natural factors such as climate, groundwater and peat carbon content. Redox processes contribute greatly to temporal variation in pore-water chemistry: the August and October campaigns were characterized by higher SO4, lower pH and higher concentrations of metals such as Ni, Cu and Mn compared with the May campaign. Other factors contributing to the temporal variability in pore water chemistry include DOC production, senescence and water source. Despite the large variability, soil-solution partitioning can be explained by pH alone for some metals. Modeling is significantly improved with the addition of other variables representing dissolved organic matter quality and quantity, sulphate concentration and hydrology. Author Keywords: metal contamination, metal mobility, organic matter quality, peatland geochemistry
Influence of nitrogen deposition on the vegetation community of Irish oak woodlands
In this study, the influence of N deposition on the vegetation community of semi-natural oak woodlands in Ireland was assessed through national and regional scale analysis of forest plot data. At both scales, Canonical Correspondence Analysis suggested that N deposition was a predictor of community composition, although site-specific soil characteristics were the strongest predictors of the species dataset. Threshold Indicator Taxon Analysis suggested that the vegetation community demonstrated the most change at 13.2 kg N ha-1 yr-1. While this change point falls within the current recommended critical load range for nutrient nitrogen for acidophilous oak dominated woodlands (10 to 15 kg N ha-1 yr-1), it is notable that 23% of species recorded had individual change points below this range, and could potentially be lost from this habitat if deposition increases. The results from this study suggest that, for acidophilous oak woodlands, habitat conservation policies should be unified with N emission reduction policies. Author Keywords: community composition, critical load, nitrogen depositioin, oak woodland, species richness, Taxon Indicator Threshold Analysis
Phosphorus deposition in forested watersheds
Phosphorus (P) is an essential macronutrient. In south-central Ontario, foliar P concentrations are low and studies have suggested that P may be limiting forest productivity. Current catchment mass balance estimates however, indicate that P is being retained suggesting that P should not be limiting to tree growth. Phosphorus deposition is measured using bulk deposition collectors, which are continuously open and therefore are subject to contamination by pollen and other biotic material with high P and potassium (K) concentrations and may therefore overestimate net P inputs to forested catchments. Average annual TP and K deposition at three long-term (1984 – 2013) monitoring sites near Dorset, Ontario ranged from 15 to 20 mg·m-2y-1 and 63 to 85 mg·m-2y-1, respectively, and was higher at Paint Lake compared with Plastic Lake and Heney Lake. Phosphorus and K in bulk precipitation were strongly positively correlated, but deposition patterns varied spatially and temporally among the three sites. Total phosphorus and K deposition increased significantly at Plastic Lake and decreased significantly at Paint Lake, but there was no significant trend in TP or K deposition at Heney Lake over the 30 year period. All sites, but especially Paint Lake, exhibited considerable inter-annual variation in TP and K deposition. To quantify the contribution of pollen, which represents an internal source of atmospheric P deposition, Durham pollen collectors during the spring and summer of 2014 were used. The three sites, Paint Lake, Heney Lake, and Plastic Lake had pollen deposition amounts of 5202 grains·cm-2, 7415 grains·cm-2, and 12 250 grains·cm-2, respectively in 2014. Approximately 83% of pollen deposition can be attributed to white pine and red pine that has a concentration of 3 mg·g-1 of P. It was estimated that pollen alone could account for up to one-third of annual bulk P deposition. Extrapolating winter P deposition values to exclude all potential biotic influences (insects, bird feces, leaves), indicates that bulk deposition estimates may double actual net P to forests, which has implications for long-term P availability, especially in harvested sites. Author Keywords: Atmospheric Deposition, Phosphorus, Pine, Pollen, Potassium, South-Central Ontario
Acidification of lakes in northern Saskatchewan
The emission of acid precursors by large point sources in Western Canada (such as the Athabasca Oil Sands Region) has prompted studies into the possible impact to downwind aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Sensitivity of catchments to acidic deposition was estimated for the total lake population of northern Saskatchewan (n=89,947) using regression kriging. Under the Steady State Water Chemistry model, a range of 12-15% of the total catchment population was predicted to be in exceedance of critical loads under 2006 deposition levels and 6% of catchments were estimated to be very sensitive (pH below 6 and acid neutralizing capacity, alkalinity, calcium below 50 eqL-1). Temporal changes in soil and water chemistry estimated for 18 Alberta and Saskatchewan catchments using the Very Simple Dynamic and PROFILE models showed that changes in soil base saturation and lake acid neutralizing capacity between 1850 and 2100 were slight, declining 0.8% and 0.9% by 2012, respectively. Author Keywords: acidification, critical loads, exceedance, PROFILE, regression kriging, VSD
Effects of road salt sodium on soil
While previous studies have focused on how road salt affects water quality and vegetation, limited research has characterized road salt distribution through soil and the resulting impacts. The potential for sodium (Na+) to be retained and impact soil physical and chemical properties is likely to vary depending on the soil’s parent material, and more specifically on the extent of base saturation on the cation exchange complex. This thesis contrasted Na+ retention, impacts, and mobility in roadside soils in two different parent materials within southern Ontario. Soils were sampled (pits and deep cores) during fall 2013 and spring 2014 from two sites along highways within base-poor, Precambrian Shield soil and base-rich soil, respectively. Batch experiments were subsequently performed to investigate the influence of parent material and the effect of co-applied Ca2+-enriched grit on the longevity of Na+ retention in soils. Less Na+ is adsorbed upon the co-application of Ca2+, suggesting grit has a protective effect on soil by increasing cation exchange competition. Positive correlations between Na+ and pH, and negative correlations between Na+ and soil organic matter, % clay and base cations within Shield soils suggest that they are more vulnerable to Na+ impacts than calcareous soils due to less cation exchange competition. However, Na+ is more readily released from calcareous roadside soils, suggesting there is greater potential for Na+ transfer to waterways in regions dominated by calcareous soils. Author Keywords: cation exchange, parent material, road salt, sodium retention, urban soil
Impact of Invasive Earthworms on Soil Respiration and Soil Carbon within Temperate Hardwood Forests
Improving current understanding of the factors that control soil carbon (C) dynamics in forest ecosystems remains an important topic of research as it plays an integral role in the fertility of forest soils and the global carbon cycle. Invasive earthworms have the potential to alter soil C dynamics, though mechanisms and effects remain poorly understood. To investigate potential effects of invasive earthworms on forest C the forest floor, mineral soil, fine root biomass, litterfall and litter decomposition rates and total soil respiration (TSR) over a full year were measured at two invaded and one uninvaded deciduous forest sites in southern Ontario. The uninvaded site was approximately 300m from one of the invaded sites and a distinct invasion front between the sites was present. Along the invasion front, the biomass of the forest floor was negatively correlated with earthworm abundance and biomass. There was no significant difference between litterfall, litter decomposition and TSR between the invaded and uninvaded sites, but fine root biomass was approximately 30% lower at the invaded site. There was no significant difference in soil C pools between the invaded and uninvaded sites. Despite profound impacts on forest floor soil C pools, earthworm invasion does not significantly increase TSR, most likely because increased heterotrophic respiration associated with earthworms is largely offset by a decrease in autotrophic respiration caused by lower fine root biomass. Author Keywords: Biological Invasions, Carbon, Earthworms, Forest Ecosystems, Forest Floor, Soil Respiration


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