Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Dynamics and Mechanisms of Community Assembly in a Mined Carolinian Peatland
Theoretical work on community recovery, development, stability, and resistance to species invasions has outpaced experimental field research. There is also a need for better integration between ecological theory and the practice of ecological restoration. This thesis investigates the dynamics of community assembly following peat mining and subsequent restoration efforts at Canada's most southerly raised bog. It examines mechanisms underlying plant community changes and tests predictions arising from the Dynamic Environmental Filter Model (DEFM) and the Fluctuating Resource Hypothesis (FRH). Abiotic, biotic and dispersal filters were modified to test a conceptual model of assembly for Wainfleet Bog. Hydrology was manipulated at the plot scale across multiple nutrient gradients, and at the whole bog scale using peat dams. Trends in time series of hydrological variables were related to restoration actions and uncontrolled variables including precipitation, evapotranspiration and arrival of beaver. Impacts of a changing hydrology on the developing plant community were compared with those from cutting the invasive Betula pendula. Transplanting experiments were used to examine species interactions within primary and secondary successional communities. Seedlings of B. pendula and the native Betula papyrifera were planted together across a peat volumetric water content (VWC) gradient. Impacts of beaver dams were greater than those of peat dams and their relative importance was greatest during periods of drought. Cutting of B.pendula had little effect on the secondary successional plant community developing parallel to blocked drains. Phosphorus was the main limiting nutrient with optimum levels varying substantially between species. Primary colonisers formed a highly stable, novel plant community. Stability was due to direct and indirect facilitative interactions between all species. Reduction in frost heaving was the major mechanism behind this facilitation. Interactions within the secondary successional community were mostly competitive, driven by light and space availability. However, restricted dispersal rather than competition limited further species recruitment. Predictions based on the DEFM were partially correct. A splitting of this model's biotic filter into competition and facilitation components is proposed. There was little support for the FRH based on nutrient levels and VWC. B. pendula had higher germination and growth rates, tolerance to a wider range of peat VWCs and a greater resistance to deer browsing than native birch. Peat mining, combined with restoration actions and the arrival of beaver has moved much of the bog back to an earlier successional stage circa 350+ years BP. Evidence points to B. pendula being a "back-seat driver" in the ecosystem recovery process. Indirect facilitation of a native by an exotic congener, mediated through herbivory, has not been described previously. Shifts in relative contributions of facilitation, competition and dispersal limitations to community assembly may be useful process-oriented measures for gauging progress in restoration. Author Keywords: Betula pendula, community assembly, competition, facilitation, peatland, restoration

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