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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Characterizations of boreal anthropogenic disturbance regimes from multi-scalar Earth observations Pickell, Paul Drew


Anthropogenic disturbance regimes are anticipated to overwhelm Earth’s ecosystems during the Anthropocene. Boreal forests are particularly at risk of significant transition due to human appropriation of renewable and non-renewable resources. Forestry and energy development in the boreal forest have three primary ecological consequences: suppression of historical disturbance regimes such as fire; emergence of novel ecosystems; and the eradication of ecological memory, which maintains ecological integrity. The objective of this dissertation is to improve our understanding of the pattern characteristics of anthropogenic disturbance regimes in order to mitigate the negative, unintended outcomes of managed boreal forests. Anthropogenic disturbance from forest harvesting and energy development was mapped for industrialized landscapes of Alberta, Canada between 1949 and 2012. A comparative analysis using spatial models of unsuppressed fires sampled across Alberta and Saskatchewan and aerially-interpreted forest inventory data revealed that the anthropogenic disturbance patterns were beyond the historical range-of-variability in terms of disturbed area, largest patch size, and undisturbed forest remnants. When the spatial data were segmented based on a recent period of intensive energy development, it was determined that energy development in Alberta was a major driver of cumulative anthropogenic disturbance patterns. Levels of undisturbed forest remnants within anthropogenic disturbances declined between 18-34% and edge density increased between 15-175% following energy development. Landscape-level patterns of forest cover changes were assessed using a time series of satellite imagery between 1985 and 2010. Forest disturbance was classified as resource extraction or fire in the Foothills of Alberta with 94% overall accuracy. The rate of resource extraction exceeded fire, accounting for 86% of annual forest disturbance, indicating that fire was suppressed in the landscape. A time series pattern analysis approach applied across Canada demonstrated that managed boreal forests were associated with rising edge density, declining core forest cover, and declining largest forest patch size. Boreal forests that had low disturbance rates were characterized by inherent forest cover pattern variation. This dissertation advanced new perspectives on conceptualizing, detecting, and characterizing patterns of anthropogenic disturbance regimes. Future work is identified primarily around the development and interpretation of landscape structure thresholds and transition indicators.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada