Access Matting Reduces Mixedgrass Prairie Soil and Vegetation Responses to Industrial Disturbance
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Substantial interest exists in understanding the role of low-disturbance construction methods in mitigating industrial impacts to native grassland soils and vegetation. We assessed soil and vegetation responses to conventional high-disturbance sod-stripping and revegetation on sandy soils, and the alternative practice of low-disturbance access matting to provide a temporary work surface on sandy and loamy soils. Treatments were associated with high-voltage transmission tower construction during 2014 within the Mixedgrass Prairie. High-disturbance sites were hydroseeded in May of 2015, while low-disturbance sites recovered naturally. We assessed soil physical (bulk density, water infiltration) and chemical properties (organic matter, pH, and electrical conductivity) after construction and herbage biomass for three growing seasons. Sod-stripping led to 53% greater soil bulk density and 51% less organic matter than nondisturbed controls, while water infiltration increased by 32% in these high-sand (>80%) soils. In contrast, access matting led to minimal soil property changes regardless of the texture. While total herbage biomass was unaffected by all construction treatments, sod-stripping reduced grass biomass by 80% during the first growing season, which coincided with a 119% increase in forb mass. Root biomass (0–15 cm) also declined 77% with sod-stripping. Vegetation biomass on sites with access matting remained largely unaffected by the disturbance. Overall, low-disturbance construction methods using access matting were more effective than sod-stripping in mitigating the negative impacts of industrial development on Mixedgrass soil properties, as well as vegetation biomass, and are recommended as a best management practice during industrial disturbance.
KeywordsAccess mats Herbage biomass Organic matter Sod-stripping Water infiltration
This study was made possible because of the generous land donation of Edwin and Ruth Mattheis, whose passion for rangeland conservation has inspired many students and scientists. Funding for this study was provided by ATCO Ltd. and a Collaborative Research and Development Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. In-kind support was provided by the University of Alberta, including the Rangeland Research Institute. We thank Leah Rodvang, Erica Schell, Christian Kentz, Megan O’Neill, Hanna Schoenberg, Danielle Mai and Kara Doerksen for field assistance, Dr. Dean Spaner for providing input on an earlier version of this manuscript, and Rajat Goutam from ATCO Ltd. for his assistance in many different phases of the project.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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