Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MSc)

Department

Biology

Program Name/Specialization

Integrative Biology

Faculty/School

Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Jennifer Baltzer

Advisor Role

Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Forests and Global Change

Second Advisor

Steven Cumming

Advisor Role

Associate Professor

Abstract

Vegetation productivity across the boreal forest has increased over the past several decades. However, at a regional scale there is large variation from increased (greening) to decreased (browning) productivity and large areas with no measured change. Some of this variation can be explained by disturbances, such as wildfire, or by increased climate variability. In northern regions underlain by permafrost, the interactions between climate, disturbance, and vegetation productivity may be more complex. For my thesis, I used a time-series of ground thermal data from permafrost monitoring sites established by the Geological Survey of Canada along a latitudinal transect of the Northwest Territories, Canada, paired with a Landsat-derived time-series of vegetation productivity from 1984-2019 to quantify the impacts of changing permafrost conditions on vegetation productivity. My thesis had four research objectives: 1) Quantify recent (1984-2019) changes in vegetation productivity along a latitudinal transect of the Northwest Territories; 2) Determine if permafrost conditions are associated with observed differences in vegetation productivity; 3) Determine if rates of permafrost thaw can explain differences in vegetation productivity trends; and 4) Compare the relative influence of rate of permafrost thaw, time since fire, and climate moisture index on vegetation productivity trends. My results showed that changes in active layer thickness can explain some of the variation in vegetation productivity that has been observed in the northern boreal forest over the past several decades. Specifically, I found that some active layer thickening promotes increases in productivity, which could be caused by an influx of new soil nutrients, increased room for root growth, and/or increased mineralization rates in warming soils. However, increased greening was not sustained, but rather rates of greening began to slow with continued active layer thickening. It is likely that once the thaw front extends outside the plants’ rooting zone, they can no longer access the new soil nutrients or benefit further from the increased rooting space. The results from this study highlight the importance of permafrost conditions on vegetation productivity and emphasize the need for more paired time-series analyses to better understand the complex effects of climate change on the northern boreal forest.

Convocation Year

2022

Convocation Season

Spring

Available for download on Wednesday, April 19, 2023

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