Meadow restoration on former agriculture land in southwestern Ontario, Canada
Balsdon, Jennifer Hsien-ther
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Best practices for Restoration Ecology have been largely derived from case studies. Novel Ecosystems is an approach that has the possibility of providing the field of restoration research with both structure and a road map for ecological recovery. In December 2015, Ontario Parks will be ceasing the lease of approximately 122 ha of farmland within Boyne Valley Provincial Park. My thesis aims to bridge the gap between social and ecological systems and build a resilient restoration project at Boyne Valley Provincial Park. My approach integrated the best case scenarios from each the social and ecological aspects to determine a restoration plan. From the social aspect, I chose the method photo-elicitation to bridge the communication gap between myself, the researcher, and the interviewees. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six major stakeholders including a farmer who is currently leasing land within Boyne Valley Provincial Park, a frequent hiker of the Ontario Parks’ trail system, an academic researcher for Ontario Parks, and three Ontario Parks’ personnel to understand the different landscape preferences of stakeholders within Boyne Valley Provincial Park. From the ecological aspect, I examined the success of restoration for the first year after a fall planting in terms of species richness and percent cover for all species, including native species (planted and not planted) and non-native species across three fields with different initial conditions. To test which species should be used as the initial ground cover after farming has ceased, I looked at the survivorship and growth of five species: Danthonia spicata, Elymus trachycaulus ssp. trachycaulus, Sporobolus cryptandrus, Monarda fistulosa and Penstemon hirsutus. My recommendations for restoration at Boyne Valley Provincial Park include implementing the restoration efforts at a smaller scale to start. The remaining fields should continue to be farmed until restoration can commence or mowed at least four times a year before seeds are formed. Open communication should continue between all stakeholders. Soil preparation should include tilling the soil prior to planting only if the land was left abandoned (e.g. old-field). A plant composition survey should be conducted prior to restoration – more particularly in hay fields - to determine if native meadow species are found. If native meadow species are present (e.g. Sisyrinchium montanum) that would not survive tilling, a no-till planting method may be a better option than tilling. Acknowledging these are early results, my initial recommendation based on survivorship and growth for the first year after planting would be to use plant plugs for Elymus trachycaulus ssp. trachycaulus and a combination of plant plugs and seeds for Monarda fistulosa and Penstemon hirsutus. Future studies should incorporate other herbaceous species to increase the biodiversity while choosing flowers that bloom at different times. Additionally, pilot studies should be completed at all Ontario Parks locations where agriculture leases are ending to develop restoration methodologies that are applicable across Ontario. Information on each of the species to be planted should be distributed to the farmers that border Ontario Parks’ boundaries. This information should include at minimum the species life history, dispersal mechanisms, and a photograph. The research in this thesis outlines initial restoration efforts to guide restoration recommendations for the first year after land abandonment. Much longer-termed research is necessary to understand community dynamics and potential recovery of system.