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Open AccessArticle

Landscape Patterns of Rare Vascular Plants in the Lower Athabasca Region of Alberta, Canada

1
Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T5K 2M4, Canada
2
Forest Stewardship and Trade Branch, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Edmonton, AB T5K 2M4, Canada
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2020, 11(6), 699; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11060699
Received: 30 May 2020 / Revised: 19 June 2020 / Accepted: 22 June 2020 / Published: 24 June 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Forest Biodiversity Conservation with Remote Sensing Techniques)
Predicting habitat for rare species at landscape scales is a common goal of environmental monitoring, management, and conservation; however, the ability to meet that objective is often limited by the paucity of location records and availability of spatial predictors that effectively describe their habitat. To address this challenge, we used an adaptive, model-based iterative sampling design to direct four years of rare plant surveys within 0.25 ha plots across 602 sites in northeast Alberta, Canada. We used these location records to model and map rare plant habitats for the region using a suite of geospatial predictors including airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) vegetation structure metrics, land cover types, soil pH, and a terrain wetness model. Our results indicated that LiDAR-derived vegetation structural metrics and land cover were the most important individual factors, but all variables contributed to predicting the occurrence of rare plants. For LiDAR variables, rarity was negatively related to maximum canopy height, but positively related to canopy relief ratio. Rarity was therefore more likely in places with shorter canopy heights and greater structural complexity. This included fens, which overall had the highest rates of rare plant occurrence. Model-based allocation of sampling led to detections of uncommon species at nearly all sites, while the rarest species in the region were detected at an average encounter rate of 8%. Landscape predictions of rare plant habitat can improve our understanding of environmental limits in rarity, guide local management decisions and monitoring plans, and provide regional tools for assessing impacts from resource development. View Full-Text
Keywords: boreal forest; vascular plants; rarity; iterative model-based sampling; remote sensing; LiDAR; species occurrence; oil sands boreal forest; vascular plants; rarity; iterative model-based sampling; remote sensing; LiDAR; species occurrence; oil sands
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Nielsen, S.E.; Dennett, J.M.; Bater, C.W. Landscape Patterns of Rare Vascular Plants in the Lower Athabasca Region of Alberta, Canada. Forests 2020, 11, 699.

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