Forest fragmentation threatens forest biodiversity and ecosystem function. One of the concerns relates to increases in edge effects, which among other things affects the forest microclimate that influences the distribution and behavior of species. In Alberta, Canada, boreal anthropogenic disturbances from in situ oil exploration are increasing forest fragmentation, especially in the form of exploratory well pads and seismic lines (i.e., linear forest clearings created during the exploration phase of oil extraction). Dissection of these forests by seismic lines has the potential to change local patterns in wind and light, and thus may alter forest communities. Although alterations of these abiotic conditions are likely, the magnitude of these changes is unknown, particularly the effects of changes in the width and orientation of linear disturbances. Here we investigated changes in light and wind on seismic lines compared to that of adjacent undisturbed forests and nearby cleared openings. Specifically, we examined how seismic line characteristics (i.e., line direction, line width, and adjacent canopy height) altered local responses in these abiotic conditions. Generalized Linear Mixed Effect models predicted a 2-fold increase in average light intensity and maximum wind speeds, and a 4-fold increase in average wind speeds on seismic lines compared to adjacent forests. These changes did not approach the conditions in large openings, which compared to forests had a 3-fold increase in average light intensity, a 16-fold increase in average wind speeds, and a 4-fold increase in maximum wind speeds. Line width and orientation interacted with adjacent forest height altering the abiotic environment with wider lines having a 3-fold increase on maximum wind speed. We conclude that even localized, narrow (<10-m wide) forest disturbances associated with oil sands exploration alter forest microclimatic conditions. Recent changes in practices that reduce line width as well as promoting tree regeneration, will minimize the environmental effects of these anthropogenic disturbances.
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