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Evaluation of Topsoil Substitutes for Restoration of Appalachian Hardwoods on Strip Mined Land
Showalter, Julia M.
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Current surface mine reclamation in Appalachia involves returning the land to approximate original contour by grading the surface and planting grasses and early-successional trees. This results in a greatly altered ecosystem compared to the native forest that was there prior to mining. The reclaimed land is usually degraded economically and environmentally because mine soils are usually less productive than the native soils, and because the mined sites do not provide the same level of ecosystem services. This research addressed constraints to the return of the native ecosystem by assessing how mine spoil properties and treatments affect native tree species and soil microorganisms. A 4x2x3 factorial greenhouse experiment was used to examine the growth of one-year-old Fraxinus americana, Quercus rubra, and Liriodendron tulipifera as well as herbaceous plant occurrence and microbial biomass and activity. Three mine spoils, brown, weathered sandstone (BWS), white, unweathered sandstone (WUS), and gray, unweathered shale (GUH) were compared with undisturbed forest topsoil (UFT) to determine their suitability for tree growth. Half of each of the four media was inoculated with a 2.5-cm layer of topsoil. BWS was the optimal spoil material for the growth of F. americana, Q. rubra and microbial populations. Foliar nutrient analysis indicated that L. tulipifera was highly dependent on nutrient levels and was unable to grow well on any of the spoil types due to deficiencies. Inoculation with topsoil increased tree growth on the GUH spoil, and increased microbial activity and presence of herbaceous plants across all growth media. The field study was used to determine what spoil properties most influenced three-year-old Quercus alba growth. This information was used to test a mine quality classification model. Northeast facing sites with sandy spoils high in nutrients, moderate in pH, and high in microbial populations were optimal for tree growth. These variables explained 52% of the variation in tree growth. Tree growth was also highly correlated with tree foliar nutrient levels, further suggesting that tree growth was influenced by spoil nutrients. Microbial biomass and dehydrogenase production were also regressed against soil properties and were dependant on a moderate pH, high nitrogen levels, and low salt content. These variables explained 53% of the variability in microbial biomass and 50% of the variability in enzyme production. These studies suggest that tree growth and soil microbial populations are closely linked, and both are affected by mine spoil properties. During mined land reclamation, mine spoils conducive to tree growth should be selected if return of the native ecosystem is the reclamation goal.
- Masters Theses