Evaluating wildlife response to vegetation restoration on reclaimed mine lands in southwestern Virginia
Coal mining has had profound impacts in the Appalachian region, initiating a need to understand the implications of traditional and current reclamation practices on wildlife. I evaluated wildlife use of reclaimed sites of varying ages and cover types in southwestern Virginia. I compared reclaimed sites to another form of anthropogenic disturbance (clearcut) and relatively undisturbed mature forest. Birds were surveyed during early mornings throughout the breeding season in 2007 and 2008 using the point count method. Amphibians were surveyed using artificial cover, constrained-time night searches, and auditory pond surveys. Microhabitat data were collected at each sampling point and were combined with landscape-level GIS information to relate habitat characteristics and wildlife patterns.
I observed 80 bird species using reclaimed areas, clearcuts, and mature forest. Pre-regulation sites (prior to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977) supported the highest number of species overall. Cluster analysis identified 4 bird associations based on habitat characteristics. I developed site-specific, landscape-level, and mixed-scale logistic regression models to identify habitat characteristics that best predicted the presence of 27 species. For 18 species, mixed-scale models performed best, suggesting the importance of a multi-scale approach to habitat analysis.
Salamanders were generally not detected on reclaimed areas, possibly due to the lack of soil moisture, leaf litter, and woody debris on young sites. Frogs were present in all water bodies surveyed, suggesting the importance of managing ponds and wetlands on reclaimed sites. Identifying and focusing on important habitat characteristics will help managers enhance post-mining land for wildlife.