Restoration of Degraded Land: A comparison of Structural and Functional Measurements of Recovery

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Virginia Tech

The main goals of this study were to document the structural and functional recovery of differently restored areas, to understand better the relationship between the two, and to determine which types of measurements are best for assessing restoration success. To address these questions, an experimental system was created through topsoil removal and subsequent restoration in a blocked, completely randomized design using two levels of soil amendment (with or without 10 kg of leaf mulch per m2) and three levels of seeding treatment (no seed, a standard reclamation mix, and an alternative, wildflower dominated reclamation mix). All measurements were designed to document responses due to restoration treatment in comparison to adjacent, undisturbed, reference sites.

Vegetation structure in amended sites, as measured by total vegetation cover and species richness, recovered to levels similar to references within the two years of the study. Plant community composition did not develop similarity to references in any experimental treatments. Both soil amendment and seeding type affected cellulose decomposition rates, with amended plots showing higher decomposition rates than unamended, and seeded plots exhibiting higher rates than unseeded. Enzyme activities were largely determined by soil amendment, but the reference plots consistently had higher enzymatic activity. Amended sites exhibited significant increases over time in soil respiration, reaching or surpassing the rates observed in reference areas. Methane oxidation rates were generally increased in disturbed plots compared to undisturbed references due to increased atmospheric diffusion into the soil. Amended areas exhibited depressed rates relative to unamended, and seeding level had no significant effect on methane oxidation. Over all measurements, restoration of ecosystem function was most facilitated by the addition of the soil amendment. Seeding treatment significantly altered the resultant plant community, which may have substantial, long-term consequences for succession. The inclusion of functional parameters into restoration assessment provides for better overall information concerning ecosystem performance and may add to the ability to predict long-term success of restoration efforts.

ecological restoration, plant community recovery, soil enzymes, cellulos decomposition, soil respiration, atmospheric methane uptake, ecosystem services