Understanding Invasive Species Impacts on Reclaimed Surface-Mined Lands

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Virginia Tech


Mining has caused ecosystem losses worldwide, with surface mining disturbing >2.4 million hectares in the United States since 1930. The Appalachian region of the US is home to extensive temperate deciduous forests that provide many ecosystem services and economic benefits. However, >400,000 hectares of forest have been lost due to surface coal mining, with most not being restored back to native forests or other productive land uses. These areas are left fragmented, heavily modified, unmanaged, and densely invaded by non-native plants. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is one of the most prevalent invasive species on reclaimed mines in Appalachia and viewed as one of the main hindrances to the successful reclamation of mined land to restore native forests. In order to better assess the impact autumn olive can have on reclamation success, we characterize autumn olive's performance in various reclamation scenarios and also how the management of autumn olive affects hardwood tree establishment. We review how exotic species impact restoration outcomes, and advocate for a better understanding of how these species could contribute towards a more ecological understanding of reclamation. Reclamation goals are currently assessed after 5 years, prioritizing short-term goals (e.g. erosion control) instead of longer-term goals such as the return of ecosystem function. With a better understanding of plant function and ecological processes, we hope to continue to advance successful reclamation on surface mined lands.



Appalachia, autumn olive, biological invasions, disturbance, exotic, Forestry Reclamation Approach, novel ecosystem, nutrient cycling, reclamation, restoration, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, succession