Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

Aboveground Vegetation, Seed Bank and Soil Analysis of a 31-Year-Old Forest Restoration on Coal Mine Spoil in Southeastern Ohio

Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

Aboveground Vegetation, Seed Bank and Soil Analysis of a 31-Year-Old Forest Restoration on Coal Mine Spoil in Southeastern Ohio

Article excerpt

ABSTARCT.-A 31-y-old forest restoration on coal mine spoil was studied to assess soil chemical composition, percent change in tree density and percent similarity of the seed bank and ground-story vegetation. Seed bank and soil chemistry results were compared to an adjacent unvegetated spoil bank. Of fifteen tree species planted on a barren, coal, spoil bank in 1966, four increased in density (indicating recruitment since 1966), seven decreased in density to 50% and four decreased in density >50% after 31 y. Nine volunteer tree species were recorded on the reforested site since the plantings in 1966. March and July soil collections in 1997 contained seeds of 18 species each, 13 in both collections. Most of the species found in the seed bank were shade-intolerant. No significant difference was found for total seed density between the March (4257 +/- 490 seeds/m^sup 2^) and July (3589 +/- 365 seeds/m^sup )^ seed banks. Percent similarity between the seed bank and ground-story vegetation from the March and July seed collections was 9.8% and 8.2%, respectively. No seeds were found in soil collections from the adjacent unvegetated spoil bank. Soil pH and ionic content between the reforested study area and the unvegetated spoil bank differed significantly. We believe that the 1966 plantings have provided a habitat for other species to establish by reducing erosion and improving edaphic conditions.

INTRODUCTION Since 1930 approximately 2.4 million ha have been disrupted by coal mining throughout the United States (Zeleznik and Skousen, 1996). Sutton (1970) and Bell and Ungar (1981) noted that about 4000 ha per year were affected by strip mining, and approximately 110,000 ha of coal spoil banks existed in Ohio by 1970. These spoil banks often contain sulfur-- bearing pyritic compounds and black acid shales that produce sulfuric acid (Armiger et al., 1976; Lawrey, 1977; Sutton and Dick, 1987). Highly acidic spoil (pH < 4.0) accelerates replacement of essential base nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, by heavy metals, such as aluminum, manganese, copper, iron and zinc at soil cation exchange sites (Berg and Vogel, 1973; Armiger et al., 1976; Lawrey, 1977; Bartuska and Ungar, 1980).

Spoil banks are also characterized by increased erosion (Winstead, 1962; Bell and Ungar, 1981). Sutton and Dick (1987) reported that about one hundred times more erosion occurred on abandoned mined lands in comparison to forested areas in similar locations. Environmental pollution occurs when sediments and dissolved materials from the spoil bank are carried in runoff to nearby streams and reservoirs (Armiger et al., 1976; Sutton and Dick, 1987).

Establishing permanent plant cover is the common method for reclaiming coal spoil banks and controlling erosion, but this can be difficult due to the harsh physical and chemical conditions characteristic of these areas (Thompson et al., 1984; Sutton and Dick, 1987). Pratt (1986) reported that low moisture availability and thermal stress were responsible for mortality of seeds and seedlings on spoil banks. Soil surface temperatures over 50 C were measured on dark organic and mineral shale, and low moisture percentages on spoil banks were found 1 d following a heavy rain in Pennsylvania (Deely and Borden, 1973). Sutton and Dick (1987) cited spoil acidity as the primary factor preventing plant establishment. However, Bell and Ungar (1981) concluded that site-tolerant plant species were unaffected by acidic pH and low nutrient levels, and indicated that plants could establish if high temperatures and low moisture conditions on spoil banks were ameliorated by plant cover.

Investigations of tree plantings on coal spoil areas began in the 1920s and their success was documented in the 1940s (Zeleznik and Skousen, 1996). Many studies begun in the 1940s and 1950s only reported tree survival up to 10 y after establishment (Finn, 1958; Zeleznik and Skousen, 1996). Evaluating tree plantings on spoil areas after longer periods (30 + y) would allow evaluation of survival and recruitment rates, since initial establishment and success does not necessarily represent long-term success (Zisa et al, 1980; Zeleznik and Skousen, 1996), yet these data are lacking in the Appalachian coal region (Thompson et al. …

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