From icon to upstart: seed banks as restoration tools on surface-mined lands.
Hall, Sarah*,1, Barton, Christopher1, 1 University of Kentucky, Department of Forestry, Lexington, KY
ABSTRACT- For over a century, seed bank studies have intrigued scientists as tools for understanding succession and other ecosystem processes, especially in regards to disturbances. Restoration of native vegetation on surface mined lands in the central Appalachian coal region could be greatly enhanced by a better understanding of soil seed banks. Typical reclamation practices in Appalachia often utilize compacted spoils as a suitable topsoil replacement. Not only are the native soil fauna and seeds lost during this procedure, but the sites are often revegetated with mixtures of aggressive grasses and legumes. This reclamation approach drastically alters species composition and creates an herbaceous layer which is prohibitive for natural succession by native flora. A potential alternative approach is to save the topsoil prior to mining, stockpile it during mining, and then replace it among uncompacted spoils in order to "inoculate" the site with native plant species. The practicality of this procedure, however, is unknown. In an effort to test this approach, vegetation assessments were performed at a site in Clay County, KY prior to mining on eight 15x15m plots. Bulk soil samples were removed from the plots and germinated under greenhouse conditions. Subsequently, topsoil (0-20cm) was removed from the plots and stockpiled on the site. Subsamples (approx. 2m3) were immediately removed from the stockpiles and spread on fresh spoil. The remaining stockpiled material was replaced on the site after mining activities ceased. Controls consisted of uncompacted spoil material substrate only. Species composition of germinants was compared between and among pre-mining vegetation assessment, greenhouse samples, direct spread samples, and reserved stockpiled soils. This study shows that experimental icons like seed bank studies have the potential to serve as upstarts when applied to modern-day challenges, such as the restoration of surface-mined lands in central Appalachia.
Key words: restoration, soil seed bank, central hardwood forests
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