|VASQUEZ, EDWARD - US Department Of The Interior|
Submitted to: Journal of the American Society and Mining and Reclamation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/1/2018
Publication Date: 6/1/2018
Citation: Vasquez, E.A., Sheley, R.L. 2018. Developing diverse, effective, and permanent plant communities on reclaimed surface coal mines: restoring ecosystem function. Journal of the American Society and Mining and Reclamation. 7(1):77-109. https://doi.org/10.21000/JASMR18010077.
Interpretive Summary: Surface coal mines are required to reclaim the land back to the pre-mine ecosystem in terms of composition, diversity, structure and ecosystem function. Reclamation programs that solely emphasize plant community composition and structure rather than effectively repairing disturbed or altered ecological processes ignores the foundation upon which the sustainability of reconstructed plant communities depends. We describe how ecologically-based restoration principles that attempt to repair underlying ecological processes can be easily applied to mine reclamation.
Technical Abstract: Surface coal mine disturbances affects vegetation, soil chemical/physical properties, bedrock and landforms. The scope of this article focuses on lands to be reclaimed back to rangelands (post-mine land use) similar to the pre-mine ecosystem in terms of plant composition/diversity, structure, and ecosystem function. Reclamation programs that solely emphasize plant community composition and structure rather than effectively repairing disturbed or altered ecological processes ignores the foundation upon which the sustainability of reconstructed plant communities depends. Reclamation success may be improved by addressing primary ecological processes driving ecosystem function as part of the reclamation process. Altered primary processes requires repair of the physical system in conjunction with adding seeds or plants. Land form design strategies designed to capture, store and release water effectively into re-constructed watersheds is the foundation of successfully reclaimed ecosystems. Because plant functional groups can differ in their spatial and temporal acquisition of resources, improving functional diversity may be a method to more fully utilize soil nutrients in reclaimed soils and improve resilience to weed invasion. Strategically combining species with different seed/seedling traits in seed mixtures can increase chances of achieving adequate plant establishment during revegetation. Monitoring program design should be an integral part of the reclamation planning process and indicators reflecting landscape-scale processes can be adapted to monitor reclamation project success. Effective reclamation plans are process-oriented, seek to initiate self-repair, and address landscape interactions. The probability of achieving successful reclamation is enhanced by pursuing a broader goal of improving ecosystem vigor, organization and resilience utilizing novel assemblages of species that perform desired functions and produce a range of ecosystem goods and services. Reclaiming mined lands requires realistic objectives that considers the ecological potential of the site, land-use goals, and socioeconomic constraints.