Stockpiling disrupts the biological integrity of topsoil for ecological restoration
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Purpose: Biotic and abiotic properties of soils can hinder or facilitate ecological restoration, and management practices that impact edaphic factors can strongly influence plant growth and restoration outcomes. Salvaged topsoil is an invaluable resource for mine-site restoration, and a common practice is topsoil transfer from mined areas to restoration sites. However, direct transfer is often not feasible, necessitating storage in stockpiles. We evaluated the effects of topsoil stockpiling on plant performance across diverse ecosystems impacted by mining throughout Western Australia.
Methods: We conducted a bioassay experiment using a widespread native Acacia species to assess how topsoil storage might impact plant growth, physiology, and nodulation by N-fixing bacteria using soils from native reference vegetation and stockpiled soils from six mine sites across Western Australia.
Results: Plant responses varied across mine sites, but overall plants performed better in soils collected from native vegetation, exhibiting greater biomass, more root nodules, and higher water-use efficiency compared to those grown in stockpiled soils. Soil physiochemistry showed few and minor differences between native soils and stockpiles.
Conclusion: Results strongly suggest observed differences in plant performance were biotic in nature. This study highlights the negative effects of topsoil storage on the biological integrity of soil across diverse ecosystems, with important implications for mine-site restoration; our results show that topsoil management can strongly influence plant performance, and stockpiled soils are likely inferior to recently disturbed topsoil for restoration purposes. We also use this study to illustrate the utility of bioassays for assessing soil quality for ecological restoration.
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