The effects of replaced topsoil of different depths on the vegetation and soil properties of reclaimed coal mine spoils in an alpine mining area

in Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution
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Replacement of topsoil to an appropriate depth is one of the key methods for ecological restoration. The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of topsoil replacement depth on vegetation and soil properties, and to identify the optimum soil depth for reclamation of coal mine spoils in a cold alpine mining area. We sowed 3 herbaceous species after coal mine spoil heaps were treated with topsoil to 3 depths (0, 20‒25, 40‒45 cm). The variations in vegetation community structure, plant growth, soil properties were measured at different replaced topsoil depths. The correlations between plant and soil properties were analyzed statistically. The results showed species richness, diversity and evenness were not significantly different among different depths of topsoil (P > 0.05). Vegetation coverage, density, height and aboveground biomass increased significantly (P < 0.05) with increasing topsoil depth. Soil properties did not change significantly with increasing topsoil depth (P > 0.05), but soil organic matter was significantly higher at 40‒45 cm topsoil depth than at other two depths (P < 0.05). All soil properties, with the exception of total potassium, were positively correlated with the plant growth parameters. The 40‒45 cm topsoil depth of replacement should be considered as effective method in reclaiming coal mine spoils. The use of both topsoil replacement to a depth of 40‒45 cm and sowing of suitable herbaceous seeds is found to be an effective restoration strategy. Additionally, fertilization might be used as a substitute for artificial topsoil replacement to improve soil quality and speed up revegetation process by the positive plant-soil interactions.

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Figures
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    Location of the study area. The location of Qinghai province is showed in the left picture. The study area is marked in the right picture.

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    The characteristics of experimental field. Different land-use types in the study area are sketched in the upper left picture. The coal mine spoil heaps devoid of topsoil are showed in the upper right photo. The formation of terraced fields by reconstructing coal mine spoil heaps is showed in the lower left photo. Different grassland types in the study area are showed in the lower right photo.

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    The design of experiment in the study site.

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    Different experimental treatments in the study site. The 0 cm replaced topsoil depth treatment is showed in the upper left photo. The 20‒25 cm replaced topsoil depth treatment is showed in the upper right photo. The 40‒45 cm replaced topsoil depth treatment is showed in the lower left photo. The natural undisturbed grassland (UG) is showed in the lower right photo.

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    Plant characteristics and aboveground biomass of reclaimed coal mine spoils at different replaced topsoil depths. (a) vegetation coverage; (b) vegetation density; (c) vegetation height; (d) aboveground biomass in relation to different depth of replaced topsoil treatments. UG, the natural undisturbed grassland. Values are mean ± standard deviation (n = 6). Different letters indicate significant differences at P < 0.05.

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    The ordination diagram of RDA analysis of vegetation and soil parameters of reclaimed coal mine spoils at different replaced topsoil depths. TN, total nitrogen; TP, total phosphorus; TK, total potassium; AN, available nitrogen; AP, available phosphorus; AK, available potassium; SOM, soil organic matter; VC, vegetation coverage; VD, vegetation density; VH, vegetation height; AGB, aboveground biomass.

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