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Current rehabilitation of coal discard dumps remains a challenge due to reliance on topsoil for establishment of vegetation. Fungcoal has been developed as a viable and alternative strategy for rehabilitation of coal discard dumps and opencast spoils. Fungcoal exploits fungi-plant mutualism to achieve biodegradation of weathered coal, which in turn, promotes reinvigoration of soil components, grass growth and re-vegetation. The main objective of the present study was to determine the effect of different co-substrate materials as carbon donor to support Fungcoal-induced humic acid-like substance enrichment of coal discard at commercial scale. This was achieved by monitoring changes in physicochemical properties of the substrate after Fungcoal application over a three-year period. Results show that where Fungcoal was applied with weathered coal as the carbon donor, and in the absence of added topsoil, it suppressed acidification and salinisation of the coal discard substrate and promoted humic acid-like substance enrichment to support growth and establishment of annual and perennial grasses. In the absence of co substrate or where highly oxidised coal discard was used as co-substrate, no humic acid-like substance enrichment of the substrate was observed, substrate pH declined, cation exchange capacity and electrical conductivity remained elevated, and re-vegetation failed. The potential of an in situ bioremediation strategy like Fungcoal as an alternative to topsoil is discussed.
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