Tibbett, M, O'Connor, R & Daws, MI 2019, 'Too much of a good thing: phosphorus over-fertilisation in rehabilitated landscapes of high biodiversity value', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Mine Closure
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 651-666.
Fertilisers supply essential nutrients lacking in post-mining substrates in nearly all terrestrial rehabilitation schemes. Regulators typically require the rapid revegetation of post-mining lands as an indicator of early rehabilitation success, mapping to perceived pathways of successful ecosystem recovery. However, we will show how this approach can lead to poorer outcomes in terms of vegetation composition and potentially, long-term issues in ecosystem biogeochemistry.
Many mines exist in remote areas and on highly weathered, ancient, nutrient poor soils. Examples of these are the Fynbos of South Africa, the western and northern forests of Australia, the Campos rupestres of South America, and many tropical areas. Typically, restoration requirements in these areas require the return of a native vegetation community that existed prior to mining. This is particularly common for surface strip mining where large areas of land are cleared of vegetation annually. In this paper, we show how, where, and why over-fertilisation can occur.
Based on examples from western and northern Australia, we demonstrate that the application of phosphorus-containing fertilisers to these nutrient depleted soils can result in long-term elevated soil phosphorus, with species-specific negative impacts on plant health and growth. We show the rehabilitation benefits that can be gained by judicious fertilisation in terms of vegetation community structure and ecosystem development. Finally, to assess where these findings may have wider applicability, we identify further global regions with nutrient depleted soils, high plant diversity, and current or prospective strip mining operations.
Keywords: rehabilitation, phosphorus, competition, fertiliser, legumes, nitrogen, biodiversity, OCBILs
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