Authors: Tibbett, M

Open access courtesy of:


Cite As:
Tibbett, M 2023, 'Soil chemical and physical constraints to pasture productivity on rehabilitated land after bauxite mining', in B Abbasi, J Parshley, A Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Mine Closure 2023: Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Mine Closure, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth,

Download citation as:   ris   bibtex   endnote   text   Zotero

The reconstruction and rehabilitation of soil profiles to facilitate sustainable land use as a pasture, requires careful planning and management. Pastures are among the most common form of land rehabilitation after mining, but the productivity of these pastures is less than that of comparable unmined land. Here we assessed the soil properties and pasture production on recently rehabilitated farmland after bauxite mining, which are considered to have diminished productivity in comparison to adjacent unmined grassland. This was to understand the limitation to achieving levels of soil fertility, pasture productivity and sustainability similar to those of the pre-mined landscapes. After comparing soil pit profile descriptions, we assessed several soil and plant parameters to identify the constraints to pasture growth. Several edaphic parameters differed between unmined and rehabilitated soils, including pH, salinity, particle size distribution, soil strength, soil organic carbon and cation exchange capacity. Both rehabilitated and unmined areas had some deficiencies in plant available nutrients in both topsoils and subsoils. Many of the edaphic parameters that showed significant differences were likely due to the mixing of materials during excavation, handling and re-spreading as part of the mining and rehabilitation process. The pasture plants also exhibited different responses between rehabilitated and unmined soils. Root mass penetration through the rehabilitated profiles was generally less than the unmined profiles. Differences in pasture dry matter production were identified between the mined and unmined areas. No significant difference was found in pasture species composition on the rehabilitated sites. In summary, no single constraint to pasture production on the rehabilitated land was identified. However, the handling and mixing of the soil materials leading to the creation of impenetrable zones may be an important aspect. In addition, organic matter concentrations remain low in rehabilitated topsoils and fertile topsoils were likely diluted through the disturbance and the profile reconstruction process. These three factors may be attributed to the underlying cause of reduced pasture production.

Keywords: soil, plant, roots, pasture, grasslands, nutrients, root penetration, rehabilitation, nutrients, soil strength, modulus of rupture

Aylmore, L.A.G. & Sills, I.D. (1982). Characterisation of soil structure and stability using modulus of rupture – ESP relationships. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 62, 213-224.
Bennett, J. M., Melland, A. R., Eberhard, J., Paton, C., Clewett, J. F., Newsome, T., & Baillie, C. (2021). Rehabilitating open-cut coal mine spoil for a pasture system in south east Queensland, Australia: Abiotic soil properties compared with unmined land through time. Geoderma Regional, 25, e00364.
Cochrane, H.R. and Aylmore, L.A.G. 1997. Modulus of Rupture. in, Soil physical measurement and interpretation for land evaluation. Australian Soil and Land Survey Handbook Series, Volume 5.
DeJong, J., Tibbett, M. and Fourie, A., 2015. Geotechnical systems that evolve with ecological processes. Environmental earth sciences, 73, pp.1067-1082.
Gilkes, R, J., Scholz, G., Dimmock, G.M. 1973. Lateritic Deep Weathering of Granite. Journal of Soil Science, 11, 523-536.
Grigg, A., Shelton, M., & Mullen, B 2000. The nature and management of rehabilitated pastures on open-cut coal mines in central Queensland. Tropical Grasslands, 34(3/4), 242-250.
Gourley, C.J.P. (1999). Potassium. In Peverill K.I., Sparrow L.A. and Reuter D.J. (Eds.), Soil Analysis: An Interpretation Manual (pp. 229-246). CSIRO Publishing, Victoria Australia.
Harper, R.J., Gilkes, R.J. (1994). Hardsetting in the surface horizons of sandy soils and its implications for soil classification and management. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 32, 603-619.
Klute, A. (1986), Methods of soil analysis, Part 1 – Physical and mineralogical methods, Second edition. American Society of Agronomy.
Lardner, T.D. and Tibbett, M., 2013. Deep ripping after topsoil return affects root proliferation and floristic diversity in a restored biodiverse forest after bauxite mining. In Mine Closure 2013: Proceedings of the Eighth International Seminar on Mine Closure (pp. 363-376). Australian Centre for Geomechanics.
Lewis, D.C. (1999). Sulfur. In Peverill K.I., Sparrow L.A. and Reuter D.J. (Eds.), Soil Analysis: An Interpretation Manual (pp. 221-228). CSIRO Publishing, Victoria Australia.
McArthur, W.M. (1991). Reference soils of south-western Australia. Western Australian Department of Agriculture.
McDonald, R.C., Isbell, J.G., Speight, J.G., Walker, J. & Hopkins, M.S. (1998). Australian Soil and Land Survey – Field Handbook: Australian Collaborative Land Evaluation Program. CSIRO.
McKenzie, N., Coughlan, K., Cresswell, H. 2002. Soil physical measurement and interpretation for land evaluation. CSIRO Publishing.
Moore, G. (ed) (2004). Soil guide, a handbook for understanding and managing agricultural soils. National Landcare and Department of Agriculture.
Mulcahy, M.J. (1960). Laterites and lateritic soils in South-Western Australia. Journal of Soil Science, 11, 206-225.
Mulcahy, M.J., Churward, H.M., Dimmock, G.M. 1972). Landforms and soils on the uplifted peneplain in the Darling Range, Western Australia. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 10, 1-14
Rayment, G.E. & Higginson, F.R. (1992). Australian laboratory handbook of soil and water chemical methods. Australian Soil and Land Survey Handbook Series. Inkata Press, Melbourne.
Ryan, M.H., Tibbett, M., Lambers, H., Bicknell, D., Brookes, P., Barrett-Lennard, E.G., Ocampo, C. and Nicol, D., 2017. Pronounced surface stratification of soil phosphorus, potassium and sulfur under pastures upstream of a eutrophic wetland and estuarine system. Soil Research, 55(7), pp.657-669.
Soltangheisi, A., George, S., & Tibbett, M. (2023). Soil Characteristics and Fertility of the Unique Jarrah Forest of Southwestern Australia, with Particular Consideration of Plant Nutrition and Land Rehabilitation. Land, 12(6), 1236.
Strong, W.M. and Mason, M.G. (1999). Nitrogen. In Peverill K.I., Sparrow L.A. and Reuter D.J. (Eds.), Soil Analysis: An Interpretation Manual (pp. 159-170). CSIRO Publishing, Victoria Australia.
Tibbett, M., 2010. Large-scale mine site restoration of Australian eucalypt forests after bauxite mining: soil management and ecosystem development. Ecology of industrial pollution, pp.309-326.
Walkley, A.J. and Black, I.A. (1934) Estimation of soil organic carbon by the chromic acid titration method. Soil Science society of America Journal, 37, 29-38
Ward, S.C. (2000). Soil development on rehabilitated bauxite mines in south-west Australia. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 38, 453-64.

© Copyright 2024, Australian Centre for Geomechanics (ACG), The University of Western Australia. All rights reserved.
View copyright/legal information
Please direct any queries or error reports to