Revegetation of abandoned copper mines: the role of seed banks and soil amendments
Mining is one of the main causes of environmental pollution by heavy metals and (re)vegetation of mine spoils is the most effective method of preventing wind and water erosion and the consequent spread of contaminants to surrounding areas. However, plant establishment and growth are conditioned by some limiting factors of mine soils, such as low pH, low fertility, high heavy metal concentration, and a small seed bank to initiate plant establishment. Improving soil physical and chemical properties is required in many cases for successful (re)vegetation programs.
In the copper mine of Touro, Galicia, Spain there is a large-scale project of soil amendment underway using technosols, a mixture of several organic residuals, to improve the conditions of mine soils. We evaluated the seed bank of several types of technosols, mine soil and soil from a control area outside the mine by studying seedling emergence in these soils. In a second experiment we evaluated the impact of increasing pH with liming and the admixing of nutrient-rich soil on the growth of two grasses ( Lolium perenne and Dactylis glomerata) and two legumes ( Medicago sativa and Trifolium subterrraneum) both sown individually and in mixtures.
Seedling emergence and species richness were highest in the technosols. Soil amendments promoted plant growth, with the addition of high-nutrient soil being the best amendment for the four plant species tested. Plant growth was impaired in the mine soil. Lolium perenne was the only plant species that germinated and grew in this soil. We found that soil amendments, either through the addition of technosols, pH buffering or nutrient enrichment, are essential for promoting the revegetation of mine areas.