Comparing soil biogeochemical processes in novel and natural boreal forest ecosystems
Emulating the variability that exists in the natural landscape prior to disturbance should be a goal of soil reconstruction and land reclamation efforts following resource extraction. Long-term ecosystem sustainability within reclaimed landscapes can only be achieved with the re-establishment of biogeochemical processes between reconstructed soils and plants. In this study, we assessed key soil biogeochemical attributes (nutrient availability, organic matter composition, and microbial communities) in reconstructed, novel, anthropogenic ecosystems, covering different reclamation treatments following open-cast mining for oil extraction. We compared the attributes to those present in a range of natural soils representative of mature boreal forest ecosystems in the same area of Northern Alberta. Soil nutrient availability was determined in situ with resin probes, organic matter composition was described with 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and soil microbial community structure was characterized using phospholipid fatty acid analysis. Significant differences among natural ecosystems were apparent in nutrient availability and seemed more related to the dominant tree cover than to soil type. When analyzed together, all natural forests differed significantly from the novel ecosystems, in particular with respect to soil organic matter composition. However, there was some overlap between the reconstructed soils and some of the natural ecosystems in nutrient availability and microbial communities, but not in organic matter characteristics. Hence, our results illustrate the importance of considering the range of natural landscape variability and including several soil biogeochemical attributes when comparing novel, anthropogenic ecosystems to the mature ecosystems that constitute ecological targets.