An assessment of the recovery of the microbial community in jarrah forest soils after bauxite mining and prescription burning

Briony Maree Lalor

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    [Truncated abstract] Recovery of soil nutrients, microbial populations and carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling processes are critical to the success of rehabilitation following major ecosystem disturbance. Bauxite mining represents a major ecosystem disturbance to the jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest in the south-west of Western Australia. Mining has created a mosaic of mined areas in various stages of succession surrounded by non-mined forest areas. Initial site preparations within rehabilitation areas such as contour ripping alter soil structure (creation of mound and furrows) and over time also influence the distribution of vegetation and litter. Current performance criteria developed by industry, government and other stakeholders have determined that before post-bauxite mined areas of jarrah forest can be integrated back into normal forest management practises they should be functional and demonstrate resilience to normal forest disturbances such as fire. Furthermore, resilience should be of a manner comparable to non-mined analogue forest sites. Currently little is known of the resilience of microbial communities and C and N cycling in rehabilitation sites to normal forest disturbances such as prescription burning. As such, before rehabilitated jarrah forests can be successfully integrated into broad scale forest management regimes, a more thorough knowledge of the potential impacts of burning practises on the soil microbial community and C and N cycling processes in these systems is required. ... While there are similar rates of C and N cycling the underlying microbial community structure was distinctly different; implying a high degree of functional redundancy with respect to C and N cycling. Differences in the C and N cycling and structure of the microbial communities were likely to be due to differences in soil environmental conditions (i.e. soil alkalinity/acidity, soil moisture) and C substrate availability which influence the physiological status of the microbial community and in turn are related to successional age of the forests. Results also suggest that the measurement of CLPP can be a useful approach for assessment of changes in the functional ability of microbial communities. However, the interpretation of how well these rehabilitation forests have recovered heterotrophic abilities was greatly affected by the methodological approach used (e.g. MicroRespTM or Degens and Harris, 1997). Importantly, results from Chapter 4 and 5 suggested that the effects of a moderate prescription fire on C and N processes, CLPP and microbial community structure of 18 year old rehabilitation forests are likely to be short-lived (<2 years). Furthermore, the effects of the moderate spring prescription fire were not large enough to decouple C and N cycling processes over the short-term (<1 years) which suggests that by 18 years of age rehabilitation forests demonstrate comparable functional resilience to a moderate prescription burn.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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