Recovery of soil organic matter, organic matter turnover and nitrogen cycling in a post-mining forest rehabilitation chronosequence

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Abstract

Recovery of soil organic matter, organic matter turnover and mineral nutrient cycling is critical to the success of rehabilitation schemes following major ecosystem disturbance. We investigated successional changes in soil nutrient contents, microbial biomass and activity, C utilisation efficiency and N cycling dynamics in a chronosequence of seven ages (between 0 and 26 years old) of jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest rehabilitation that had been previously mined for bauxite. Recovery was assessed by comparison of rehabilitation soils to non-mined jarrah forest references sites. Mining operations resulted in significant losses of soil total C and N, microbial biomass C and microbial quotients. Organic matter quantity recovered within the rehabilitation chronosequence soils to a level comparable to that of non-mined forest soil. Recovery of soil N was faster than soil C and recovery of microbial and soluble organic C and N fractions was faster than total soil C and N. The recovery of soil organic matter and changes to soil pH displayed distinct spatial heterogeneity due to the surface micro-topography (mounds and furrows) created by contour ripping of rehabilitation sites. Decreases in the metabolic quotient with rehabilitation age conformed to conceptual models of ecosystem energetics during succession but may have been more indicative of decreasing C availability than increased metabolic efficiency. Net ammonification and nitrification rates suggested that the low organic C environment in mound soils may favour autotrophic nitrifier populations, but the production of nitrate (NO3−) was limited by the low gross N ammonification rates (≤1 μg N g−1 d−1). Gross N transformation rates in furrow soils suggested that the capacity to immobilise N was closely coupled to the capacity to mineralise N, suggesting NO3− accumulation in situ is unlikely. The C:N ratio of the older rehabilitation soils was significantly lower than that of the non-mined forest soils. However, variation in ammonification rates was best explained by C and N quantity rather than C:N ratios of whole soil or soluble organic matter fractions. We conclude that the rehabilitated ecosystems are developing a conservative N cycle as displayed by non-mined jarrah forests. However, further investigation into the control of nitrification dynamics, particularly in the event of further ecosystem disturbance, is warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2021-2031
JournalSoil Biology & Biochemistry
Volume40
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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