Can fungal communities restore native trees on reclaimed substrates containing hydrocarbons?

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James Franklin, Pedro M. Antunes, Justine Karst

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Landscapes mined for bitumen must be reclaimed and revegetated to restore self-sustaining ecosystems in the boreal forest of western Canada. Residual hydrocarbons can be present in reclaimed landforms, and it is unclear what effect they may have on establishing native vegetation. In this same region, forests occur on natural surficial bitumen deposits and some vegetation persists on abandoned ore piles; these locations provide unique opportunities to investigate whether we can leverage interactions between soil fungi and roots to establish trees on reclaimed sites. To screen fungi promoting seedling growth on substrates containing hydrocarbons, we used Illumina sequencing to survey soil fungi on these sites in addition to forests free of bitumen. Next, we grew Populus tremuloides and Pinus banksiana, two native tree species used in revegetation, in substates used in reclamation either inoculated or not with soils collected from our survey. We found that in abandoned ore piles there were more pathogens and unknown taxa, and fewer ectomycorrhizal fungi compared with communities present in naturally occurring soils with and without bitumen. In our greenhouse experiment, we found that the presence of hydrocarbons reduced growth of P. tremuloides and P. banksiana. However, only P. banksiana was sensitive to origin of soil inoculum; growth was highest when inoculated with soils from forests free of bitumen while inoculum from forests on natural bitumen deposits and abandoned ore piles had no effect. Our results show soil inoculum may be an effective method of establishing some tree species on reclaimed areas.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program