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Douglas Spieles, , Em Bennett , William Weems , Rebecca Swab
Surface coal mining has transformed certain regions of Appalachia. Reclamation laws have evolved over the past fifty years, creating spatiotemporal variability in reclaimed landscapes. While the vegetation composition of reclaimed lands is well understood, less is known about the associated development of ecological function. We used two attributes of the plant community—diversity and the capacity to absorb photosynthetically active radiation—as fundamental indicators of ecosystem composition and function. Using both satellite-derived light reflectance and field sampling, we characterized the successional trajectory of reclaimed lands, reference forest, and reference grasslands in southeastern Ohio, USA. We also assessed the importance of active management in ecosystem restoration. The reclaimed lands in this study represent four different eras of regulation, from pre-1972 to post-1981. We compared the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) within and among sites from 2000-2016, and the Shannon-Wiener diversity index among sites in 2016-2017. In this study, the oldest reclamation sites (45-50 years since reclamation) achieved the highest capacity for light absorption by 2016, suggesting that time since disturbance, reclamation technique, or a combination of the two are conducive to the restoration of ecological function. Younger reclaimed sites (25-35 years since reclamation) accrued function more rapidly than older sites—reaching NDVI equivalence with reference ecosystems 28-34 years after mining—suggesting that reclamation technique can accelerate recovery. Active management of reclaimed lands does not improve light absorption capacity, but it does increase plant diversity, which is linked to a variety of other ecological functions.
Conference Presentation, SER2021
Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program