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Abstract

Industrial barrens replacing coniferous forests around the Severonikel smelter in the Kola Peninsula, northwestern Russia, have recently expanded over 3000 ha or more. Total concentrations of metal contaminants in the upper soil layers approach 3000–5000 μg/g, and maximum hourly concentrations of sulphur dioxide in ambient air exceed 1000 μg/m3. To monitor possibilities for vegetation recovery in the denuded landscapes continuously affected by industrial emissions, we conducted several experiments with 4- to 15-year-old (1–25 cm tall) seedlings of Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovi (mountain birch), replanted to two barren sites. Specifically, we investigated the effects of wind-sheltering, watering, and fertilization on seedling performance in the polluted sites. Sheltered and watered seedlings had more symmetrical leaves than control seedlings, suggesting less environmental stress. Consistently, sheltering and (to a lesser extent) watering improved the survival of seedlings compared with controls. The beneficial effects of watering and sheltering were most pronounced the first 2–4 weeks following planting and were greatest in the most polluted site. We conclude that the revegetation of industrial barrens can be significantly promoted by inexpensive treatments such as wind sheltering and watering, even under current emissions.