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Microbial Community Structure and Carbon-Utilization Diversity in a Mine Tailings Revegetation Study


Address correspondence to O. S. Moynahan, email


Restoration of metals-contaminated environments requires a functional microbial community for successful plant community establishment, soil development, and biogeochemical cycling. Our research measured microbial community structure and carbon-utilization diversity in treatment plots from a mine waste revegetation project near Butte, Montana. Treatments included two controls (raw tailings) either (1) with or (2) without tilling, (3) shallow-tilled lime addition, (4) deep-tilled lime addition, (5) lime slurry injection, (6) topsoil addition, and (7) an undisturbed area near the tailings. Microbial community structural differences were assayed by plate counts of heterotrophic bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, and bacterial endospores, and quantification of arbuscular mycorrhizae colonization. Metabolic diversity differences were assessed by carbon-utilization profiles generated with Biolog microtiter plates. Heterotrophic bacteria counts were significantly higher in the limed and topsoil treatment plots than the control plots, and the actinomycete and fungal counts increased in the tilled control plot as well. Endospore counts were significantly higher in the topsoil addition and the undisturbed plots than the other treatment plots. Carbon-utilization activity was very low in untreated plots, intermediate in lime-treated plots, and very high in topsoil and undisturbed plots. Arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM) colonization levels of two grass species showed low levels of colonization on control, shallow-limed, and lime slurry-injected plots, and high levels on the deep-limed and topsoil-addition plots. Plant and soil system components increased across the treatment plots, but individual components responded differently to changing environmental conditions.