Long-Term Effects of Reclamation Treatments on Plant Succession in Iceland

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Abstract

The long-term effects (20–45 years) of reclamation treatments on plant succession are examined at two localities in Iceland that were fertilized and seeded from 1954 to 1979 with perennial grasses or annual grasses, or left untreated. The areas that underwent reclamation treatments had significantly higher total plant cover (7–100%) than the untreated control plots (<5%), and floristic composition was usually significantly different between treated and untreated plots. Dwarf-shrubs (Calluna vulgaris and Empetrum nigrum), bryophytes, biological soil crust, grasses, and shrubs characterized the vegetation in the treated plots, but low-growing herbs that have negligible effects on the environment, such as Cardaminopsis petraea and Minuartia rubella, and grasses characterized the control plots. The seeded grass species had declined (<10%, the perennials) or disappeared (the annuals) but acted as nurse species that facilitated the colonization of native plants. It seems that by seeding, some factors that limit plant colonization were overcome. Soil nutrients, vegetation cover, litter, and biological soil crust were greater in the treated areas than the control plots. This may have enhanced colonization through an increase in soil stability and fertility, increased availability of safe microsites, increased moisture, and the capture of wind-blown seeds. This study demonstrates the importance of looking at the long-term effects of reclamation treatments to understand their impact on vegetation succession.

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