1. The view of post-mining sites is rapidly changing among ecologists and conservationists, as sensitive restoration using spontaneous succession may turn such sites into biodiversity refuges in human-exploited regions. However, technical reclamation, consisting of covering the sites by topsoil, sowing fast-growing herb mixtures and planting trees, is still commonly adopted. Until now, no multi-taxa study has compared technically reclaimed sites and sites left with spontaneous succession.
2. We sampled communities of vascular plants and 10 arthropod groups in technically reclaimed and spontaneously restored plots in limestone quarries in the Bohemian Karst, Czech Republic. For comparison, we used paired t-tests and multivariate methods, emphasizing red-list status and habitat specialization of individual species.
3. We recorded 692 species of target taxa, with a high proportion of red-listed (10%) and xeric specialist (14%) species, corroborating the great conservation potential of the quarries.
4. Spontaneously restored post-mining sites did not differ in species richness from the technical reclaimed sites but they supported more rare species. The microhabitat cover of leaf litter, herbs and moss, were all directly influenced by the addition of topsoil during reclamation.
5.Synthesis and applications. Our results show that the high conservation potential of limestone quarries could be realized by allowing succession to progress spontaneously with minimal intervention. Given the threat to semi-natural sparsely vegetated habitats in many regions, active restoration measures at post-mining sites should be limited to maintenance of early successional stages, instead of acceleration of succession.