The Impact of Storage of Soils during Opencast Mining on the Microbial Community: A Strategist Theory Interpretation



The microbial community in a soil stripped and stored during opencast coal mining was analyzed. There were significant effects of soil disturbance on the microbial community: in particular, there were large decreases in the total microbial biomass, as determined by ATP analysis, and numbers of fungal propagules as a result of the store construction process, but there was no significant effect on the numbers of bacteria. During the subsequent months of storage there was a flush in the numbers of bacteria, with gram-negative bacteria showing an increase of nearly 700% in comparison to the control. During this time there was a steady accumulation in the amount of ammonium in the deepest part of the soil store, indicating the onset of anaerobiosis. These changes may be interpreted in terms of lifestyle strategy theory (Grime 1979). The bacteria exhibit behavior typical of R-strategists, or ruderal species, taking advantage of the nutrients made available by the death of fungal biomass during store construction. Fungi respond as C-strategists, or competitors, and they are severely affected by store construction-and unable to persist deep in the anaerobic part of the store. In contrast, anaerobes, S-strategists or stresstolerators, are able to survive under the same conditions. These changes have serious implications for the restoration of systems using stored topsoil as a resource. The microbial population has been altered in terms of its size and composition. Many of the fungi required for adequate breakdown and incorporation of organic matter will be absent, and the soils will be generally poor in microbial biomass. This will lead to inadequate nutrient cycling and poor soil structural stability, two factors essential for the restoration of a self-sustaining ecosystem.