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Abstract

The rehabilitation program conducted by Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) of areas exposed to opencast surface mining of sand dunes north of Richards Bay (28°43'S, 32°12'E) on the coast of northern KwaZulu-Natal Province commenced 16 years before this study and has resulted in the development of a series of known-aged stands of vegetation. By assuming that these spatially separated stands develop along a similar pathway over time, instantaneous sampling should reveal successional or other changes usually associated with aging and should provide an opportunity to evaluate the success of rehabilitation. We compare relative densities of pioneer and secondary species, species richness, and a similarity index of the herbaceous layer, tree, beetle, millipede, bird, and small-mammal communities of rehabilitating areas of known age with those of 30-year-old unmined forests and unmined forests of unknown age adjacent to the rehabilitating area. Species richness for all but the mammalian taxa increased with increasing age of rehabilitating stands. For all taxa but the mammals and herbaceous layer, the unmined stands harbored more species than the mined rehabilitating stands. The relative densities of pioneer species of all the taxa decreased with an increase in the age of rehabilitating stands, whereas those of the secondary species increased with an increase in habitat age. Similarity between unmined stands and rehabilitating stands of different ages increased with increasing regeneration age of rehabilitating stands, suggesting that rehabilitating communities, in terms of species composition and relative densities, are developing towards the status of unmined communities. Rehabilitation based on RBM's management program of limited interference is occurring and may result in the reestablishment of a coastal dune forest ecosystem. But rehabilitation resulting from succession depends on the availability of species sources from which colonization can take place. In the Richards Bay mining operation the present mining path is laid out so that such refuges are present.