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Keywords:

  • completion criteria;
  • management manipulations;
  • rehabilitation;
  • state-and-transition model;
  • succession;
  • thresholds

Abstract

Alcoa World Alumina Australia has been rehabilitating bauxite mines in the jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest of western Australia for more than 35 years. Completion criteria were developed in the 1990s for native species rehabilitation, with various desirable characteristics described as the rehabilitation ages. Successional models can be useful in mining rehabilitation for predicting whether sites are developing along the desired trajectory toward the rehabilitation objective. The current rehabilitation objective is to establish a self-sustaining jarrah forest ecosystem, planned to enhance or maintain water, timber, recreation, and conservation values. The major objective of this study was to present a state-and-transition successional model that assists Alcoa to identify sites that will and will not meet identified completion criteria. Agreed completion criteria and vegetation data collected from native species rehabilitation from 9 months to 15 years old were used to construct a state-and-transition model. The model identified the various desired and deviated successional states and factors that cause transitions between these states. Five desirable and nine deviated states were identified and described in detail. Key indicators relating to desired and deviated states include eucalypt density, species richness, legume density, topsoil cover, vegetation structure, ripping depth, and tree health and form. Identified management manipulations to return deviated states to the desired successional trajectory include ripping, reseeding, replanting, weed control, and tree thinning. Some of the identified thresholds between desired and deviated states will require significant management input (e.g., reripping), whereas others require little or no input (e.g., recovery following wildfire). Of the 6,429 ha of native species rehabilitation undertaken between 1991 and 2002, 98% is on or above the desired successional trajectory. More than half of the rehabilitated area is regarded as being above the desired trajectory because of high tree density. Although these sites meet the existing completion criteria, management input may be required in the future, emphasizing the importance of identifying maximum and minimum completion criteria. The state-and-transition model of successional development is a practical but rigorous land management tool that has the potential to be applied in a wide variety of ecosystems and wide range of land uses.