Return of Ecosystem Function to Restored Bauxite Mines in Western Australia


  • Conflict of Interest Statement: C. D. Grant and S. C. Morley are paid employees of Alcoa. S. C. Ward is an ex-employee of Alcoa.

Address correspondence to C. D. Grant, email


A critical aspect of reestablishing a self-sustaining Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest ecosystem to bauxite-mined areas is to ensure that vital ecosystem functions such as litter decomposition and nutrient cycling are returned. Significant research has been undertaken over the past 20 years relating to litter decomposition and nutrient cycling. Studies have shown that litter accumulates rapidly in restored areas (1–4 ton ha1 yr1) and the accumulated litter tends to be richer in nitrogen due to intentionally elevated densities of nitrogen-fixing species. This leads to a lower (carbon:nitrogen) C:N ratio (60:1 compared to 130:1 in unmined forest) that may promote mineralization of organic N to inorganic forms in restored areas. The major nutrient store in the unmined forest is in the soil and returning soil during the restoration process largely conserves this resource, particularly in relation to P. Short-term plant macronutrient requirements for growth are readily restored by fertilizer application. Studies on the reaccumulation of nutrient pools in the successional development of restored areas have shown that pools equivalent to the unmined forest are established within 10–20 years. Ongoing research is focusing on the rates of cycling processes in burnt and unburnt restored areas, and comparing these to the unmined forest to ensure that key functions have been reestablished. To date, all measured ecosystem function parameters are indicating that restored areas have achieved or are on a trajectory toward a self-sustaining Jarrah forest ecosystem.