The Role of the Forest Soil Propagule Bank in Assisted Natural Recovery after Oil Sands Mining


M. A. Naeth, email


This study was undertaken to determine if use of stratified organic layers of intact litter, fragmented litter, and humus on the forest floor (LFH) improves establishment of upland native boreal plant species during oil sands reclamation in Alberta, Canada. The abundance and composition of vascular plant species in the soil propagule bank were determined for LFH and peat materials before salvage from donor sites and 18 months after application on the receiver site. Applications of 10 and 20 cm were evaluated. Various soil properties were assessed to determine impacts of donor materials. In the growth chamber, LFH donor material had significantly more plant species emerge (37) from the propagule bank than did peat donor material (19). In the field, LFH treatments had significantly higher species richness (49, 47, 24, and 25 species for LFH 10 cm, LFH 20 cm, peat 10 cm, and peat 20 cm treatments, respectively), plant abundance, and soil nutrients than peat treatments. Application thickness of peat had little effect, but 20 cm of LFH was more beneficial for plant community establishment than 10 cm. LFH treatments had narrower C:N ratios and higher soluble potassium and available phosphorus than peat. Applying 10 versus 20 cm of donor material increased admixing of fine-textured subsoil, reducing organic carbon, nitrogen, and potassium; these effects were greater for LFH than peat treatments. Thus, addition of LFH aids in creating diverse ecosystems on reclaimed upland landscapes by providing a source of propagules for revegetating upland boreal forest communities and improving nutrient availability for plants.