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Keywords:

  • reclamation;
  • revegetation;
  • seed viability;
  • stockpiled soil

Typical reclamation practices in the central Appalachian coal region often use compacted spoils as a topsoil replacement, and these soils are revegetated with aggressive grasses and legumes. This restoration approach results in an herbaceous-dominated landscape with limited natural succession by native flora. An alternative restoration method is to save topsoil prior to mining, stockpile it during mining, and then replace it on uncompacted spoils to “inoculate” the site with native plant species. In an effort to test this approach, vegetation assessments were performed at a relatively undisturbed forested site in Clay County, Kentucky, U.S.A. Eight 15 × 15–m plots were established, and soils from individual plots were used in seed bank studies both in the greenhouse and on loose-dumped mine spoils. Bulk soil samples were removed from the plots and subjected to cold stratification for 13 weeks, after which seeds were allowed to germinate under greenhouse conditions for 1 year. Additional topsoil (approximately 1.5 m3 from the upper 0–20 cm) was removed from the plots and replaced on fresh spoil in eight 2 × 5–m plots. Controls consisted of uncompacted spoil material substrate only. A total of 105 species emerged in the greenhouse from the seed bank. On the relocated topsoil, 69 species were recorded of which 39 were also observed in pre-mine vegetation surveys. Ten of the 17 most important pre-mine forested site species emerged from the relocated topsoil treatments on the mine site. Our results indicate that application of topsoil could enhance plant diversity and native species reestablishment on surface-mined lands.