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Establishment of Restoration Trajectories for Upland Tundra Communities on Diamond Mine Wastes in the Canadian Arctic

Authors

  • M. Anne Naeth,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Renewable Resources, 751 General Services Building, Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
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  • Sarah R. Wilkinson

    1. Department of Renewable Resources, 751 General Services Building, Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
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Abstract

Mining in the arctic amplifies restoration challenges due to inherent environmental conditions by removing soil, vegetation, and the propagule bank, adding coarse textured wastes with low water holding capacity and nutrients, and introducing salt and metal contamination. Short-term reclamation focuses on rebuilding soil and providing rapid native plant cover for erosion control, supporting longer term reestablishment of ecological processes for sustainable tundra communities that provide essential wildlife habitat. This study evaluated methods to restore soil and plant communities 5 years after implementation of treatments at a diamond mine in the Canadian arctic. Five substrates including mine waste materials (processed kimberlite, glacial till, gravel, and mixes), four amendments (inorganic fertilizer, salvaged soil, sewage sludge, and water treatment sludge), five native species seed mixes and natural recovery were investigated. Soil and plant response were assessed annually. Soil chemistry was ameliorated with time. Chromium, cobalt, and nickel concentrations in processed kimberlite remained high and potentially toxic to plants. Adding fine textured materials such as glacial till to mine wastes improved nutrient and water retention, which in turn enhanced revegetation. Sewage and inorganic fertilizer increased available nitrogen and phosphorus, plant density and cover. Soil amendment increased species richness. Seeding was essential to establish a vegetation cover. After 5 years, seed mix composition and diversity had no effect on plant community development; soil and plant community properties among treatments changed considerably, providing evidence that restoration in the arctic is dynamic yet slow and success cannot be determined in the short term.

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