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Forest to reclaimed mine land use change leads to altered ecosystem structure and function

Simmons, Jeffrey A., Currie, William S., Eshleman, Keith N., Kuers, Karen, Monteleone, Susan, Negley, Tim L., Pohlad, Bob R., Thomas, Carolyn L.
Ecological applications 2008 v.18 no.1 pp. 104-118
temperate forests, surface mining, coal, forested watersheds, land restoration, mined soils, forest soils, bulk density, infiltration (hydrology), nitrate nitrogen, nitrification, soil fertility, nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, soil chemistry, land use change, runoff, losses from soil, streams, hydrochemistry, aquatic organisms, environmental impact, Maryland
The United States' use of coal results in many environmental alterations. In the Appalachian coal belt region, one widespread alteration is conversion of forest to reclaimed mineland. The goal of this study was to quantify the changes to ecosystem structure and function associated with a conversion from forest to reclaimed mine grassland by comparing a small watershed containing a 15‐year‐old reclaimed mine with a forested, reference watershed in western Maryland. Major differences were apparent between the two watersheds in terms of biogeochemistry. Total C, N, and P pools were all substantially lower at the mined site, mainly due to the removal of woody biomass but also, in the case of P, to reductions in soil pools. Mineral soil C, N, and P pools were 96%, 79%, and 69% of native soils, respectively. Although annual runoff from the watersheds was similar, the mined watershed exhibited taller, narrower storm peaks as a result of a higher soil bulk density and decreased infiltration rates. Stream export of N was much lower in the mined watershed due to lower net nitrification rates and nitrate concentrations in soil. However, stream export of sediment and P and summer stream temperature were much higher. Stream leaf decomposition was reduced and macroinvertebrate community structure was altered as a result of these changes to the stream environment. This land use change leads to substantial, long‐term changes in ecosystem capital and function.