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Functional groups and dispersal strategies as guides for predicting vegetation dynamics on reclaimed mines

Alday, Josu G., Pallavicini, Yésica, Marrs, Rob H., Martínez-Ruiz, Carolina
Plant ecology 2011 v.212 no.11 pp. 1759-1775
annuals, coal, ecosystems, herbs, land restoration, nitrogen content, prediction, seeds, soil properties, species diversity, vegetation, wastes, woody plants
The development of species richness and plant cover through time are two important measures that are often used to assess success in land reclamation schemes. We expand this approach by considering functional groups in terms of life-history traits and dispersal strategies, as important components of ecosystem function and colonisation. Here, we test, if the species richness and cover of these functional groups are changed during post-treatment succession in 26 reclaimed coal mines, and whether these changes are related to selected soil variables (C:N, total N, and available P). Species richness showed a skewed unimodal response with time since reclamation, with a peak at 13 years. The richness of life-forms showed a clear dominance order starting with annuals, followed by perennial herbs and then woody species; whereas, when plant cover was considered, perennial herbs dominated the entire sequence. Dispersal strategies showed that anemochorous and zoochorous species were the most important groups. Soil variables were correlated with richness and cover of perennial herbs, woody species, and with anemochorous richness and zoochorous species cover. Our findings indicate that those species which respond during succession on reclaimed coal wastes are controlled in some part, by the attributes of functional groups, whereas the colonisation process is more dependent on seed sources from the local species pool than on soil properties. Our results also highlighted that the use of life-forms and dispersal strategy patterns improved the description and prediction of vegetation dynamics, and allowed us to identify successional stages better. We discussed the implication of these findings for future reclamation approaches in similar areas.