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Division of Plant and Soil Sciences


Abstract: Surface mining disturbs hundreds of hectares of land every year in many areas of the world, thereby altering valuable, ecologically-diverse forests. Reforestation of these areas after mining helps to restore ecosystem functions and land value. In Appalachia, native topsoil is normally replaced on the surface during reclamation, but waivers allow for brown and gray sandstone materials to be used as topsoil substitutes. Numerous studies report the growth of trees in these substitute mine soil materials, but few studies have compared the height of trees grown in reclaimed mine soils to the heights of trees grown in native soils. This study determined the growth of red oak (Q. rubra L.), white oak (Quercus alba L.), and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) in two mine soil types which were compared to projected growth in native soils. Heights of tree seedlings in native soils at 11 years were estimated from site indices (SI) from USDA Soil Survey data. At the mine sites, areas with brown and gray mine soils (one site with a mulch treatment) had 12 tree species planted and growth was measured annually for 11 years. Mine soil pH after 11 years was 5.3 for brown mine soils, 6.6 for gray mine soils, 7.0 for mulched mine soils, and 4.1 to 5.2 for native forest soils. After 11 years, tree heights in gray mine soils were significantly lower (0.5 m) than tree heights in brown mine soils (2.8 to 4 m) for all three species. Trees in mulched mine soils were up to 0.7 m taller than trees in un-mulched brown mine soils. After 11 years, red oak height was 6.3 m in native soils and 3 m in brown and mulched mine soils (52% lower); white oak was 7.3 m tall in native soils compared to 3.6 m in brown mine soils (50% lower); and tulip poplar was 11.5 m tall in native soils and 3.5 to 4 m tall in brown and mulched mine soils (70% lower). In gray mine soils, trees were not growing at all. While the trees in brown mine soils are growing, tree growth has not reached projected levels of tree growth in native soils during the first 11 years after planting. The purpose of forestry reclamation is to restore ecosystem diversity and function. This study showed that one measure of ecosystem function, tree growth, was 50% lower on reclaimed mine soils than native forest soils. Maturing mine soils may develop properties over time that are similar to native soils and, with the increased rooting depth, may provide conditions where increased tree growth rates and height may be attained during the next several decades.

Source Citation

Dallaire, K., & Skousen, J. (2019). Early Tree Growth in Reclaimed Mine Soils in Appalachia USA. Forests, 10(7), 549.


© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (



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