Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Patterns of Vegetation Succession on Nickel-Copper Mine Tailings near Sudbury, Ontario
Natural establishment of vegetation on mine tailings is generally limited. Understanding the processes leading to vegetation germination and the survival mechanisms that vegetation species employ in these harsh environments is critical to future remediation efforts. As metalliferous mine tailings are generally nutrient-poor, high in harmful metals, and acidic, vegetation species require distinct mechanisms to germinate and survive in such harsh environments. In this study, edaphic and biotic factors linked to vegetation establishment and diversity were studied at two nickel-copper (Ni-Cu) tailings sites near Sudbury, Ontario. One site had experienced minimal treatment, and the second site was split into partial (hand-distribution of lime) and full (lime, fertilizer, seeding) treatment areas. Tailings were generally acidic, low in organic matter and “available” nutrients, and high in metals such as Al, Cu, Fe, and Ni, but these physical and chemical properties were extremely spatially variable. At both sites, vegetation was distributed in sparse patches, with the greatest diversity in treated areas. There was no clear link between metals and vegetation establishment/diversity at the sites. The primary limiting nutrients on the tailings were phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), and while there were areas of increased soil fertility at the sites, they were not clearly associated with increased vegetation diversity. Both traditional ecological succession and nucleation succession patterns were observed on the site, and the chief species associated with nucleation were primary colonizing trees such as B. papyrifera and P. tremuloides. The relationship between B. papyrifera nutrient retranslocation and tailings restoration was assessed and while B. papyrifera at the sites were deficient in P and K, the trees efficiently retranslocated both P and K during senescence. This research can provide insight into possibilities for future revegetation of similar tailings, enabling industry to make educated decisions when choosing where and how to revegetate, mimicking natural succession patterns. Author Keywords: Acid-mine drainage, Betula papyrifera, ecosystem health, metals, Sudbury, tailings

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