Forest ecosystem development in post-mining landscapes: a case study of the Lusatian lignite district
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The restoration of surface mining landscapes requires the (re)creation of ecosystems. In Lusatia (eastern Germany), large-scale open-cast lignite mining operations generated spoil dumps widely consisting of acidified, phytotoxic substrates. Amelioration and rehabilitation measures have been developed and applied to these substrates since the 1950s. However, it is still not clear whether these approaches are sustainable. This paper reports on collaborative research work into the ecological potential of forest ecosystem development on typical minesites in the Lusatian lignite district. At first sight, pine stands on minesites along a chronosequence comprising about 35 years did not show differences when compared with stands on non-mined sites of the general region. Furthermore, with some modification, conceptual models for flora and fauna succession in forest stands on non-mined sites seem to be applicable, at least for the early stages of forest ecosystem development. For example, soil organism abundance and activity at minesites had already reached levels typical of non-mined sites after about 20–30 years. In contrast, mine soils are very different from non-mined soils of the test region. Chemically, mine soil development is dominated by processes originating from pyrite oxidation. Geogenic, i.e. lignitic, soil organic carbon was shown to substitute for some functions of pedogenic soil organic matter. Rooting was hampered but not completely impeded in strongly acidified soil compartments. Roots and mycorrhizae are apparently able to make use of the characteristic heterogeneity of young mine soils. Considering these recent results and the knowledge accumulated during more than 30 years of research on minesite rehabilitation internationally, it can be stated that minesite restoration might be used as an ideal case study for forest ecosystem development starting at "point zero" on "terra nova".
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