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Possible use of wetlands in ecological restoration of surface mined lands


Surface mining for coal has dramatically altered millions of hectares throughout the Appalachian region of eastern North America. Flat benches and vertical high walls have replaced well-drained slopes, and wetlands have developed ‘accidentally’ on abandoned benches. Surface mining is continuing in this region, but new regulations do not include specifications for wetland construction in the reclamation process. Recent research has suggested that many ecosystem services appropriate for the Appalachian landscape could be performed by constructed wetlands. Inclusion of wetland construction in a reclamation plan could lead to a net increase in wetland acreage locally, as well as offset the loss of natural and/or accidental wetlands. By studying accidentally-formed wetlands, we hope to determine what species can be established in wetlands that are constructed to enhance nontreatment goals in reclamation. Study sites included 14 emergent wetlands in Wise County, Virginia. Sampling in June and August detected a total of 94 species in 36 vascular plant families. Obligate wetlands species, species that occur in wetlands over 99 percent of the time, were found in all 14 sites and included 26 species. The presence of so many wetland species without intentional management efforts suggests that wetland establishment could become a common component of mine reclamation.

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Atkinson, R.B., Cairns, J. Possible use of wetlands in ecological restoration of surface mined lands. J Aquat Ecosyst Stress Recov 3, 139–144 (1994).

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Key words

  • accidental wetlands
  • colonization
  • hydrophytes
  • restoration ecology
  • surface mining