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Amendment-assisted revegetation of mine tailings: improvement of tailings quality and biomass production

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Mining activities have left a legacy of metals containing tailings impoundments. After mine closure, reclamation of mine wastes can be achieved by restoration of a vegetation cover. This study investigated the impact of biochar (BC), biosolids (BS), humic substances (HS), and mycorrhizal fungi (MF) for improving mine tailings fertility and hydraulic properties, supporting plant establishment, tailings revegetation, and enabling growth of energy crops. We conducted a pot trial by growing willow, poplar, and miscanthus in Pb/Zn/Cu mine tailings untreated or amended with two rates of amendments (low or high input). Biosolids resulted in the most significant changes in tailings properties, neutralizing pH and increasing organic carbon, nutrient concentrations, cation exchange capacity, water retention, and saturated hydraulic conductivity. The greatest increase in energy crops production was also observed in BS treatments enabling the financial viability of mine reclamation. Although BC resulted in significant improvements in tailings fertility and hydraulic properties, its impact on biomass was less pronounced, most likely due to lower N and P available concentrations. Increases in willow and miscanthus biomass were observed in HS and MF treatments in spite of their lower nutrient content. A pot experiment is underway to assess synergistic effects of combining BS with BC, HS, or MF.
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Keywords: Mine tailings; mycorrhizal fungi; nutrient; organic amendments; revegetation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO, USA; 2: Department of Biology, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO, USA

Publication date: April 16, 2019

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