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Development of vegetation based soil quality indices for mineralized terrane in arid and semi-arid regions

Posted date: May 29, 2012
Publication Year: 
Authors: Blecker, S. W.; Stillings, L. L.; Amacher, M. C.; Ippolito, J. A.; DeCrappeo, N. M.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Ecological Indicators. 20: 65-74.


Soil quality indices (SQIs) are often management driven and attempt to describe key relationships between above- and below-ground parameters. In terrestrial systems, indices that were initially developed and modified for agroecosystems have been applied to non-agricultural systems in increasing number. We develop an SQI in arid and semi-arid ecosystems of the Western US impacted by different types of geologic mineralization using the relationship between vegetation community parameters and soil abiotic and biotic properties. We analyze these relations in soils associated with three different mineralization types: podiform chromite, Cu/Mo porphyry, and acid-sulfate gold vein systems at four different sites in California and Nevada. Soil samples were collected from undisturbed soils in both mineralized and nearby unmineralized substrates as well as from waste rock and tailings. Aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), canopy cover and shrub density were measured for the vegetative communities. Minimum data sets were developed based on correlations between the soil and vegetation parameters, refined using principal components analysis, scored using non-linear functions, and combined into an overall SQI. The indices are comprised of one or two microbial parameters and three to six abiotic parameters, the latter consisting of nutrients and metals. Given the preliminary development of this approach, the parameters and combinations to arrive at an SQI for a given site cannot at this time be correlated or compared with that of another site. This SQI approach provides a means of quantifying disturbed ecosystem recovery resulting from mining, and could be applied to other disturbances in a way that readily distills the information for potential use by land managers. However, severely disturbed areas with little to no aboveground biomass, such as unreclaimed tailings, have likely crossed an ecological threshold that precludes the use of this type of monitoring tool.


Blecker, S. W.; Stillings, L. L.; Amacher, M. C.; Ippolito, J. A.; DeCrappeo, N. M. 2012. Development of vegetation based soil quality indices for mineralized terrane in arid and semi-arid regions. Ecological Indicators. 20: 65-74.