PRS Publications

Facilitating early boreal forest succession on waste rock using Ramial Chipped Wood mulch: A five-year study

Taurines, S., M. Guittonny and A. Séguin. 2024.


After a mine is closed, waste rock storage areas must be revegetated to facilitate the return of ecosystem services and meet legal and social expectations. The restoration of forest ecosystems on waste rock through spontaneous colonization associated with primary succession can take decades and is still poorly studied. Adding a mulch of ramial chipped wood (RCW) could improve the physicochemical properties and microclimate conditions of waste rock, thus facilitating substrate colonization by plants. In 2016, a fully randomized block design was installed on waste rock from a closed gold mine located in the boreal forest in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Quebec, Canada. The design included four treatments: scarified waste rock as the control (WR), 2 cm of RCW mulch on top of scarified waste rock (RCW/WR), and 10 cm layer of sand on top of scarified waste rock with or without 2 cm of RCW mulch (RCW/S and S, respectively). Over a period of five years, we followed the natural colonization of forest species as well as abiotic (substrate microclimate conditions and physicochemistry) and biotic (herbaceous plant colonization) factors influencing woody plant colonization success. Six boreal woody species spontaneously colonized the area (five individuals per m2, on average, all species combined). Salix sp. and Picea glauca seedlings were more abundant on substrates with RCW mulch (especially sand) than those without mulch, and P. glauca had greater aerial biomasses with RCW mulch. Substrate water content during the growing season and the presence of the weed species Tussilago farfara were determining environmental factors in substrate colonization by Abies balsamea. In the absence of Tussilago farfara, RCW mulch increased A. balsamea colonization. RCW mulch increased the total cover of colonizing herbaceous plants (23.3 - 58.2%) as compared to mineral substrates alone (4.78 - 52.3%), which negatively affected the number of A. balsamea individuals. The colonizing herbaceous species were mostly primary succession species, Pilosella caespitosa, Anaphalis margaritacea, and Tussilago farfara being dominant; no exotic species were observed. The results highlight the potential of RCW mulch in promoting forest recolonization on waste rock, including mid-successional species like Picea sp., which could be useful for facilitating ecosystem succession in post-mining landscapes.