Vol.2, No.6, 590-599 (2010) Natural Science
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) ecosystem
macronutrients budget on reclaimed mine
sitesstand trees supply and stability*
Marcin Pietrzykowski
Department of Forest Ecology, Agricultural University of Kracow, Krakow, Poland; rlpietrz@cyf-kr.edu.pl
Received 12 February 2010; revised 24 March 2010; accepted 7 April 2010.
The aim of this study was to determine the
sources, accumulation rate and relationships
between macronutrients in reclaimed mine soils
(RMS) and aboveground plant biomass on exte-
rnal slopes of lignite mines in central Poland.
The study was conducted on two different types
of sites with 10-year-old Scots (Pinus sylvestris
L.) pine stands located on Quaternary loamy sa-
nds (QLS) and on Tertiary acidic carboniferous
sands following neutralisation (TCS). The con-
trol plot was located in the same vicinity on an
external slope in a natural pine ecosystem on a
Haplic Podzol in a young mixed coniferous for-
est habitat (NPE). The nutrient resources, apart
from N, were higher in RMS than in comparable
Haplic Podzols, however, N primarily accumul-
ated in the mineral horizons. In forest soils, the
main macronutrient resources were accumu-
lated in organic horizons, which in natural soils
of coniferous forest habitats constitute the main
source of nutrients. The proportion of individual
macronutrients accumulated in the biomass vs.
pools in soil was much lower on the external
slope RMS than in the natural site, which in view
of the potential richness of RMS, indicated po-
orer sorption and utilization of macronutrients
in aboveground plant biomass than in natural
habitats. Other important linear correlations (p
= .05) were found between the sources of nutr-
ients in RMS and elements accumulated in bio-
mass (most clearly in case of K, Ca and Mg), wh-
ich indicates important relationships between
soil and vegetation in the first stages of ecosys-
tem development as stimulated by reclamation.
Keywords: Reclamation; Scots Pine; Ecosystem;
As is true in many contemporary environmental prob-
lems, the rehabilitation of a drastically disturbed terres-
trial system, such as lands mined for coal and minerals,
requires site-specific knowledge to ensure the reclama-
tion strategies chosen will be sustainable [1-16]. In cen-
tral Europe, a large proportion of post-mining landscapes
are reclaimed to forest.
From an ecological point of view, reclamation is a pr-
ocess of restoring the whole ecosystem [2]. The eco-
system, according to the traditional definition by Tensley,
A.G. [17], should consist of an integrated system of bi-
otic and abiotic elements where all the trophy layers
contain a complete set of species ensuring the circulation
of matter and energy flow. A complete assessment of the
reclamation processes should take into consideration
many ecological factors [18]. It is therefore important to
determine the soil development rate including the depth
of organic horizons, nutrient accumulation rates, balance
of elements [3,19-22] and plant community devel- op-
ment. Plant community parameters should include the
number of species, biodiversity of communities, and the
proportion of species characteristic of forest and non-
forest communities [23-25].
Chemical compound pools (mineral and organic sub-
strates) are the inanimate elements of the ecosystem (the
biotope), whereas plant and animal communities are co-
nsidered the animate elements of the ecosystem (bio-
cenosis) [26]. In the course of reclamation treatment, all
the factors which affect the functionality of the ecosys-
tem are developed from essentially zero such as in pri-
mary succession [14,15]. Creation of conditions for effi-
cient circulation of matter and energy flow between the
biotope and the biocenosis determines the success of the
*This work was sponsored by the grant from Norway through the
orwegian Financial Mechanis
M. Pietrzykowski / Natural Science 2 (2010) 590-599
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
reclamation treatment which stimulates the process of
ecosystem restoration [2]. However, the key question is
when the restored biological systems cycle nutrients at
rates that meet their demand without compromiseing
their productivity [2,11,19,27,28].
The stand of trees is an element within animate forest
ecosystems which most distinctly modifies their microc-
limate, light and biochemical conditions for other organ-
isms undergoing succession. The condition and growth
of stands of trees introduced to reclaimed areas directly
depend on the capacity of substrates (parent rock) and
the developing soil to meet the nutrient requirements
which gradually increase along with the growth of bio-
mass. There are differences between ecosystems restored
on post-mining sites and natural forest ecosystems [22,
27] and they include a disturbed element circulation cy-
cle, and low percentage of organic matter developed in
situ. These conditions can significantly limit the pool of
available elements for nutrient cycling in tree stands [29],
and these cycles are also occasionally limited by direct
acid-metal phytotoxicity in reclaimed mine soils (RMS).
The aim of this work was to 1) determine the sources
of soil macronutrient elements: C; N; S; P; K; Ca; Mg;
Na, and 2) to determine relationships between total and
available forms in RMS and 3) their accumulation in the
biomass of pine stands growing in the KWB ‘Beł-
chatów’ (in central Poland) reclaimed opencast lignite
mine spoil heap. The study was conducted on stands of
pine trees since the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) is
one of the main species introduced when reforesting
post-mining sites in central Europe [30] due to its low
habitat requirements and pioneering character [31].
2.1. Study Site
The study was conducted in the top portion of an ope-
ncast lignite mine spoil heap, ‘Bełchatów’, in central Po-
land (N 51 13.196; E 19 25.569). The spoil heap ranged
in height from 120 to 180 m and covers an area of 1480
ha; including slopes (embankments and shelves) of 1165
ha, and a summit portion of 318 ha. Climate in the area
is transitional and changeable due to clashes between po-
lar maritime air masses and polar continental air masses.
The average annual temperature is 7.6; the annual
amplitude is 21; the growing period lasts 200-210
days, and total precipitation is 580-600 mm [32]. The
site is located mostly on a mixture of Quaternary loamy
sands, and sand with gravel, which occasionally consists
of loam, bouldery clay and clay. There are also areas of
Tertiary sandy strata with loam and clay, frequently car-
bonated and sulphurised, which are very acidic, display-
ing phytotoxic properties [33,34]. The reclamation tre-
atment on the top portion of the spoil heap consisted of
NPK mineral fertilisation (N 60, P 70 and K 60
kg · ha-1), and sowing a mixture of grass and leguminous
plants (60 kg · ha-1). The tertiary pyritic strata was ear-
lier neutralised with bog lime incorporated into the sur-
face horizon to a depth of 40 cm [34]. The area was later
ref- orested mainly with 50% Scots pine (Pinus sylves-
tris L.) and 30% common birch (Betula verrucosa Ehrh.).
The predominantly 1-year-old seedlings were planted on
a 0.7 m length × 1.5 m width spacing [34].
2.2. Field Studies and Laboratory Analyses
The study plots (10 × 10 m) were located in approxim-
ately 12 to 17-year-old stands of pines on the top portion
of the spoil heap (4 replications for each variant): one on
the potentially fertile Quaternary loamy sand (QLS) and
two on Tertiary carboniferous and pyritic sand following
neutralisation (TCS). The control plot (NPE) was located
in a forest in the vicinity of the spoil heap in a 17-year-
old stand of pine trees, in a mixed coniferous forest
habitat, ideal for this species.
Dendrometric measurements of the tree stands were
made including diameter of trees at the root collar, dia-
meter at a height of 1.3 m (i.e., DBH) and their overall
height (h0). Later, 35 study trees were selected propor-
tionally to their diameter, and were cut down and weig-
hed (the branches were weighed separately) and their
foliage was tested. Foliage samples were taken to deter-
mine water content and elemental composition in the
laboratory. Next, 22 tree root systems were excavated;
the diameter at the root collar was measured, as were
the maximum horizontal and vertical range of the roots.
Roots were weighed later. Woody tissue was sampled
to determine water content and elemental composition.
The measurements and the obtained data were used to
develop empirical equations to determine the above-
ground tree biomass and root systems on the spoil heap
(Mg · ha-1) [empirical equations by Socha, 2006; un-
published data]. Fine roots less than 2 mm in diameter
were assessed using cylinders (250 cm3) for sampling
in 3 replications at three depths (0-8 cm, 8-50 cm and
50-110 cm) from one plot per each variant on the spoil
heap. In the lab, the samples were rinsed, dried and the
roots were weighed. The aboveground biomass of the
herbaceous vegetation was determined using the har-
vest method at the peak of the vegetation period, from
1 × 1 m squares in 3 replications located diagonally on
each study plot. Next, herbaceous vegetation was sam-
pled to determine water content and elemental compo-
sition in the lab.
In the course of the soil study, a 110-cm soil pit was
M. Pietrzykowski / Natural Science 2 (2010) 590-599
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
dug in the spoil heap and another 150 cm pit in the con-
trol plot was dug, and soil morphology was described.
To determine volumetric density, samples of intact
structure were collected into 250 cm3 cylinders in 3 rep-
lications for each horizon. Apart from soil pits, 3 bore
holes were made in each plot with soil drills [from Ei-
jkelkamp] and mixed samples were collected to deter-
mine the content of elements and other physical and
chemical soil properties from depths of: 0-8 cm (organic
mineral horizons displaying some features of parent rock
AiC); from 8-50 cm, and from 50-110 cm (parent rock
horizons C). Samples of the organic horizon (raw humus
– OL/f) were collected in autumn after the vegetation
period from 1 × 1 m plots in 3 replications from each
plot; the mass was assayed on the spot and mixed sam-
ples were collected for lab tests.
In the laboratory, soil samples were dried and screen-
ed with a 2 mm screen, and samples from the OL/f hori-
zon grounded after drying. The following factors were
determined in the soil samples: particle size distribution
using areometrical method, pH potentiometrically in H20
and in 1M KCl (1:2.5 ratio); organic carbon (Corg) and
total sulphur (St) content using the infra-red absorption
method, and total nitrogen (Nt) using the thermal cond-
uctivity method with the “Leco CNS 2000” analyser;
basic exchangeable cations Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+ in 1 M
NH4Ac by AAS detection; the content of total elements:
Na, Mg, Ca, K after digestion in the mixture of HNO3,
(d = 1.40) and 60% HClO4 acid in 4:1 ratio using the
AAS method. Phosphorus (P) in a form assimilated by
plants was assayed using the Egner-Riehm method in ca-
lcium lactate extract ((CH3CHOHCOO)2Ca) acidified
with hydrochloric acid to pH 3.6 and in total form using
the molybdate blue colorimetry method from extracts in
HClO4 [35,36]. Soil subtypes were defined according to
FAO taxonomy [37].
In mixed samples of Scots pine needles and herbac-
eous vegetation from the undergrowth (one sample for
each study plot) the C, N, S content was assayed on the
‘Leco CNS 2000’ analyser; Na, K, Ca, Mg after digest-
ion in the mixture of HNO3 (d = 1.40) and 60% HClO4
acid in a ratio of 4:1 using the AAS method and P using
molybdate blue colorimetry from an extract in 60%
HClO4 [35].
The results, i.e., the total pools of elements in soil,
were statistically analyzed using the Statistica 6.1 prog-
ramme. Differences between mean values of features
from two independent groups (QLS and TCS) were te-
sted. Distributions were compared to normality using the
Shapiro-Wilks test. Next, to compare mean values of fe-
atures in two variants, a t-student test was applied for
independent variables (p = 0.05). Correlations between
sources of elements in available and exchangeable forms
in soil versus accumulation in aboveground community
biomass (p = 0.05) were also tested.
3.1. Soil Characteristic on the Spoil Heap
In the top portion of the spoil heap the soils were classif-
ied as Urbic Anthrosols with initial development of org-
anic OL/f horizons which produced semi-mor-type hum-
us at the development stage with raw humus and a thin
layer of initial transitional organic-mineral horizons ref-
lecting the features of the parent rock (AiC). In both soil
types (QLS and TCS), rock type was mixed due to non-
selective dumping of the rock cap. In QLS, soils devel-
oping from these strata exhibited predominantly sandy
clay textures with an average of 28% silt and 4% clay.
They were also sometimes interbedded with clay (43%
silt fraction and 9% clay fraction) or sand. The soil bulk
density averaged 1.67 g · cm-3. In the TCS soil profile,
there were remains of bog lime which had been used as a
neutraliser. Soils developing on these strata exhibited
lighter and more varied sandy textures, sometimes gradi-
ng to loamy sand. The bulk density of the strata avera-
ged 1.68 g · cm-3. In the control plot in the neighboring
forest ecosystem, the soil was a Haplic Podzol formed
on fluvioglacial sandy strata with only up to 1% silt and
up to 5% clay.
In the reclaimed areas features such as texture, soil
cohesion and the neutralisation depth of toxically acidic
strata determined the depth to which root systems occ-
urred [3,38,39]. The depth to which root systems occur
controls the zone of influence of living organisms and
organic compounds [40]. In QLS, roots ranged to 70 cm
in depth and in TCS roots penetrated to 50 cm. In those
habitats, a marked flattening and deformation of pine
root systems was observed. In natural conditions pines
develop a typical taproot system. In the natural Haplic
Podzol, the roots reached a depth of 90 cm, and has been
reported that roots of pine trees in natural conditions
often reach a depth of several metres [41].
The spoil heap pH in quaternary strata was neutral or
alkaline and pHKCl averaged 7.3 and pHH2O was 7.6. In
organic OL/f horizons, the pH was clearly acidic (4.1
pHKCl and pHH2O 4.4) which was due to the acidifying
impact of organic litterfall under pine trees [41]. Soils on
tertiary strata following neutralisation displayed differ-
ent pH stratification in the soil profile. The highest pH
occurred in the 0-8 cm layer of AiC horizon and avera-
ged 5.7 pHH2O and 4.9 pHKCl. Deeper, there was a decre-
ase in pH to as low as 3.0 pHH2O and 2.7 pHKCl. Some-
times higher content of bog lime resulted in pHH2O of up
to 7.8 and pHKCl up to 7.4. It indicated considerable mi-
M. Pietrzykowski / Natural Science 2 (2010) 590-599
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
cro-habitat variability in this type of plot. In natural soil,
the lowest pH (4.3 pHH2O and 3.5 pHKCl) occurred in
organic-mineral horizons with podzol features (AEes).
In the spoil heap, soil TEB (Total Exchangeable Bases)
in QLS averaged from 26.5 to 27.6 cmol(+) · kg-1, and
CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) from 27.0 to 28.0
cmol(+) · kg-1 (only in organic OL/f horizon did it incr-
ease to 55.2 cmol(+) · kg-1). The highest TEB in mineral
horizons (up to 35 cmol(+) · kg-1) was related to higher
ratios of sandy clays with up to 9% clay. In TCS, TEB
was much lower and ranged from 2.3 to 4.7 cmol(+) · kg-1,
whereas CEC ranged from 5.0 to 5.8 cmol(+) · kg-1. Also
in this variant, organic OL/f horizons exhibited the best
exchange potential which is connected with excellent
soil organic matter (SOM) exchange properties [42].
3.2. Community Biomass
Terrestrial ecosystems consist of above- and belowgro-
und components and their impact on one another is cruc-
ial for circulation of matter and energy flow [43,44].
Accumulation of elements in soil in the course of soil
development processes, and especially the SOC seques-
tration potential in RMS, depends on the amount of bio-
mass production and return to soil, and mechanisms of C
protection [45].
The aboveground plant community biomass in QLS
averaged 51.9 Mg · ha-1, and in TCS it averaged 11.3 Mg ·
ha-1. These differences mainly resulted from the age and
stage of development of the pine trees and not from hab-
itat conditions. However, a 19-year-old pine tree on loa-
my quaternary sand in QLS had a 1.5 × larger biomass
than a 17-year-old pine tree in the control plot (Table 1).
Table 1. Biomass of individual components of the pine eco-
system on the top portion of ‘Bełchatów’ lignite mine spoil
heap and in fresh mixed coniferous forest habitat.
(dry biomass (Mg · ha -1))
Va ri an t
of site Total
Roots1 Herbaceous
and shrubs Trees Wood2Foliage
QLS 51.876
TCS 11.275
NPE 35.813 7.132 0.152 35.661 31.8633.798
Explanations: 394 (156) - mean (SD); 1in natural stand (NPE) com-
munity root biomass assumed to be 0.2 of wood biomass (according to
[46,47]); 2- wood: large timber and branches of trees with DBH > 7cm.
In the forest site and in the investigated spoil heap
communities, stands of trees constituted the main comp-
onent of aboveground biomass while the percentage of
herbaceous vegetation did not exceed 0.3%-0.4%. Com-
pared to the total aboveground tree stands biomass, the
root biomass amounted to 13% in QLS, and 25% in TCS,
whereas the foliage biomass was 15% and 19% respect-
tively. Although the foliage comprised a small share of
standing tree biomass, it made up a considerable part of
annual icremental biomass production, frequently equal to
that of woody tissue [48]. The typical aboveground tree
biomass in forests of the temperate zone has been est-
imated at 21 Mg · ha-1 (approx. 30-year-old stands of trees)
and 170 Mg · ha-1 (50-year-old stands of trees) [49]. In
natural conditions on the Polish lowlands, the reported
biomass of age group 1 (up to 20 year-old) stands of pine
trees on average amounted to 50 Mg · ha-1, but in the next
age group it increased by nearly two-fold [50]. For four
17-year-old stands of pine trees on a reclaimed sand pit (in
southern Poland) the biomass amounted to 25 Mg · ha-1
[51]. So far, the tree biomass on the spoil heap has
reached values which were close to natural conditions,
and in the case of QLS, the biomass of 19-year-old stands
of pine trees was higher than the control plot biomass.
Very dynamic growth of the aboveground pine tree bio-
mass on reclaimed soil was also reported in the Lusatian
Mining District [8]. However, their data set refers to the
first generation of stands of trees in age group 2 (i.e., not
exceeding 40 years of age). It is currently difficult to pre-
dict whether the cycling of nutrient elements will be in-
tensive enough and whether a self-sustainable ecosystem
will develop with such growth of aboveground tree bio-
mass in post-mining sites [28].
3.3. Macronutrient Accumulation in Soil
Low content of organic matter and related low total nit-
rogen and organic carbon accumulation are the common
limiting features of reclaimed mine soils (RMS) [19].
Soil organic matter is especially important in determin-
ing other qualities of mine soils [16,21,38,42,52]. Total
acc- umulation of organic carbon (Corg) in both types of
soils was similar and averaged over 54.0 Mg·ha-1 (Table
2). The values were nearly 2/3-fold lower than the natu-
ral soil in the control plot where Corg accumulation in the
entire profile (up to 150 cm) exceeded 75.5 Mg · ha-1. In
organic (O) and organic-mineral (AE) horizons of the
podzol developed on fluvioglacial sands under forest,
Corg accumulation ranged from 76.0 to 122.0 Mg · ha-1.
Carbon translocated to the enrichment horizon (B) sh-
ould be added to this amount (the calculations have been
made for Polish lowland habitat conditions on the basis
of the Atlas of Polish forest soils; [53]).
M. Pietrzykowski / Natural Science 2 (2010) 590-599
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Table 2. Pool in the soil and accumulation of elements in the biomass in pine ecosystems on the top portion of ‘Bełchatów’ lignite
mine spoil heap.
In soil In biomass (aboveground dry biomass)
horizon (LO/f)
Organic-mineral and
mineral horizons
(AiC and C)
(up to 110 cm depth)
Herbaceous and
shrubs Wood1 Needles Total 2
Variant: QLS
C 1592.9
N 19.1
P 1.8
K 3.9
Mg 2.5
Ca 27.3
Na 0.1
(24.0) < 0.00 0.82
S 1.5
Variant: TCS
C 1263.9
N 15.0
P 1.8
K 2.7
Mg 2.5
Ca 29.6
Na 0.12
(8.90) < 0.00 0.2
S 1.3
Explanations: 19.1 (8.5) - mean (SD); n = 4 (number of plots in variant); 1wood biomass of trees with DBH > 7 cm; 2total element’s accumulation
in aboveground biomass (trees, herbaceous and shrubs biomass), *differences for soil element’s resource are significant at p = 0.05 level
(T-student test).
Nitrogen (and phosphorus) is one of the most deficient
elements in reclaimed sites [5,54]. In the spoil heap soils
of former lignite mines developing on tertiary carb-
oniferous sands, geological carbon in the form of lignites
often occurs and complicates soil C analysis. Therefore,
the C and N accumulation rate in the deeper horizons of
the spoil heap soils, especially in case of TCS, may act-
ually be overestimated. Although total N accumulation
increases in the course of soil development in mine soils,
both in those undergoing reclamation treatment and
those where natural succession is taking place [5,12,
14,38], it has been found that the average annual accu-
mulation of N fluctuates and may change with the age of
soil and vary by community type introduced in reclama-
tion seedings [38].
Moreover, N accumulation is much less dynamic than
carbon accumulation [14]. Also, in soils where primary
succession takes place, N is gradually mineralised [54]
which may be deficient for rapidly growing young trees
in reclaimed areas which require a lot of N over time [8].
Total accumulation of Nt in QLS soils was on average
5.0 Mg · ha-1, and therefore 2/3-fold higher than in TCS
soils where it amounted to 3.0 Mg · ha-1. In comparable
natural soils, N accumulation was much higher at 11.0
Mg · ha-1.
The highest accumulation of exchangeable Ca2+, Mg2+,
K+, Na+, and available P in mineral horizons took place
in QLS on Quaternary strata, and in all cases (except for
sulphur) it was considerably higher (p = 0.05) than in
TCS (Table 2). High sulphur accumulation (St), reach-
ing 4.9 Mg · ha-1, was related to the properties and origin
of spoil heap strata. Soils developing on Tertiary carb-
oniferous and pyritic strata may contain more than 1%
sulphur and are referred to as “sulphurous mine soils”
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[33]. The nutrient resources accumulated in mineral hor-
izons of a comparable natural podzol were much lower
than in QLS with Ca2+ = 132; Mg2+ = 42; K+ = 16; P =
1.4; and Na+ = 2.5-fold lower, respectively, than in TCS
with 13; 10; 6; 1.3; and 1.7-fold respectively. According
to a habitat classification based on the Soil Quality Index
used in forestry in Poland [53], QLS soils could be even
classified higher than natural deciduous forest sites (eu-
trophic). The accumulation ratio of individual elements
in mineral horizons (up to 110 cm depth) and in organic
horizons - raw humus layer OL/f in RMS and Ol + Olf
in Haplic Podzol (MHBA:OHBA) (Table 3) constituted a
major difference in the distribution of elements accumu-
lated in RMS on the spoil heap and in the comparable
Haplic Podzol. In initial mine soils, the OL/f horizons
were still insufficiently developed and did not have a su-
fficient pool of macronutrients.
Furthermore, SOM accumulation, decomposition, and
mineralization were probably not well established enou-
gh to meet the nutrient supply needs for vegetation as in
natural forest habitats [29,55]. In the oligotrophic Haplic
Podzol, the resources of elements in mineral horizons
were the same (in case of C and Na), and nearly the
same (Ca, Mg and K) or even lower (P), and only in ex-
ceptional cases such as nitrogen (MHBA:OHBA accumu-
lation was 4.6) and sulphur (MHBA:OHBA was 558) was
it many times higher in comparison to resources in the
organic horizons (Table 3).
Table 3. The ratio of the accumulation of macronutrient res-
ources in soil mineral horizons to accumulation in organic soil
horizon (MHBA:OH BA) and of biomass to soils (BBA : S BA) on
the spoil heap of KWB ‘Bełchatów’ in Quaternary loamy sand
strata (QLS variant) and in Tertiary carboniferous and pyritic
sands following neutralisation (TCS variant) and in a natural
pine ecosystem on Haplic Podzol in fresh mixed coniferous
forest habitat (NPE).
Variant of
element C Ca Mg K P S Na N
QLS 33.09 3471.73 515.56 226.60 15.54 3343.72 964.04263.03
TCS 42.34 330.26 192.30 120.88 19.33 3780.00 826.40203.14
NPE 0.99 1.24 0.64 0.620.34 558.20 0.964.64
QLS 0.54 0.001 0.02 0.090.58 0.008 0.0080.023
TCS 0.14 0.002 0.02 0.080.19 0.002 0.0030.013
NPE 0.63 0.45 15.42 4.704.05 0.023 0.0720.266
Explanation: values calculated based on mean for variants; MH – soil
mineral horizons up to 110 cm depth; BA – element accumulation or
source in (Mg · ha-1); OH – organic horizons (row humus layer OL/f in
reclaimed soil and Ol + Olf in Haplic Podzol); B – aboveground bio-
mass; S – soil; variant’s abbreviation and element’s form in soil - see
methodology chapter
3.4. Relationships between Elements in Soil
The (C:N ratio) may be regarded as an indicator of cha-
nges in soils including intensification of organic matter
mineralisation processes and related N-availability to
plants during the decomposition of organic matter in soil
[29]. In the investigated spoil heap, the soil C:N ratio in
the OL/f horizon exceeded 80, whereas in QLS variant
in the AiC horizon was 11 and in TCS variant it was 16.
In the control podzol the C:N ratio in organic horizons
was lower and was 51, and in the organic-mineral hori-
zon (AEes) it was 17. For mor type humus characteristic
of podzols in temperate climatic zones, the C:N ratio in
organic and organic-mineral horizons oscillates between
30 and 40 and sometimes reached higher values [29].
Scots pine as a species characteristic of coniferous for-
ests produces organic litterfall which decomposes with
difficulty and the C:N ratio usually exceeded 70 [41]. It
was assumed that for initial soils on post-mining sites,
the C:N ratio in organic-mineral horizons below 25
would indicate regular mineralization processing of org-
anic matter [56].
The potential of the developing mine soils to meet
plant nutrient requirements depended on the percentage
of elements in forms available for plants (for this study:
Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+ in exchangeable form and available
P). In the organic horizons, these forms depended dir-
ectly on the decomposition rate and mineralization of
organic matter developed in situ. In mineral horizons,
they largely depended on the weathering rate of minerals
in the substrate. In natural habitats and especially in
oligotrophic podzols, nutrients were mainly stored in the
organic horizons and they were gradually released via
mineralization processes [29]. This was of key impor-
tance in providing nutrients to trees as a limited amount
of nutrients in soil could be compensated for by quick
biological cycling of elements [55]. Soil organic matter
(SOM), even though in its initial phase of accumulation,
plays an important role in the tree nutrition balance in
reclaimed areas [42,52,57]. In the investigated podzol,
the highest percentage of exchangeable Ca2+, Mg2+, Na+
and P (in available form) compared to total forms occ-
urred in organic horizons (Ol and Ofh; 0-9 cm) and
amounted to 43, 49, 35 and 18%, respectively of the
total elemental pool. In the case of K+, the highest perc-
entage of exchangeable forms in the total pool of elem-
ents occurred in the enrichment horizon (Bfe, 50-94 cm)
and amounted to 6% (Figure 1). In RMS (QLS), the
most favourable relationship in this respect also occurred
in organic horizons OL/f (0-2 cm), where Mg2+ amoun-
ted to 41% (of total Mg) whereas Ca2+ was 24%; K+ =
43%; Na+ = 24% and P was = 19% of the total elemental
pool (Figure 1).
M. Pietrzykowski / Natural Science 2 (2010) 590-599
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Figure 1. The share of exchangeable and available forms of
the total macronutrient elemental pool in spoil heap soils of
KWB ‘Bełchatów’ in Quaternary loamy sand strata (QLS
variant) and in Tertiary carboniferous and pyritic sands fol-
lowing neutralisation (TCS variant) and in a natural pine eco-
system on Haplic Podzol in fresh mixed coniferous forest
habitat (NPE).
In mineral horizons, the percentage of exchangeable
and available forms decreased. However, in comparison
to natural soils, the percentage of exchangeable forms in
the entire pool of macronutrient elements was consid-
erably higher. In the deeper mineral horizons, nutrients
were mainly supplied due to weathering of minerals. In
the more shallow horizons, what was also important was
the enrichment process occurring via soil development
where organic matter, colloidal fractions and sesquiox-
ides were being supplied from the organic layers [58]. In
QLS soils in the OL/f horizon (0-2 cm), similar rela-
tionships were noted for Mg2+, K+, and Na+. Exchange-
able forms of these elements constituted approximately
40 % of the total elemental pool in total form. However
in the case of Ca2+ and P, the largest percentage of forms
available to plants occurred in mineral layers: P at 17%
from 10 to 50 cm, and Ca2+ at 46% from 50 to 110 (Fig-
ure 1). This was clearly connected with the bog lime
neutralization treatment which was incorporated to a
depth of at least 30 cm.
3.5. Relationships between Element
AccuMulation in Soils and
Aboveground Biomass
Relations between soils and vegetation under natural
conditions have long been studied and soil development
and ecological succession of communities are closely
linked [26,47,59]. In reclaimed post-mining sites these
relationships are not yet stable and may be frequently
disturbed. Clear links between the trophism of mine soils
(as expressed by Soil Trophy Index (according to Brożek
and Zwydak [53]), and ecological indicators based on
Ecological Indicator Values of Vascular Plants (accord-
ing to Ellenberg, [60]) have been documented in sand
pits where natural succession was allowed to occur (‘Sz-
czakowa’ sand mine pit in southern w Poland; Pietrzy-
kowski and Krzaklewski [61]). Relationships between
community features and abundance of soils developing
on former mining sites under succession were also de-
scribed by Wali [14] on the bases of studies of aban-
doned coal-mine spoil materials in a mixed grass prairie
region (in western North Dakota, USA).
For this spoil heap, the ratio of elements accumulated
in the aboveground biomass to the resources in soil min-
eral horizons (BBA:SBA) differed largely from the control
plot in the mixed coniferous forest, especially for Ca,
Mg, K and P. Communities in reclaimed areas accumu-
lated considerably less of those elements in relation to
the potential resources (Table 3). For biomass in the
forest habitat, the BBA:SBA ratio was much higher, which
indicates that the elements available in soil were much
better utilized by those communities. On this basis, it
may also be claimed that the element exchange mecha-
nism by pine communities on the spoil heap has differ-
ent dynamics than in natural habitats. A dependence
analysis between the accumulation of nutrients (in ex-
changeable and available forms expressed in Mg · ha-1 to
a depth of 110 cm) and elements accumulated in com-
munity biomass showed a significant linear correlation
(p = 0.05) for K, Ca and Mg (Table 4). This indicates
the existence of marked relationships between the abun-
dance of soil nutrients available to plants and the level of
elements accumulated in community biomass develop-
ing on the spoil heap. Under natural conditions, such
obvious dependence occurs in the first stages of primary
succession where plant communities depend directly
upon elements from the parent rock transformed into soil
[26,49]. In the more complex conditions of natural forest
ecosystems there are many other variables which modify
these factors, including organic matter decomposition
rate, individual biochemical cycles of elements, and the
soil volume used by tree root systems which was diffi-
cult to determine in this study.
The highest aboveground pine stand biomass occurred in
QLS on quaternary strata, However when compared to
TCS on less abundant tertiary sands following neutral-
lization, lower biomass resulted from age differences (19
and 12 years), and not just from differences in habitat
M. Pietrzykowski / Natural Science 2 (2010) 590-599
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
Table 4. A table of correlations between resources of macronutrient elements (Mg · ha-1) in mineral soil horizons to 110 cm depth
versus those in aboveground pine tree stand biomass on the upper portion of “Bełchatów” lignite mine spoil heap.
In biomass (aboveground biomass: trees and herbaceous vegetation)
(Mg · ha-1) C-biom N-biom S-biom P-biom K-biom Ca-biom Mg-biom Na-biom
C-soil 0.18 0.11 0.30 0.17 0.31 0.22 0.11 0.09
Nt-soil 0.55 0.59 0.55 0.57 0.52 0.58 0.61 0.44
St-soil 0.03 -0.01 -0.10 0.05 0.02 0.01 0.02 -0.06
P-soil -0.05 0.04 -0.17 -0.03 -0.18 -0.07 0.03 0.06
K+-soil 0.80* 0.74 0.84 0.78 0.85 0.82 0.78 0.61
Ca2+-soil 0.92 0.90 0.91 0.92 0.92 0.93 0.93 0.79
Mg2+-soil 0.82 0.80 0.81 0.82 0.82 0.83 0.85 0.67
In Soil (mineral horizon up to 110 cm
Na+-soil 0.62 0.56 0.59 0.61 0.64 0.62 0.62 0.37
*marked differences are significant at p = 0.05; n =8; Nt - total nitrogen; St - total sulphar; K+ - exchangeable cation forms – see methodology chap-
conditions between the plots. The higher community
biomass in QLS (2/3-fold) on the spoil heap compared to
pine tree stand biomass in the control plot in natural
habitat indicated that quaternary loamy sand strata was
potentially a good soil substrate for this species. Total
accumulation of organic carbon (Corg) in both soil vari-
ants was 2/3-fold lower, and in case of total Nt , more
than 3 -fold lower when compared to natural soil in the
control plot. Nitrogen was the most deficient element in
those conditions. The accumulation and the biogeo-
chemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen were closely
linked with the processes of soil development and com-
munity development on the spoil heap. The accumula-
tion of these elements was a good indicator of the rate of
these processes. In case of the exchangeable cations
(Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, Na+) in the mineral RMS horizons, their
accumulation was mostly connected with the potential
abundance of rock strata and weathering processes dur-
ing the development of soil. This was why the resources
of these elements were considerably higher in the spoil
heap soil than in the Haplic Podzol which formed on
oligotrophic fluvioglacial sands. The higher (statistically
significant) resources of macronutrients in QLS soils on
quaternary strata compared to TCS soils on tertiary
sands were also related to the origin and properties of
parent rocks of the developing soil. Since this feature
clearly differentiated the degrees of soil nutrient abun-
dance on the spoil heap, it may be used to develop a
habitat condition indicator for these materials.
A significant difference between RMS soils and natur-
al Haplic Podzols were the accumulation ratios of indi-
vidual elements in mineral and organic horizons (MHBA:
OHBA). In the case of mine soils, the initial organic ho-
rizons did not yet constitute a significant source of nu-
trients and SOM accumulation and decomposition were
not the basic mechanism for supplying plants with nu-
trients as is the case in natural forest habitats. There
were also differences in the ratio of elements accumu-
lated in aboveground biomass to the potential sources in
soil (BBA:SBA) on the spoil heap and in the control plot,
particularly for Ca, Mg, K and P. Plant communities in
reclaimed area accumulated much fewer elements com-
pared to potential sources in soil. However, for plant
biomass in forest habitats of the oligotrophic Haplic Po-
dzol, the ratio was much higher and indicated that
macronutrient resources in soil were optimally utilized
by the plant community. On this basis it may be assumed
that the exchange mechanism of elements by plant
communities dominated with pine on the spoil heap had
different dynamics than in natural habitats. Moreover,
the reported correlations between the accumulation of
nutrients in soil and elements accumulated in plant
community biomass (most clearly in the case of K, Ca
and Mg), indicates the existence of marked links be-
tween soil and vegetation in the process of ecosystem
development on a former mining spoil heap as stimu-
lated by reclamation treatments.
This study was financially supported by a grant from Norway through
the Norwegian Financial Mechanism. The author also thanks Professor
W. Lee Daniels Ph.D. from Virginia Tech for critical text correction;
Jarosław Socha Ph.D. from Department of Forest Mensuration for his
kind assistance in the process of preparing statistical analysis, and
laboratory staff of Department of Forest Ecology and Department of
Forest Soil Science ACU Krakow, Poland.
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