The use of different ecosystem components as indicators of ecosystem development during platinum mine tailings rehabilitation
Rossouw, Johanna Martina
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Platinum mining activities contribute substantially to South Africa's economy since it exceeded gold as economical contributor in 2001. Mining activities contribute to large amounts of waste production in the form of tailings and rock waste, deposited in the surrounding environment of the mine premises. Mining companies are held responsible for damages caused to the surrounding environment. These companies are required to introduce the cost of ecological rehabilitation in their operation costs as well as compile an environmental management plan. Numerous attempts to rehabilitate mine waste have proven unsuccessful. New and improved rehabilitation techniques are required to facilitate in the rehabilitation of these mine spoils. Woodchip-vermicompost produced from platinum mining wastes (woodchips and sewage sludge) was used as an alternative amendment to inorganic fertilisers during the rehabilitation of platinum mine tailings. The effectiveness of the woodchip-vermicompost as an alternative amendment during the platinum mine tailings rehabilitation were monitored using different ecosystem components. A natural veldt in the vicinity of the mine area was randomly selected to serve as a reference site. These ecosystem components selected have previously been shown to be effective as indicators of ecosystem quality. The components selected for this study includes the use of microbial enzymatic activity, microbial community structure, nematode trophic structures, and other mesofaunal groups such as micro-arthropods. The physical and chemical properties of the platinum mine tailings and reference area as well as the vegetation cover of the platinum mine tailings were determined. Statistical and multivariate analyses were use to determine the correlation between the dependent microbial components and dominate independent chemical properties. Nematode trophic structure, Maturity Index, and Plant-Parasitic nematode Index were used to compare the two rehabilitation techniques in terms of nematodes as indicators. Microarthropods family structures were used to compare the two amendments in terms of diversity and abundance. Enzymatic activity was positively affected by the addition of woodchip-vermicompost, than in the sites treated with inorganic fertilisers. The microbial community structure showed no statistically significant (p < 0.05) differences between the two amendments. A higher abundance of nematodes especially plant-parasitic nematodes and bacterivorous nematodes were observed in the woodchip-vermicompost sites than in the inorganic fertilised sites. According to the Maturity Index, both amendments became more enriched during the study period, while the Plant-Parasitic nematode Index showed that the carrying capacity for plantparasitic nematodes on the woodchip-vermicompost sites increased while it decreased in the inorganic fertilised sites, which can be related to the decrease in vegetation cover on the inorganic fertilised sites. Both coloniser (Prostigmata) and persister (Cryptostigmata and Mesostigmata) groups of the micro-arthropods, as well as a higher diversity of micro-arthropods, were present on the woodchip-vermicompost sites whereas the inorganic fertilised sites showed only the presence of colonisers, with a decrease in diversity and abundance of micro-arthropods over the study. The colonisation of micro-arthropods may have been affected by the addition of woodchip-vermicompost and vegetation cover, which contribute to the establishment of suitable microhabitats for these soil biota. By intercorrelating the results, it may be concluded that the addition of woodchip-vermicompost may be an essential part of the rehabilitation process, by contributing to soil organic material to the ecosystem system, which may improve the recolonisation of soil biota and ecosystem processes. However further studies need to be conducted in order to determine the long-term sustainability of the woodchip-vermicompost in providing organic material and sustaining the ecosystem processes. The study also showed the necessity to integrate various ecosystem components when evaluating ecosystem development due to the unique role each component plays and the impact it may have on other components.