British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

The ecology and biology of some high elevation native legume species Smyth, Clint R. 1984

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Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation THE ECOLOGY AND BIOLOGY OF SOME HIGH ELEVATION NATIVE LEGUME SPECIES by Clint Smyth Introduction Revegetation of alpine and subalpine mine disturbances presents a unique and dif- ficult challenge for mine reclamation person- nel (Tomm and Takyi, 1981). These areas are characterized by short growing seasons, high isolation levels, cool temperatures, and gen- erally dry soil conditions (Sellings and Mooney, 1968; Billings I974a, I974b, Brown et al, 1976; and Ogilvie, 1976). The low heat budget under which plant species must com- plete their life cycles in these enivronments does not favor agronomic species which are bred for lower altitudes and more temperate climates (Brown and Johnston, 1979). Errington (1978), in his reclamation species trials in alpine areas of the Northeast Coal Block in British Columbia, found that several agronomic grass species performed ade- quately, but the agronomic legume species did not establish with any consistency. The legumes did not overwinter very well, and legume growth decreased during the second year (Errrington, 1978). Low moisture con- tent on very coast textured sites seemed to limit legume growth (Errington, 1978). The importance of including nitrogen- fixing legumes in the seed mixes used to revegtate mine disturbances is the result of the fact that mine spoil as a growing medium is low in "plant available" nitrogen (Tomm and Takyi, 1981). In fact, nitrogen appears to be the limiting nutrient in undisturbed areas at these altitudes (Nishimura, 1974; Luttmerding, 1976; and May, 1976). It would appear that the long term establishment of nitrogen-fixing species and grasses in these areas may require the use of native legume species which are adapted to the harsh conditions. Unfortunately, seed for native legume species is not available in large quantities from seed companies. Therefore, a study of the biology and ecology of some native legumes would provide valu- able information for mine reclamation per- sonnel and commercial seed producers. Project Objectives There are two general objectives for the study: (I) to evaluate each species and determine their suitability for mine recla- mation programs, and (2) to provide technical information on seed collection, processing, storage and planting requirements for each of the species considered to be suitable. Report Objectives For the purposes of this preliminary report, this discussion has been divided into the following sections: (I) species selection, (2) study area physiography, (3) site selection, (4) species biology and ecology and (5) a summary of research/management consider- ations. 1. Species    Selection:    Seven    species have been selected  for  investigation. All of the species are members of the Pea Family (Leguminosae).  Please refer to Table   I   for the   list   of   species.   The   criteria   used   for species selection was: (I)  their presence  in disturbed or exposed habitats, (2) their ob served potential as early successional species in   mine   reclamation  projects  and  (3)   their palatability to wildlife. 2. Study Area Physiography; The study area   lies  within   the   Front   Ranges   of   the Rocky    Mountains    in    southeastern   British Columbia. The main areas of concern are the major ridges of the Elk River, Fording River and Corbin Creek valleys (map). The southern boundary  of the study  area  is the Flathead Pass, and the northern boundary is the north- ern   boundary   of   Fording   Coal   Ltd.'s   coal lease. The area is characterized by a strong north-south alignment of major ridges paral- lel to the strike of westward-slipping thrust 31 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Table I Species List and Distributions 1. Astragalus alpinum (alpine milkvetch) Locations:      Ewin Ridge/Bald Mt. (CNRL) and North Greenhills (FCL) 2. Astragalus bourgovii (bourgeau's milkvetch) Locations:      Micehl Ridge (BCCL), Ewin Ridge/Bald Mt. and Mt. Michel (CNRL), North Greenhills (FCL). 3. Astragalus robbinsii (robin's milkvetch) Locations:      Ewin Ridge/Bald Mt. (CNRL) and North Greenhills (FCL). 4. Astragalus vexilliflexus var. nubilis (bent flowered milkvetch) Locations:      Ewin Ridge/Bald Mt. (CNRL), Michel Ridge (BCCL), and North Greenhills (FCL). 5. Hedysarum sulfurescens (sulfur hedysarum) Locations:      Ewin Ridge/Bald Mt. and Todhunter Basin (CNRL),  Michel Ridge (BCCL), and North Greenhills (FCL). 6. Oxytropis podocarpa (stalked pod locoweed) Locations:      Ewin Ridge/Bald Mt. and Todhunter Basin (CNRL). 7. Oxytropis sericeq (silky locoweed) Locations: Ewin Ridge/Bald Mt. and Todhunter Basin (CNRL), Michel Ridge (BCCL), North Greenhills (FCL), and South Greenhills (WML). faults and sedimentary strata (Holland, 1964). The study sites are found within the Alpine Tundra (AT) and the Englemann Spruce- Subalpine Fir Biogeoclimatic Zones at eleva- tions ranging from 1,900 to 2,500 metres. These areas are underlain by sandstone, silt- stone, conglomerate and coal of the Kootenay Formation and shale of the Fernie Group. Some of the areas, particularly the eastern area, are underlain by relatively re- sistant limestones and dolomites of the Rundle Group (Ryder, 1981). The surficial geology of these areas is primarily composed of glacial veneers and colluvium (Ryder, 1981). 3. Site Selection; The majority of the work to date has been carried out on Bald Mt. and Ewin Ridge (Crowsnest Resources Ltd. — Line Creek Operations). Sampling has also been carried out on Michel Ridge near Byron Creek Collieries, on South Greenhills (Westar Mining Ltd. — Greenhills Operations), and on North Greenhills (Fording Coal Ltd.). The work on Ewin Ridge and Bald Mt. and of areas adjacent to the other cooperating mines. A tenative list of the areas to be sampled in 1984 has been created: (I) Byron Creek Collieries area — Andy Good Peak, Tent Mt., Mount Ptolemy, Mount McGladrey, Mount Pengelly and Michel Ridge; (2) CNRL- Line Creek area — Mount Michel, Tornado Mt., Beehive Mt., Line Ridge, Long Ridge, Wilson Ridge, Imperial Ridge, Todhunter Ridge and the Witsukitsak Range; (3) Fording Coal area— Castle Mt., Turnbull Mt., Mount Gass, Mount Lyall, Mount Farquhar, Mount Tux ford and the North Greenhills Range; and (4) Westar Mining area — Erickson Ridge, Burnt Ridge and South Greenhills. 4. Biology and Ecology: The purpose of this section of the project is to use biological and ecological data to evaluate the 32 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation suitability of some native nitrogen-fixing legumes as mine reclamation species. In order to carry out this evaluation, seven areas of investigation were undertaken: (4a) environment/plant relationships; (4b) bio- meteorology; (4c) phenology and growth; (4d) rooting patterns; (4e) bacterial isolation, cul- turing, identification and nodulotion; (4f) ni- trogen fixation; and (4g) seed dispersal and establishment of seedlings. (4a) Plant/Environment Relationships; The objective of this section was to provide information on the environmental factors that influence the growth and distribution of the selected species. The most important function of this section is to determine the favorable and/or unfavorable environmental conditions for each species. This information will then be compared with information on the properties of mine spoils in the area to determine their suitability. 1983 Field Season: Forty-two of a total of 100 ten square metre sampling units were established, using a stratified random sampling procedure. The areas were strati- fied on the basis of vegetation, soils and surficial geology. The vegetative cover of the seven species, along with accompanying species, soils and environmental data, has been collected for each sample unit. The following is a summary of the data collected during the summer: (a) The  majority  of  the species oc curred   on   coarse   textured   soils.      In some cases, plants grew in cracks in the rocks. (b) A.   alpinum,   A.  vexilliflexus var. nubilis, and  O.  sericea were generally found on wind exposed ridges. (c) There   appears   to   be   an   inverse relationship   between   the   presense   of these species and the density of other species, particularly grasses. (d) H. sulfurescens, A. bourgovii, and to a   lesser  extent,  A.   robbinsii   were restricted   to   less   exposed   areas   and appeared  to tolerate greater densities of grasses. (e) O. podocarpa was absent from all of the east aspects sampled. Only a few individuals of O. sericea were found on east aspects.  (f)      Most of the species had vigorous  growth throughout their range. H.  sul-  furescens was the only species that did  not have consistently  vigorous growth  throughout its range.  1984    Field    Season:    A    further    58 sampling units will be established in 1984. An intensive soil sampling program will also be initiated. (4b) Biometerology; The objective of this section was to collect data that will be used to interpret the phenology, growth and plant/environment data that is being col- lected in other sections of the project. 1983 Field   Season:    Three   complete meteorological     stations    were    established above treeline on  the south-west, west and east   aspects   of   Bald   Mt.   In   addition,   two stations were established below  treeline  on the  north   and   south-west   aspects  of  Ewin Ridge. Precipitation,  max./min. atmospheric temperature,  solar radiation, wind exposure, atmospheric humidity  and   soil   temperature were measured at the complete meterologi- cal   stations   and   all   but   max./min.   atmo- spheric temperature and wind exposure were measured at the partially complete stations. Meterological data was collected from June 10th to September 13th. There was a  lot of variation in meterological data. General pat terns   in   the   data   indicate   that   the   west aspect  was  the coldest  and  windiest,  while the east aspect was the warmest.   There was a   considerable   amount   of  variation   in  soil moisture content  within  sites  and  between sites. 1984 Field     Season:      Meterological sampling in 1984 will be increased to 4 com plete meteorological stations. Wind speed and wind   direction   measurements   will   also   be recorded. Soil temperature measures will also be increased from I pair per aspect to 3 pairs per aspect. (4c) Rooting Patterns: The objective of this section was to examine the rooting patterns and nodu lotion of each species under different substrate conditions. 1983    Field    Season:    A    number    of 33 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation individuals of each species were dug up and their rooting patterns photographed. The data for this section showed that the most extensive root structure was developed by Hedysarum sulphurescens and second by Oxytropis sericea. The roots of these species could penetrate as far as 30 cm., but this was, of course, restricted by bedrock. Astragalus alpinum has a rhizoidal root structure that is fibrous in nature. This plant has the ability to spread and form extensive mats. Astragalus vexilliflexus var. nubilus favoured the rockiest substrates and was found rooted in cracks in the bedrock. The remainder of the species were intermediate in their rooting patterns. However, al l species favored rocky substrates. Please re- fer to the Diagrams I -3 for more informa- tion. 1984 Field Season: The field work for 1984 will be a continuation of the 1983 sampling program. (4d) Phenology and Growth; The ob- jective of this section was to observe the growth and development of the species through the growing season. This information will provide an understanding of the develop- mental biology of the species along with practical information such as seed collection times. 1983 Field Season: A total of 40 sampling units (IO individuals/species) were established on Bald Mt. and Ewin Ridge. Measurements of plant height and width, and recodings of the stages of vegetative and reproductive development were made every 5 days from May 24th to September 14th. The field data can be summarized as follows: (a) Initiation of growth began in late May and continued until late July-early August (b) Flowering begin in late June-early July and continued until the first week in August (c) Seed   dispersal   by   O.   podocarpa began   the   first   week   in   August   and continued until the  15th of September. The   other   species   began   to   disperse their seed in the second week in August and peaked around the end of August. However, seed dispersal by O. sericea had not peaked by the middle of September. (d) Most of the species showed signs of senescence during  the 3rd  and 4th weeks of August. (e) Agronomic   legumes  sown  on  re claimed  exploration  roads  in  the area did not initiate growth until the middle of  June,  and  only  one plant  was  ob served to flower during the third week of August. This attempt was thwarted the   next   day   with   the  season's   first snowfall. Please  refer  to  Table  2   for more information. 1984 Field Season: The field work for 1984 will simply be a continuation of the 1983 sampling program. (4e) Bacterial Isolation, Culturing, Identification and Modulation: The objective of this section was to isolate the bacterial strains associated with the species being studied and to provide a source of inoculum for the seeds. 1983 Field   Season   Summary:   Several plants of each  species were dug up,  and  a number of nodules were excised and brought back to the   laboratory  for culturing.  There have  been   some  problems   in  culturing   the bacteria. The bacterial strain that nodulates O. podocarpa is the only one that is presently viable. It would appear as though the nodules were   allowed   to   dry   out   too   much  during transport   and   storage.    This   problem    has necessitated my return to the study area on January 6, 1984. 1984 Field Season: Work will continue on the culturing and nodulotion of the bacter- ial strains. (4f) Nitrogen Fixation; The objective of this section was to evaluate the viability of the bacteria in the nodulated plants and to determine the amount of nitrogen fixed per individual plant. 1983 Field Season: Work on this section was not initiated during 1983. 1984 Field Season: A number of seed lings per species that result from the germi nation tests will be used in greenhouse trials to determine  the amount of  nitrogen  fixed 34 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Diagram I  35 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Diagram 2    36   / Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Diagram 3  37 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Table 2  38 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation per plant. (4g) Seed Dispersal and Establishment of Seedlings: The objective of this section is to provide information on seed dispersal, seed germination and seedling establishment for each species. 1983   Field   Season:   The   data   can  be summarized as follows: (a) Wind appears to be the major dis- persing agent for most species, al- though preciptation in the form of rain drops may be a factor in O. sericea. However, seed dispersal and seed mor- phology vary between species. A vari- ety of seed shapes and sizes, and seed dispersal mechanisms were observed: (i) A. Alpinum, A. bourgovii, and A. vexilliflexus var. nubilys — the pods of these species are mem- branous and green or yellow when mature. Some pods remain at- tached to the plan during seed dispersal, while other pods of the same plant drop to the ground before dispersing their seed. The seeds of three species are reni- form in shape and 1.5-2.0 mm. in length. However, the seeds of A. alpinum and A. bourgovii are a yellow or light green color, while the seeds of A. vexilliflexus var. nubilis are black. The seeds of these three species fit together and are tightly packed in their pods, while the seeds of all the other species being studied are held loosely inside their pods, (ii) A. robbinsii— the pods of this species are a tan color, and the valves are fully distended when mature. The pods always remain attached to the plant. The seeds of this species are cordate shaped, 1-2 mm. in diameter and tan colored. (iii) H. su If u re seen s — the lo- ments of this species are a dull yellow or tan colour when mature and generally break into indi- vidual segments during dispersal. The seeds remain encased in the segments of the loment, are cor- date shaped, 2-3 rnm. in diameter and tan colored. (iv) O. podocarpa — the pods of this species are ovoid and the largest of the species being studied. The pods begin to open at the distal end of the dorsal su- ture, and seeds in this position are dispersed first. An abscission layer forms in the stalk of the pods at the same time as the pods are opening, and eventually the pods and the proximally position- ed seeds are dispersed by the wind. The seeds are held in the pods by a cobweb-like substance. The seeds are cordate shaped, black, and 1.5-2.0 mm. in dia- meter. (y) O. sericea — the pods of this species are smaller and woodier than O. podocarpa, and remain attached when mature. The pods open by forming a small distal pore, and the seeds are then dis- persed by either wind or rain droplets. The seeds are cordate shaped, 0.5-1.0 mm. in diameter and a reddish brown color. (b) Seeds   were   collected   from   the different  populations  of each  species. The   seeds   were   then   processed   and stored at 2-5 degrees C. Seed germina- tion  tests  are  due  to  begin  in  March 1984. (c) Processing the seeds at this point in   time   is very   labor-intensive.      The ease of seed processing varies between species. H. sulfurescens and O. sericea are very easy  to process, A. robbinsn and O. podocarpa are moderately easy, and  A.  alpinum,   A.  bourgovii,  and  A1 vexilliflexu var. nubilis are difficult to process. 1984 Field Season: the 1984 field work will be a continuation of last year's work. 5. Summary of Research/Management Considerations: Seven native legume species 39 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation have been selected for research. There are many factors to consider when selecting species. For various reasons, some of these species appear to be more suitable for mine reclamation programs than others. While dis- cussion of many of these factors cannot be concluded at this point in time, there are some very important technical considerations that can be discussed. The first factor to consider is that of wildlife utilization. Two of the species selected, A. robbmsii and O. podocarpa showed signs of having been browsed by elk and/or sheep. The seeds of CX godocarpa are also eaten by ptarmigans. It would appear that neither of these species are toxic to wildlife. However, a survey of the literature indicates that a number of species of the genus Astragalus sequester selenium, an element that is toxic to wildlife and also contains miserotoxins. This is a segment of the research that must be investi- gated in the 1984 field season. The second factor to consider is whether the growth medium and environmental conditions in which these species are found are similar enough to the conditions of the mine spoil to warrant further research. With the exception of H. suIfurescens, all of the species were found growing in very coarse textured mater- ials (not really soils) and in very exposed environments. These conditions are, of course, very similar to those of mine spoil. A1. alpinum, A. vexilliflexus var nubilis, O. podo- carpa and O. sericea are found growing in extremely adverse conditions. O. sericea ap- pears to tolerate the widest range of habi- tats. The third and final factor to consider is that of seed processing, seed handling and seedling establishment. Seed processing for many of these species was very time con- suming. H. sulfurescens, O. podocarpa and O. sericea were easy to process, but the re- mainder of the species were difficult. The utilization of these other species will be very dependent upon the development of a rapid method of seed processing. Seed handling and storage does not appear to be a problem. Seedling establishment information cannot be provided until the seed germination and seed- ling trials on mine spoil are concluded this summer. In conclusion, it would appear, at this point in time, that O. sericea, O. podo- carpa, and A. robbinsii show potential as mine reclamation species. A. alpinum and /v. vexilliflexus var. nubilus also have potential if the seed processing difficulties can be overcome. References Billings, W.D. "Adaptations and origins of alpine plants," Arctic and Alpine Re- search. 1974a, 6: pp. 129-142. --------------.   "Arctic   and   Alpine   Vegetation: Plant Adaptations to Cold Summer Cli- mates," in J.D. Ives and R.G. Barry (eds.), Arctic and Alpine Environments. New York: Harper and Row, I974b, pp. 403-443. Billings, W.D. and H.A. Mooney. "The Ecology of Arctic and Alpine Plants," Biological Review. 1968, 43: pp. 481 -529. Brown, R. W. and R.S. Johnston. "Revege- tation of Disturbed Alpine Rangelands," in D.A. Jonson (ed.), Special Needs of Alpine Ecosystems. Society for Range Management. Range Science Series No. 5, 1979, pp. 76-94. Brown, R.W., B.Z. Richardson and E.E. Farmer. "Revegetation of an Alpine Mine Disturbance: Beartoth Plateau, Montana," U.S.D.A. Forest Service Re- search Note INT — 206 8p. Errington, J.C. "Revegetation of Disturb- ances in the Northeast Coal Block, Cur- rent Activities and State-of-the-Art, 1977," B.C. Ministry of Mines and Pe- troleum Resources. Victoria, B.C.: 1978. Luttmerding, H.A. "The Subalpine and Alpine Environment — A Review," in Luttmerding, H.A. and J.A. Shields (eds.), Proceedings of the Workshop on 40 Proceedings of the 8th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Victoria, BC, 1984. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Alpine and Subalpine Environments. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, B.C.: 1976, pp. 9-12. May, D.C.E. "The Response of Alpine Tundra Vegetation in Colorado to Environment- al Variation." Ph.D. Thesis. University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado: 1976. 164pp. Nishimura, J.Y. "Soilsand Soil Problems at High Altitude," in Berg, W.A., J.A. Brown and R.L. Cuany, Proceedings of a Workshop on Revegetation of High- Altitude Disturbed Lands. Colorado State Univers i ty ,  For t  Col l ins, Colorado: 1974. Information Series No. IO, pp. 5-9. Ogivie, R.T. "The Alpine and Subalpine in the Rocky Mounts of  Alberta,"  in Luttmerding, H.A. and J.A. Shields (eds.), Proceedings of the Workshop on Alpine and Subalpine Environments. B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, B.C.: 1976, pp. 33-48. Tomm, H. and S.K. Takyi. "Influence of Cul- tivated Grasses and Legumes on the Establishment Success of Native Grass Mixtures at Two Abandoned Coal Mines in the Subalpine Region of Alberta," in Reclamation in Mountainous Areas; Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Meet- ing of the Canadian Land Reclamation TAssociation and the Fifth Annua| British Columbia Mine ReclamaTIon Symposium. B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, 1981. pp. 195-210. 41

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