British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposia

Species selection for revegetation of the Goro Nickel project area in New Caledonia McCoy, Stephane G. 2009

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Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation SPECIES SELECTION FOR REVEGETATION OF THE GORO NICKEL PROJECT AREA IN NEW CALEDONIA S.G. McCoy, Botanist Goro Nickel D. Kurpisz, Environmental Technician Goro Nickel S. Newedou, Horticultural Technician Goro Nickel Goro Nickel (INCO) B.P. 218, Noumea New Caledonia, 98845 ABSTRACT Peridotite ranges cover an important part of the Pacific island of New Caledonia and have been the focus of intense mine activity for nickel, chromium and iron ores. Mine overburden historically placed in valleys causing subsequent coastal sedimentation is now the focus of revegetation operations. These activities aim to produce a vegetation similar to native types because the peculiar properties of ultramafic soils preclude future agricultural or pastoral land use. Revegetation efforts have focussed on fast growing Casuarina collina and Acacia spirorbis, and more recently, a diverse assemblage of endemic species tolerant of mine site conditions to produce an initial vegetation suited to seedling colonisation from surrounding areas. Measures of relative growth indicate that species not native to ultramafics (Pinus, Casuarina, Acacia) grow faster than endemic species on laterite trials in the Goro Nickel project area. This would suggest that these species could produce suitable cover for vegetation development from seedling colonisation. However measures of seedling colonisation at a mature Casuarina and Acacia plantation indicate that they support significantly fewer colonists than younger endemic species plantations despite having a near continuous litter cover. Significantly fewer seedlings were found underneath Casuarina suggesting that deep litter is impeding colonist establishment. This phenomenon has been documented for Casuarinaceae in New Caledonia and elsewhere. Furthermore, Casuarina seedlings were absent underneath adult trees at the plantation suggesting that this species is unable to regenerate on laterites at Goro. The current revegetation program has focussed efforts on the flora of the Goro region and produced 130 endemic species as potential alternatives to Pinus, Acacia and Casuarina that would generate ecologically sustainable vegetation. Direct seeding techniques of native species are options currently being tested to determine their potential and economic viability. INTRODUCTION Ultramafic ranges cover 1/3 of New Caledonia and possess substrate properties which virtually preclude agriculture and pastoral grasses, thus minimizing human occupation, but provide rich sources of nickel, chromium and iron ores and have been a focus of intensive mining activity (Jaffre & Latham, 1976; Bird et al; 1984; Jaffre et al, 1994 c; Pelletier & Esterle, 1995; Jaffre et al, 1997 b). Prior to the 1970s, overburden from mines was dumped into surrounding valleys causing sedimentation in coastal rivers and 213 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation destruction of fringing reefs (Bird et al, 1984). Mine wastes dating back over a hundred years are still sparsely vegetated indicating the severity of these substrates for plant growth (McCoy, 1998). This situation generated increasing environmental awareness for the need to revegetate mine sites. Revegetation of nickel mines in New Caledonia aim to reduce erosion and produce a vegetation cover that will develop into the original vegetation through seedling regeneration of adults and colonisation from surrounding areas (Jaffre et al, 1994 c; Jaffre, et al, 1997 b). Early revegetation trials in the 1970s focussed on fast growing exotic trees (Pinus carribaea, P. elliotti), grasses (Pennisetum, Paspalum, Vetifer), native Casuarina collina trees and Acacia spirorbis shrubs (CTFT, 1971; Cherrier, 1990). Cherrier (1990) reported that using fast growing species would facilitate the development of vegetation by raising the nutrient content of overburden through litter fall and nitrogen fixation (Casuarina collina). More recently, mine restoration efforts have focussed on the diverse endemic ultramafic flora as an important source of species. These species possess adaptations to extreme substrate and climatic conditions of mine sites (Jaffre & Latham, 1976; Jaffre & Rigault, 1991; Jaffre et al, 1994 c; Jaffre et al, 1997 b; Lucon et al, 1997; McCoy, 1998; Jaffre, 2001). This paper presents background information on the environment of the Goro Nickel ore body and compares plant growth and seedling colonisation between revegetation plantations established during the 1970-1980 exploration phase and recent trials of endemic flora by Goro Nickel. GEOGRAPHIC & ENVIRONMENTAL SETTING Landscape topography and soil The Goro Nickel ore body consists of a plateau region found on the southern tip of the largest ultramafic range of New Caledonia. This region, locally known as the Goro plateau, consists of a series of gently sloping plateaus (200 to 300m a.s.l) bisected by tributaries of the Kwe river basin. Steep low peridotite ranges (<400m) surround this plateau region and represent the remains of an ultrabasic oceanic sheet placed over New Caledonia 38 million ago (Paris, 1981). Plateau areas are characterised by colluvial iron cap of fluvio-lacustrine origin which may be up to 10m deep and interrupted by pseudo-karst sink holes that develop along faults (Guillon & Trescases, 1972; Latham, 1986; Podwojewski & Bourdon, 1988). This iron cap forms the surface horizon of an Oxisol (Sol ferralitique ferritique cuirasse) that is often 50m deep (Latham et al, 1978). Eroded oxisols cover surrounding mountain ranges as shallow slope deposits that often contain peridotite debris instead of iron cap. Chemical properties of the iron cap topsoils are presented in Table 1. 214 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Climate New Caledonia lies just north of the tropic of Capricorn and possesses a sub-tropical climate with average temperatures between 22°C and 24°C. Climate seasonality is strongly influenced by the annual variation  Sample depth  0-30cm Number of samples  36  Mean  St. Dev. PH  5,64 0,52 Organic matter C total ppm  8,34  1,13 N total ppm  0,22  0,09 C:N ratio  43,27  15,40 P total ppm  102,73  32,02 Exchangeable bases Ca meq %  1,05  0,59 Mg meq %  0,24  0,13 Na meq %  0,02  0,02 K meq %  0,00  0,00 Cation exchange capacity (CEC) meq %  3,05  0,22 Saturation capacity  44,00  25,52 Electrical conductivity mS25°C  0,14  0,45 Extractable N(NO3) ppm  0,12  0,51 N(NH4) ppm  4,24  2,87 P(P04) ppm  0,00  0,00 K ppm  1,84  1,75 Cl ppm  7,81  3,33 SO4 ppm  39,64  29,08 Ca ppm  4,80  5,46 Mg ppm  2,35  1,49 Na ppm  5,75  2,30 Fe ppb  142,62  59,91 Mn ppb  216,21  97,56 Ni ppb  10,41  11,29 Cr ppb  0,13  0,73 in latitude of the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) which brings hot humid conditions from December to April and the subtropical anti-cyclone belt characterised by cooler drier conditions from May to November (Morliere & Rebert, 1986; Hastings, 1990). The Goro Nickel project area region receives between 2500mm to 5000mm of precipitation per year. Much of this rainfall occurs from January to March. Rainfall events of >200mm/24 hours are frequent during this period and usually associated with cyclonic activity. Evaporation often exceeds precipitation between August to November and generates severe plant stress on iron cap surfaces from a combination of high surface temperatures and low moisture (McCoy, 1998). Table 1: The chemical composition of iron cap oxisol (Sol ferralitique ferritique cuirassé) 215 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Vegetation The vegetation found on the Goro Nickel project area is regarded as a complex mosaic of nine different vegetation types (table 2), which have developed after varying degrees of disturbance (Jaffre 1980; Papineau, 1989; McCoy, 1998; McCoy et al, 1999). The most common vegetation types encountered on the iron cap are low woody heathland formations 3-10m tall, locally known as maquis. These formations have developed after different fire events in the past and represent initial successional sequences that culminate as Arillastrum gummiferum dominated forest (Jaffre, 1980; McCoy, et al, 1999). Initial maquis phases are composed of pioneer colonist sedges and generalist shrubs adapted to extreme soil and climatic conditions. Gymnostoma deplancheanum (Casuarinaceae) is the most abundant pioneer tree species in the succession sequence and facilitates the succession through its nitrogen fixing ability and capacity to produce large amounts of biomass (Jaffre et al, 1994 b; McCoy, 1998). The floristic diversity of plant communities on the Goro Nickel project area is currently being inventoried by IRD (Institut de recherche pour le developpement). A preliminary analysis by IRD indicates that there are 600 species belonging to 289 genera and 90 families on the Goro Nickel project area (Table 2). 76% of these species are endemic to ultramafics in New Caledonia.  Vegetation formation                    Surface Number of species  Hectares % Open woody maquis  301  2 69 Dense woody maquis  4977  34 119 Gymnostoma dominated forest  1344  9 170 Arillastrum forest & rainforest  892  6 360 Woody sedge maquis (piedmont)  1967  14 102 Woody sedge maquis (slopes)  4073  28 76 Riparian shrub-sedgeland  615  4 76 Secondary vegetation  364  3 20 Total  14533 Table 2: The surface area and species diversity of the main vegetation types found on the Goro Nickel project area. The numbers of species found per vegetation type are approximate as many species are found in more than one vegetation type. METHODS & RESULTS Relative height of species on plantation trials This study focussed on historical revegetation trials established at Grand Lac in 1970 (166° 54' 44.3" east, 22° 16' 22.8" south; IGN 72), at the Cofremmi test mine in 1988 (166° 57' 37.4" east, 22° 16' 24.4" 216 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation south) and more recent native species trials at the Goro Nickel nursery (166° 57' 20.1", 22° 16' 8.3" south) and on gabbro soil at Prony (166° 53' 36.3" east, 22° 20' 31" south). Stem height of all trees and shrub species were recorded for all plantations in 2001-2002. The mean relative growth and maximum height of each species for the different test substrates are presented in chronological order in Table 3. Results indicate that exotic Pinus elliotti stands planted in 1970 have the highest relative growth rate, followed by endemic Casuarina collina and native Acacia spirorbis trees planted at the Cofremmi test mine. Gymnostoma deplancheanum, Arillastrum gummiferum, Grevillea exul var. rubiginosa, Myodocarpus fraxinifolius, Syzygium wagapenses and Alphitonia neocaledonica are the most performant of the endemic ultramafic species in terms relative growth. All plant species appear to grow better on a mixture of red laterite and iron cap than on other substrates.             217 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Natural seedling recruitment and colonisation A seedling recruitment and colonisation survey was conducted in 2002 at the Cofremmi plantation covering 7000m2 (Cherrier, 1990) to quantify regeneration underneath Casuarina collina and Acacia spirorbis trees after 16 years (see Table 3). The area surveyed covered 1500m2 and recorded seedling colonisation underneath 170 Casuarina and 170 Acacia trees. Records were made of (i) the number of seedling recruits from adult trees, (ii) number of colonist seedlings and (iii) number colonist species establishing from adjacent Gymnostoma forest for each tree within a radius of 1.5m from the trunk. A simple two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was applied to the seedling recruits, colonist seedlings and colonist species data to determine whether there were significant differences between Casuarina and Acacia trees as suitable sites for seedling establishment. Results of the ANOVA along with the number of seedling recruits, colonists and species per m2 of the survey are presented in Table 4.          Table 4: The analysis of variance of the number of colonists, number of recruits, and number of colonist species found underneath Acacia spirorbis and Casuarina collina trees. Significance is indicated, p < 0.001 = ***. The maximum number of seedlings and species recorded underneath individual trees of both species are also provided. ANOVA results indicate that there were significant differences in the number of colonists, recruits, all seedlings and species between Acacia and Casuarina. Seedling colonisation and recruitment was more abundant underneath Acacia than Casuarina. This difference is also evident from seedling colonisation (m2) data with Acacia seedling regeneration and colonist seedling establishment 55 and 3.4 times greater than Casuarina. 218 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Comparison of seedling colonisation and species diversity on revegetation plantations Seedling colonisation from adjacent Gymnostoma forest was measured in 2002 on an endemic species revegetation plantation established at the Goro Nickel nursery to determine seedling establishment rates after six years. This data was obtained so that a comparison could be made between seedling colonisation on an endemic species plantation and the Cofremmi plantation containing Acacia and Casuarina not native to ultramafics. The survey area covered 1300m2 and recorded seedling regeneration underneath 370 trees or shrubs. Records were made of (i) the number of colonist seedlings and (ii) number colonist species establishing from adjacent Gymnostoma forest for each tree within a radius of 1.5m from the trunk. No information for seedling recruitment was recorded, as all plantation species had not produced seed. Data from the nursery plantation area and the Cofremmi plantation was chronologically adjusted (divided by the number of years since establishment) and an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was applied to seedling colonist yr"1 and colonist species yr"1 data to determine whether there were differences in colonisation and species diversity between sites. Results of the ANOVA along with the total number of seedling colonists and species for both surveys are presented in Table 5.   Cofremmi      Nursery Mean               Mean  F-prob  p Number of colonists 3 98 5 55 3 47 ns Number of species  1.78  1.72  0.135  ns Number of colonist yr-1  0.25  1.11  34.87  *** Number of species yr-1  0.11  0.34  150.6  *** Total number of colonists  1474  2055 Total number of species  26  22 Table 5: The analysis of variance of the number of colonists and number of colonist species found underneath trees at the Cofremmi and Nursery plantations. Significance is indicated, p < 0.001 = ***. The ANOVA failed to find a significant difference in seedling colonisation or diversity between sites for chronologically unadjusted data. However the adjusted data indicates that seedling colonisation yr"1 and species diversity yr"1 are significantly higher at the nursery plantation than at the Cofremmi plantation.  219 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation DISCUSSION Relative growth of exotic and endemic species on the Goro Nickel project area Results of plantation surveys indicate several trends, (i) Growth rates of plants on ultramafics are low. (ii) Seedling colonisation of plantations from surrounding forest is slow, (iii) Well developed Acacia and Casuarina cover support lower colonist seedling diversity than endemic species plantations, (iv) Casuarina collina is unable to regenerate well from seed on ultramafic soils of the Goro plateau. Measures of relative growth on plantations within the Goro Nickel project area indicate that species not native to ultramafics in New Caledonia grow faster than the endemics. However growth results of Pinus elliotti, Casuarina collina and Acacia spirorbis on ultramafics are most often inferior to their native substrate. Such growth rates have been reported by Jaffre et al, (1997 b), Sarrailh (1997). The difference derived from vertical height measures is probably not indicative of the growth vigour of endemic plants which are mainly shrubs. Most tend to grow an architecture of horizontal branches instead of vertical development (Veillon,1980). Reliable relative growth data of shrubs requires destructive plant weight techniques (McCoy, 1998). Ultramafic substrates globally present a variety of peculiar nutritional deficiencies and toxicity problems for plants which have received some attention (Brooks, 1987). The ultamafic flora of New Caledonia has evolved along with the development of the peridotite ranges and experienced adaptive speciation to metal toxicities and low soil nutrients (Jaffre, 1980, Morat et al, 1986). These adaptations, reflected as slow growth, also occur if ultramafic species are grown on fertile soils (Jaffre, 1980). In such cases ultramafic plants are generally excluded by fast growing species able to utilise high soil nutrients. This suggests that species are genetically predisposed to slow growth (Jaffre, 1980). From a mine restoration perspective, species tolerance to low nutrient mine substrates has advantages with regards fertiliser expenditure in that plants require less to grow. In contrast, non-native species trialed on ultramafics have required large fertiliser applications to overcome substrate deficiencies and metal toxicities (Cherrier, 1990; Sarrailh, 1997). 220 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation Colonisation and regeneration of revegetation trials Natural colonisation of mine sites in New Caledonia is limited to seed arriving from surrounding vegetation as potential seed banks have been removed through soil clearance. The few plants that have established on such surfaces develop as isolated shrubs eventually containing other seedlings trapped by the foliage as seed (McCoy, 1998). Chronological aerial photo interpretation of an abandoned iron cap strip mine site at Prony (166° 48' 55.2" east, 22° 18' 40.5" south) indicates that this natural colonisation is very slow with 10% of the surface covered by shrubs after 32 years (McCoy, 1998). Results of seedling colonisation (Tables 4 & 5) indicate that natural colonisation of revegetated areas is also slow despite the presence of more vegetation cover. Such colonisation rates on mines and revegetated areas is likely to be dependant on factors such as (i) the extent of bare ground (ii) the dispersal ability of the colonist species, (iii) the availability of micro-sites such as crevices, (iv) the suitability of micro-sites (v) seed predation and herbivory (vi) tolerance to substrate conditions (Crawley, 1992; Ash et al, 1994; Del Moral et al, 1995; Bradshaw 1997). The Cofremmi plantation was established 10m from a 20m tall Gymnostoma forest which would reduce dispersal limitations. However the smooth compacted red and yellow laterite substrate visibly differed from the forest edge in terms of micro-site availability, and may have limited seedling establishment and survival. Seedling colonists at the nursery site were most often found in crevices of the uncompacted red laterite overburden because suitable litter micro-sites underneath plantation species was limited due to their young age. In contrast, Casuarina at the Cofremmi plantation produced a litter of 2-3cm depth with an average spread of 1.2 metres. Acacia produced an irregular l-2cm depth litter which was readily removed by rainfall and wind. Well developed organic matter underneath Casuarina should provide ideal micro-sites for growth. However fewer colonists seedlings were recorded underneath Casuarina than Acacia suggesting that the litter may have undesirable properties. Casuarina research has shown that mature Casuarina plantations are often devoid of other native plant species (Diem & Dommergues, 1990; Parotta, 1995). This pattern is also noted in natural stands of Casuarina in Australia as "halo effects" (Harris & Kimber, 1983). Lack of colonisation underneath C. collina has been attributed to Casuarina elsewhere as an allelopathic effect from deep poor decomposing litter layer which potentially reduces germination through phytotoxins (Rice, 1984). In addition, deep litter may also physically impede seed fall from germinating (Parotta, 1995). This phenomenon has a significant effect on the species composition in monospecific Gymnostoma deplancheanum stands by 221 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation physically impeding large seeded species (McCoy et al, 1996). Both phenomena possibly explain for the near absence of colonist seedlings underneath Casuarina. However the lack of Casuarina regeneration underneath adult trees is likely to be partially due to undesirable soil properties since this species is not native to ultramafics (Jaffre, 1980). CONCLUSION Goro Nickel has established ten native ultramafic species revegetation trials covering an area of 2.5 hectares since the creation of the nursery in 1996. 45 of the 130 endemic species produced by the nursery have been established on revegetation trials. The long term goal of such trials is to select robust early successional species as alternatives to the widespread use of Acacia and Casuarina so that revegetated areas of the future mine would develop along a natural successional course. The species composition of endemic species at the nursery reflects this direction (Table 6).  Ecological status Pioneer Generalist species  Forest  Riparian Habitat type Ironcrust heathland-forest succession Rainforest Piedmont woody-sedge heathland Riparian heathland  7 2 8  51 9 14  7 16 6  2 3  5 Total  17  74  29  10 Table 6: The ecological status and habitat type of species produced for revegetation at the Goro Nickel native species nursery. Broadcast seeding trials using endemic species have been recently established on surfaces covered with jute mesh biotextile as an alternative to direct planting of tube stock seedlings so as to provide a more continuous vegetation cover of seedlings that would eventually develop into the original vegetation. Measures of seedling germination indicate that this technique is able to produce a vegetation cover of 27 seedlings per m2 after one year belonging to 10 endemic pioneer and generalist species. This technique may potentially increase the rate of natural vegetation development and present less installation labour costs, but requires large amounts of seed of unknown viability to be collected manually. Furthermore many of the common pioneer sedge species useful for such operations have low rates of germination which would require detailed studies of how to overcome their seed dormancy. 222 Proceedings of the 26th Annual British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium in Dawson Creek, BC, 2002. The Technical and Research Committee on Reclamation ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS We would like to express a special thanks to Maeva Kaqea (University of New Caledonia), Jim Marmasse, Andre Agourere, Max Roger Atinoua and Nathalie Mapou (Goro Nickel) for assistance with measurement and data collection of revegetation plantations. Our acknowledgements must also go to Tanguy Jaffre, Gilles Dagostini and Frederic Rigault (Laboratoire de Botanie et Ecologie Vegetale, IRD) for their pioneering work on native species which has provided the foundation for our revegetation program. BIBLIOGRAPHY Ash, H. J., Gemmell, R. P & Bradshaw, A. D. (1994) The introduction of native plant species on industrial waste heaps; a test of immigration and other factors affecting primary succession. Journal of Applied Ecology 31: 74-84. Bird, E.C.F., Dubois, J.P. & Iltis, J.A. (1984) The impacts of open cast mining on the rivers-coasts of New Caledonia. UN University Press, Tokyo, 53 pages. Bourdon, E & Podwojewski, P. (1988) Morphopedologie des formations superficielles dan le Sud de la Nouvelle Caledonie (Riviere des Pirogues, Plaines des Lacs). Cahiers ORSTOM, serie Science des la Terre, Pedologie Numero 2, Paris, 43 pages. Bradshaw, A, D. (1997) Restoration after mining for metals - an ecological view. 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Becquer) Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Serpentine Ecology. ORSTOM Noumea, pages 189-196. Veillon, J-M. (1980) Architecture des especes neo-caledoniennes du genre Araucaria. Candollea 35 (2) 609-640. 225


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