Persistent Impacts of Trace Metals from Mining on Floodplain Grass Communities Along Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park

Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Бозмана, Montana, United States
Environmental Management (Impact Factor: 1.72). 04/2000; 25(3):305-320. DOI: 10.1007/s002679910024
Source: PubMed


/ In Yellowstone National Park, tailings and associated trace metals from past mining have been deposited along 28 km of Soda Butte Creek by large flood events. This study documents grass species diversity, density, and biomass; trace metal concentrations in soils; and soil pH, salinity, and clay content in four selected floodplain meadows contaminated by these tailings. Trace metal levels frequently exceed acceptable concentrations for agricultural soils at sampling points within the meadows. pH levels within flood-deposited tailings are strongly to moderately acid, while pH levels outside of tailings deposits are neutral. The data analysis: (1) shows that metals and acidity associated with tailings affect plant biomass, density, and diversity; (2) documents that the vegetation/metal and vegetation/pH associations are more of a threshold than a linear relationship; and (3) suggests that other factors may be involved in structuring the community. Vegetation diversity, density, and biomass decrease at threshold levels of trace metal concentrations and soil pH in all four meadows. CuSum plots of diversity in relation to trace metal levels show a decrease in mean diversity at 315 ppm copper, 22 ppm arsenic, 4.2% iron, 65 ppm lead, and 170 ppm zinc. Densities of Phleum pratense and Poa pratensis were significantly lower (P </= 0.001) on plots with more than 250 ppm copper. Above-ground biomass of Phleum pratense was also significantly lower on plots with copper levels above 250 ppm. Decreased mean grass density was found on plots with pH < 6.4, but the only statistically significant difference was for Juncus balticus, which had increased density on plots with pH < 6.4. In contrast to the clear impacts of trace metals and pH on vegetation, other site characteristics did not alter measured vegetation characteristics.

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    • "In many regions of North America, sedimentary deposits were produced by accelerated erosion associated with intensive land clearance and agriculture following EuroAmerican settlement (Happ et al., 1940; Happ, 1945; Knox, 1972, 1977, 1987, 2006; Trimble, 1974; Costa, 1975; Magilligan, 1985; Jacobson and Coleman, 1986; Faulkner, 1998; Lecce and Pavlowsky, 2001; Florsheim and Mount, 2003; Jackson et al., 2005; Walter and Merritts, 2008; Gellis et al., 2009; Merritts et al., 2011; Hupp et al., 2013). Mining also generated large sedimentation events in North America (Gilbert, 1917; Knox, 1987; James, 1989; Leigh, 1994; Lecce, 1997; Stoughton and Marcus, 2000; Marcus et al., 2001; Bain and Brush, 2005; Lecce et al., 2008). These anthropogenic deposits are being increasingly referred to as 'legacy sediment' (LS) by environmental scientists. "
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    • "Fresh active pyrite mud is deposited in floodplains during floods , giving rise to acid production and dec - alcification of the soil when the water table drops and soil becomes oxygenated again ( Gallart et al . 1999 ; Stoughton & Marcus 2000 ; Lin et al . 2005 ) . "
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    • "However, further standard dose-response laboratory tests (Ginocchio et al. 2002, Ginocchio & Baker 2004) are needed to determine the degree of tolerance of these species to pH and metals. Reduction in grass diversity, density and productivity has been described for other meadows impacted by historie mine exploitations (Stoughton & Marcus 2000), but development of tolerance to metals in plants has been demonstrated in several studies around the word (Bradshaw 1984, Bradshaw & Hardwick 1989, Kruckberg & Wu 1992, Macnair & Baker 1994, Brooks 1998). Plant adaptation to increased metal levels can oceur rapidly, sometimes within few years of disturbance (Bradshaw 1984, Baker 1987, Tyler et al. 1989), therefore, under a long history of interaction, porphyry Cu-Mo deposits and historie mine spoils affecting surface water quality at the YLNS may have resulted in directional selection for metal and acidic water tolerant plant species. "
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