Climate and soil factors influencing seedling recruitment of plant species used for dryland restoration
Abstract. Land degradation affects 10–20 % of drylands globally. Intensive land use and management, large-scale disturbances such as extractive operations, and global climate change, have contributed to degradation of these systems worldwide. Restoring these damaged environments is critical to improving ecosystem services and functions, conserve biodiversity, and contribute to climate resilience, food security, and landscape sustainability. Here, we present a case study on plant species of the mining intensive semi-arid Pilbara region in Western Australia that examines the effects of climate and soil factors on the restoration of drylands. We analysed the effects of a range of rainfall and temperature scenarios and the use of alternative soil materials on seedling recruitment of key native plant species from this area. Experimental studies were conducted in controlled environment facilities where conditions simulated those found in the Pilbara. Soil from topsoil (T) stockpiles and waste materials (W) from an active mine site were mixed at different proportions (100 % T, 100 % W, and two mixes of topsoil and waste at 50 : 50 and 25 : 75 ratios) and used as growth media. Our results showed that seedling recruitment was highly dependent on soil moisture and emergence was generally higher in the topsoil, which had the highest available water content. In general, responses to the climate scenarios differed significantly among the native species which suggest that future climate scenarios of increasing drought might affect not only seedling recruitment but also diversity and structure of native plant communities. The use of waste materials from mining operations as growth media could be an alternative to the limited topsoil. However, in the early stages of plant establishment successful seedling recruitment can be challenging in the absence of water. These limitations could be overcome by using soil amendments but the cost associated to these solutions at large landscape scales needs to be assessed and proven to be economically feasible.