Quantification of the inevitable: the influence of soil macrofauna on soil water movement in rehabilitated open-cut mined lands
Abstract. Recolonisation of soil by macrofauna (especially ants, termites and earthworms) in rehabilitated open-cut mine sites is inevitable and, in terms of habitat restoration and function, typically of great value. In these highly disturbed landscapes, soil invertebrates play a major role in soil development (macropore configuration, nutrient cycling, bioturbation, etc.) and can influence hydrological processes such as infiltration, seepage, runoff generation and soil erosion. Understanding and quantifying these ecosystem processes is important in rehabilitation design, establishment and subsequent management to ensure progress to the desired end goal, especially in waste cover systems designed to prevent water reaching and transporting underlying hazardous waste materials. However, the soil macrofauna is typically overlooked during hydrological modelling, possibly due to uncertainties on the extent of their influence, which can lead to failure of waste cover systems or rehabilitation activities. We propose that scientific experiments under controlled conditions and field trials on post-mining lands are required to quantify (i) macrofauna–soil structure interactions, (ii) functional dynamics of macrofauna taxa, and (iii) their effects on macrofauna and soil development over time. Such knowledge would provide crucial information for soil water models, which would increase confidence in mine waste cover design recommendations and eventually lead to higher likelihood of rehabilitation success of open-cut mining land.