Mines restoration draws on the evolution of plant communities

Posted July 24, 2015

Vegetation Science specialist UWA Professor Ladislav Mucina's study of plant communities will contribute to successful mine rehabilitation

Vegetation science specialist UWA Professor Ladislav Mucina’s study of plant communities will contribute to successful mine rehabilitation

A new project being carried out by The University of Western Australia which will help resource companies with mine site rehabilitation.

The University of Western Australia research focuses on the species-rich kwongan shrublands in WA’s mid-west.

It specifically looks at ‘plant communities’ that took millions of years to assemble. The scientist are trying to understand their longevity.

The kwogan shrublands are recognised as one of the most significant natural heritage assets in the world and form part of Australia’s only global biodiversity hotspot.

Land management, rehabilitation and closure activities are a big focus for those companies involved in mining mineral sands rich in titanium and zirconium from these areas, said project leader UWA plant scientist Professor Ladislav Mucina.

“But it’s not just as simple as bringing back the removed top soil and then replanting once the job is done - there are millions of years of ecological legacy and memory that have shaped the ways these plant families have come together,” Professor Mucina said.

“We have to understand these processes to be able to ‘reconstruct’ the communities successfully. Plants are like people, they have certain qualities that enable them to fit into their environments. We’ll look at functional traits such as how they acquire nutrients and water, to predict how to best put these communities back together.”

Working with industry partners, Perth-based mineral sand mining companies Iluka Resources and Tronox Management, Professor Mucina and his 10-strong team hope to deliver management tools that will help mining companies meet important restoration targets.

“Virtually all of the kwongan species are found nowhere else on earth so this work is incredibly important and relevant also to biodiversity conservation and nature management,” he said. “It will position Australia as a leader in predictive plant ecology and its application to restoration ecology.”

The project is one of 12 at UWA to receive more than $5 million funding under the recently announced 2015 Australian Research Council Linkage Grants for studies as diverse as improving risk management in mental health to developing new and improved anchoring systems for wave energy converters.

Professor Mucina has served in universities on four continents (Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia) as an internationally renowned expert in biogeography and vegetation science, in particular vegetation surveys, classification, and mapping.

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