Persistent geophysical effects of mining threaten ridgetop biota of Appalachian forests

Thomas A. Maigret, John J. Cox, Jian Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

Surface coal mining can permanently alter the rugged topography of Appalachia, which plays an important role in creating and maintaining the structure, composition, and diversity of this North American region's ecological communities. We used remote-sensing datasets to characterize the past and future topographic impacts of surface coal mining on the mixed-mesophytic forests of eastern Kentucky. To provide context, we examined the consequences of widespread topographic rearrangement for an imperiled ridgetop-associated predator, the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). We found that surface mining disproportionately impacts ridgetop habitats, causing large reductions in suitable habitat for C horridus, and most likely other ridgetop-dependent biota as well. Land permitted for surface mining is also concentrated in high topographic positions, and patterns of habitat loss are therefore likely to remain concentrated within these ecosystems. These permanent topographic shifts complicate restoration of pre-existing microhabitats, create homogenized landscapes, threaten long-term ecosystem health, and reduce the diversity of ecological communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-91
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Volume17
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Ecological Society of America

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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