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Influence Of Biosolids And Fertilizer Amendments On Selected Soil : Physical, Chemical And Microbial Parameters In Tailings Revegetation

W. Gardner, K. Broersma, Anne Naeth, Al Jobson
Published 2003 · Environmental Science

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A three year field study was conducted on two different tailings, Bethlehem (silt loam) and Trojan (sand), to determine the effects of fertilizer and biosolids amendments on selected soil physical, chemical and microbial parameters. Following addition of biosolids at rates of 50, 100, 150, 200 and 250 Mg ha soil bulk density decreased linearly. Biosolids addition resulted in an increase in water retention (gravimetric) at field capacity and wilting point but no significant change in water holding capacity were noted. On a volumetric basis water holding capacity decreased with increasing biosolids addition for the silt loam site, but showed no change for the sandy site. Soil pH was generally not impacted by treatment while electrical conductivity, soil organic matter, total carbon and cation exchange capacity all increased with increasing levels of biosolids. Addition of biosolids resulted in an increase in total heterotrophic aerobes, total anaerobes, sulfate reducers, iron reducers and denitrifiers. The chemical fertilizer amendment did not alter soil physical or chemical parameters from that of the control. INTRODUCTION Tailings are the materials left after mine processing has removed the mineral ore and because of poor physical and chemical properties and lack of a microbial population are often difficult to revegetate (Munshower 1994). Traditional revegetation efforts have often involved the use of fertilizer additions but studies have indicated that these have a limited effect in speeding soil development and creating a stable, self-sustaining site (Seaker and Sopper 1988, Topper and Sabey 1986, Tate 1985, Stroo and Jencks 1982). Organic amendments have been shown to be useful in improving the soil properties of disturbed areas (Land Resources Network Ltd. 1993). An amendment that is currently gaining popularity is anaerobically treated sewage sludge, more commonly known as biosolids. The addition of biosolids to disturbed sites has been shown to increase vegetation production and promote soil formation with the hope of establishing a self-sustaining site (Seaker and Sopper 1988). The majority of the studies on biosolids have been related to soil nutrient parameters and metal movement and only a small percentage have addressed the impact of biosolids on soil physical properties (Land Resources Network Ltd. 1993, Metzger and Yaron 1987). In general biosolids application on mine land has been shown to improve spoil material's physical properties resulting in a better growing medium for vegetation establishment and growth (Sopper 1993). Addition of biosolids generally leads to an increase in soil organic matter and total soil carbon (Tester 1990, Glauser et al. 1988, Seaker and Sopper 1988, Visser et al. 1983,Varanka et al. 1976) which can translate into an increase in soil water retention (Zebarth et al. 1999, Tester 1990, Joost et al. 1987, Metzger and Yaron 1987, Hinesly et al. 1982, Gupta et al. 1977, Epstein et al. 1976, Epstein 1975). However, the addition of biosolids has been shown to have conflicting results when calculated as soil water holding capacity for plants, increasing it in some cases (Hinesly et al. 1982) and resulting in no changes in others (Zebarth et al. 1999, Joost et al. 1987, Epstein 1975). Soil texture can also influence how biosolids affects water holding capacity with the organic amendment having greater impact on sandy soils (Metzger and Yaron 1987). Studies have indicated that the impact of biosolids on water holding capacity is mainly related to the water holding capacity of the amendment itself (Metzger and Yaron 1987) but alterations in soil structure due to sludge application also affect water storage positively. Biosolids additions cause a reduction in bulk density, which translates directly to an increase in porosity (Zebarth et al. 1999, Tester 1990, Joost et al. 1987, Guidi and Hall 1984, Gupta et al. 1977). Martens and Frankenberger (1992) and Joost et al. (1987) demonstrated that biosolids amendments lead to an increase in soil carbon, which in turn increased aggregate formation and improved soil structure. Other studies have also shown that the addition of sludge increased aggregate stability (Glauser et al. 1988, Hinesly et al. 1982, Epstein 1975) by altering pore size distribution (Pagliai et al. 1983). In relation to soil chemical parameters biosolids additions have been shown to alter soil pH (Zebarth et al. 1999, Brown et al. 1997, Tester 1990, Joost et al. 1987, Topper and Sabey 1986, Guidi and Hall 1984, Hinesly et al. 1982, Griebel et al. 1979, Peterson et al. 1979, Epstein et al. 1976). Increase in electrical conductivity (Tsadilas et al. 1995, Topper and Sabey 1986, Guidi and Hall 1984, Hinesly et al. 1982, Epstein et al. 1976) and cation exchange capacity has been observed. This increase in cation exchange capacity has a direct impact on nutrient retention and on plant growth (Land Resources Network Ltd. 1993). One concern with biosolids is the addition of metals to a site, and this is particularly a concern for mine tailings as often these sites are already high in certain metals. In terms of the soil microbial community, biosolids has been shown to increase the number of aerobic heterotrophic bacteria versus fertilizer amendment (Sopper 1993). However, very few studies have quantitatively measured the impacts of biosolids on microbial populations and activity. As the establishment of a diverse microbial community is essential to soil formation, studying the microbial community response to amendments is important in determining long-term site sustainability. There has been an increase in studies investigating selected soil parameters. Only a limited amount of research has been conducted linking the soil physical, chemical, microbial and vegetation responses of biosolids amendments at different application rates as well as comparing these responses to a fertilizer amendment. In 1998 a research project was implemented to study these interrelationships. This paper will only discuss the impacts of fertilizer and biosolids on selected soil parameters to determine the impacts on selected soil physical and chemical parameters, as well as on the soil microbial community within and over a three-year period on both a sandy and a silt loam textured tailing material. MATERIALS AND METHODS Study Site Description The project was conducted on two tailings ponds, Trojan and Bethlehem, at Highland Valley Copper Mine (copper and molybdenum mine) in the interior of British Columbia, approximately 80 km south west of Kamloops and 210 km northeast of Vancouver. Trojan tailings are at 1400 m above sea level and are texturally classified as a sand. Bethlehem tailings are at 1450 m above sea level and are texturally classified as a silt loam. Both sites are relatively flat and border a water body (tailings pond). Over the three years of the study (1998, 1999 and 2000) the yearly average precipitation from April to Oct was 740 mm, the growing degree days were 1174 and the temperature range for April to October was -8.7 to 29.7C. Plot Establishment The study sites were established in the summer of 1998. At each site a randomized complete block design with seven treatments and eight replicates was established. Replicates were added to deal with a moisture gradient and experimental variation. Each plot was 3 by 7 m in size with a buffer strip of 1 m between blocks. The treatments consisted of a control (C0), a fertilizer amendment (F0), and biosolids at rates of 50, 100, 150, 200, and 250 dry Mg ha(B50, B100, B150, B200, and B250, respectively). Anaerobically digested biosolids from the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) were stockpiled at each site and samples were collected from each to determine chemical composition (Table 1). Biosolids were applied by hand, left for a 2-week period to dry and make it easier for incorporation, and rototilled into the tailings to a depth of approximately 15 cm. In June 1999 the site was broadcast seeded with a grass legume mix containing pubescent wheatgrass (Agropyron trichophorum), orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata L.), creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra L. var. rubra), Russian wild ryegrass (Elymus junceus Fisch.), alfalfa (Medicago spp.), and alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum). At this time the inorganic fertilizer was manually broadcast on the F0 plots but was not incorporated. The fertilizer contained nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), zinc (Zn), and boron (B) and was formulated to be similar in total nutrient composition to the B150 treatment based on soil analysis data from the fall 1998 sampling. Table 1. Selected chemical analysis of biosolids stockpiles. Variable Beth Troj pH 6.3 6.8 EC (dS/m) 8.1 7.5 total C (%) 29.1 31.3 Dry matter (%) 24.5 23.8 In 1998, prior to application of biosolids, baseline soil sampling was conducted on both sites to test for homogeneity. Soil sampling was conducted in September of 1998, 1999 and 2000 using a random grid and destructive sampling was never located in same area twice. Vegetation Biomass Data In 1999 and 2000, 10-1/10 m quadrats were clipped in each plot to determine overall biomass production on a dry matter basis. Soil Physical Data Particle size was determined by hydrometer and sieving of the sand fraction (McKeague 1978) and used to classify the soil texture for each site. Bulk density was determined in 1999 and 2000 using the core method as outlined by Blake and Hartage (1986) and one core was collected per plot for 0-15, 15-30 and 30-45 cm depth increments. Time domain reflectometry probes were used in selected plots (F0, B100, B200 treatments on 4 blocks per site) in 1998 to read soil moisture to a depth of 60 cm at 5 cm increments (Topp 1993). Gravimetric soil moisture was also calculated for the top 0-15 cm depth in selected plots (C0, B50, B150, B250 treatments on 2 blocks per site) in 1998 using the oven dry method (Topp 1993). Water holding capacity (WHC) was determ
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