Roads, camps and other structures associated with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline were placed on gravel pads to protect underlying permafrost. Gravel was mined from floodplains, resulting in loss of riparian wildlife habitat. Revegetation of abandoned pads using non-native grasses has been unsuccessful. Native plants might be more persistent and contribute to replacing lost habitat. The naturally-occurring pioneer community on gravel pads consists mainly of willows Salix alaxensis and S. glauca, fireweed Epilobium latifolium, horsetails Equisetum arvense and legumes in the genera Astragalus, Oxytropis and Hedysarum, all species of riparian gravel bars. Ten years after abandonment mean total cover of native species on 16 gravel pads was only 2.7% and mean number of species per site was 4.4. Distance from riparian seed sources explained 25% and 40% of variation in cover and diversity respectively. Legumes were more restricted to sites near the river than were fireweed and willows. In the laboratory, no germination of S. alaxensis occurred at water potentials $< -0.2$ MPa, which probably occur often on gravel pads. In the field, germination was increased by watering or by a rough surface which provided moister microsites. Growth of seedlings was limited by the supply of mineral nutrients. Survival was high and not limited by availability of water or nutrients. In the laboratory, few legume seeds germinated at water potentials $< -0.5$ MPa. In the field, germination was higher on a rough surface which provided moister microsites. Greenhouse experiments indicated that symbiotically-fixed nitrogen contributed significantly to the growth of legume seedlings, especially when availability of mineral N was low. Rhizobia-free legume seedlings transplanted to a gravel pad developed nodules whether or not they were inoculated with rhizobia, but total weight and nodule weight tended to be higher in inoculated seedlings. Some native plants, primarily riparian species, are capable of establishing and growing on abandoned gravel pads. The low cover and diversity of naturally-colonized sites are attributed to (1) limited dispersal from riparian seed sources, (2) lack of water for germination, and (3) lack of nutrients to support growth. Both willows and legumes have promise for use in restoration.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1988
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