Mountaintop removal mining is a large-scale surface mining technique that removes entire floral and faunal communities, along with soil horizons located above coal seams. In West Virginia, the majority of this mining occurs on forested mountaintops. However, after mining ceases the land is typically reclaimed to grasslands and shrublands, resulting in novel ecosystems. In this study, we examined responses of herpetofauna to these novel ecosystems 10–28 y postreclamation. We quantified differences in species-specific habitat associations, (sub)order-level abundances, and habitat characteristics in four habitat types: reclaimed grassland, reclaimed shrubland, forest fragments in mined areas, and nonmined intact forest. Habitat type accounted for 33.2% of the variation in species-specific captures. With few exceptions, forest specialists were associated with intact forest and fragmented forest sites, while habitat generalists were either associated with grassland and shrubland sites or were distributed among all habitat types. At the (sub)order level, salamander (Order Urodela) captures were highest at fragmented and intact forest sites, frog and toad (Order Anura) captures were lowest at intact forest sites, and snake (Suborder Serpentes) captures were highest at shrubland sites. Habitat type was a strong predictor for estimated total abundance of urodeles, but not for anurans or snakes. Tree stem densities in grasslands differed from the other three habitat types, and large trees (>38 cm diameter at breast height) were only present at forest sites. Overstory vegetation cover was greater in forested than in reclaimed habitat types. Ground cover in reclaimed grasslands was distinct from forest treatments with generally less woody debris and litter cover and more vegetative cover. It is important to consider the distributions of habitat specialists of conservation concern when delineating potential mountaintop mine sites, as these sites will likely contain unsuitable habitat for forest specialists for decades or centuries when reclaimed to grassland or shrubland.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Responses of terrestrial herpetofauna to persistent, novel ecosystems resulting from mountaintop removal mining|
|Series title||Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management|
|Publisher||U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Contributing office(s)||Coop Res Unit Leetown|
|Google Analytic Metrics||Metrics page|