Native seedling colonization on stockpiled mine soils is constrained by site conditions and competition with exotic species.
Sites disturbed through mining practices can be challenging to restore with native vegetation, as the path of ecological succession is often unknown and hard to predict. We conducted an establishment study that explored restoration strategies to increase native vegetation on a newly formed stockpile of soil at New Gold's New Afton Mine in British Columbia, Canada. Establishment of native species in semi-arid grasslands is often constrained by seed and seedling microsite limitations, so treatments were imposed to assist in reducing these limitations. We established a fully factorial design with a native seed treatment (seeded and unseeded) and four soil preparations: raking, hydroseed slurry, a combination of raking and hydroseed slurry, and no preparation. Raking assisted in increasing total seedling establishment, regardless of whether the site was seeded or not. Raking and seeding increased the number of native seedlings and resulted in the greatest species richness, suggesting that native seedling establishment is primarily seed-limited, but that microclimate is also important for the establishment of some native seeds. We found that exotic species were able to capitalize on the disturbance and outcompeted the native species, but reducing seed-limitations by sowing more native seeds and increasing available microclimates by raking or tilling may increase native species' success at the establishment phase.