Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

David S. Buckley

Committee Members

Jennifer A. Franklin, Arnold M. Saxton


Coal mining is a significant industry in Appalachia. Herbaceous groundcovers are commonly planted to reduce soil erosion and protect water quality during mine reclamation, but many groundcovers may be too competitive to be compatible with trees. The objectives of this research were to investigate the performance of trees planted within different groundcovers and to measure how different groundcovers influence resource availability, specifically soil moisture and light

Two studies were performed; one in a greenhouse and the other on 3 mine sites in east Tennessee where seedlings were planted and grown in competition with different groundcovers. Growth, biomass, leaf area, and foliar transpiration of tree seedlings, percent cover of groundcovers, percent volumetric soil moisture, and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) were measured.

In the greenhouse, root-to-shoot ratios of northern red oak seedlings in the presence of competition from switchgrass and in bare treatments were found to be greater than in alfalfa and annual rye treatments. Specific leaf area of seedlings in the annual rye treatment was found to be lower than the other treatments. Seedlings in the bare and switchgrass treatments were found to have greater transpiration rates than in the annual rye and alfalfa treatments.

On the mine sites, growth and transpiration of northern red oak, American chestnut, black cherry, and shagbark hickory seedlings did not differ among groundcover treatments.

In both studies, percent soil moisture was found to be greatest in the bare and switchgrass treatments, and percent full PAR at 14 cm was found to be greatest in the bare treatment. In the greenhouse, percent full PAR was lowest in the switchgrass treatment and was lowest in the alfalfa treatment in the field.

Many factors may explain differences in seedling growth and performance between the greenhouse study and the field study such as tremendous variability in substrates and percent groundcover in the field, micro-site influence, and other unknown factors. Results from this study suggest that of the groundcover species studied, switchgrass may be the most compatible with the hardwoods studied, but more research is warranted to definitively determine the competitive interactions between the tree and groundcover species studied.

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