The myriad definitions of soil/ecosystem quality or health are often driven by ecosystem and management concerns, and they typically focus on the ability of the soil to provide functions relating to biological productivity and/or environmental quality. A variety of attempts have been made to create indices that quantify the complexities of soil quality and provide a means of evaluating the impact of various natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Though not without their limitations, indices can improve our understanding of the controls behind ecosystem processes and allow for the distillation of information to help link scientific and management communities. In terrestrial systems, indices were initially developed and modified for agroecosystems; however, the number of studies implementing such indices in nonagricultural systems is growing. Soil quality indices (SQIs) are typically composed of biological (and sometimes physical and chemical) parameters that attempt to reduce the complexity of a system into a metric of a soil’s ability to carry out one or more functions.
The indicators utilized in SQIs can be as varied as the studies themselves, reflecting the complexity of the soil and ecosystems in which they function. Regardless, effective soil quality indicators should correlate well with soil or ecosystem processes, integrate those properties and processes, and be relevant to management practices. Commonly applied biological indicators include measures associated with soil microbial activity or function (for example, carbon and nitrogen mineralization, respiration, microbial biomass, enzyme activity. Cost, accessibility, ease of interpretation, and presence of existing data often dictate indicator selection given the number of available measures. We employed a large number of soil biological, chemical, and physical measures, along with measures of vegetation cover, density, and productivity, in order to test the utility and sensitivity of these measures within various mineralized terranes. We were also interested in examining these relations in the context of determining appropriate reference conditions with which to compare reclamation efforts.
The purpose of this report is to present the data used to develop indices of soil and ecosystem quality associated with mineralized terranes (areas enriched in metal-bearing minerals), specifically podiform chromite, quartz alunite, and Mo/Cu porphyry systems. Within each of these mineralized terranes, a nearby unmineralized counterpart was chosen for comparison. The data consist of soil biological, chemical, and physical parameters, along with vegetation measurements for each of the sites described below. Synthesis of these data and index development will be the subject of future publications.
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