Date of Graduation

Spring 5-19-2023

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences


Environmental Management

First Advisor

Aviva Rossi, Ph.D.


Nearly all terrestrial plants form symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. These beneficial soil microbes support plant health by increasing plants’ access to nutrients and water, protecting them from pathogens, improving soil properties, and more. A challenge to restoring forests on coal mined land in Appalachia is that mine soils are often degraded in a number of ways, including lacking mycorrhizal fungi, which makes mine soils difficult for trees to grow upon. Substantial improvements to coal mine reforestation success have been made since the development of the Forestry Reclamation Approach in 2005 that provides guidelines for how to create a suitable growing medium for native Appalachian forests. However, the Forestry Reclamation Approach does not currently provide guidelines for utilizing mycorrhizal fungi in restoration. Additionally, even with the progress made by the Forestry Reclamation Approach, the survival rate of newly planted trees is only 70% on average, so there is a 30% margin for improving plant survival rates and growth. The purpose of this study is to determine if inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi is an effective restoration tool to enhance Appalachian reforestation on coal mined land in West Virginia and provide management recommendations for how to best utilize these beneficial soil microbes.

In this study I conduct a literature review and synthesis of studies pertaining to the effects of mycorrhizal fungi inoculation on plant performance set on reclaimed mine land. 24 studies were retained for analysis, consisting of 13 meta-analysis and review studies and 11 experimental studies. Synthesis of studies’ results showed that inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi increases plant survival rates and growth on reclaimed mine land across various environmental circumstances including reclaimed coal mines in West Virginia. Additionally, results showed that 42 of 48 Appalachian trees evaluated in this study are known to form mycorrhizal associations. This study’s results suggest that coal mine reforestation projects in West Virginia will have increased sapling survival rates and growth when the mycorrhizal needs of the saplings are considered and satisfied through excellent soil reclamation and, if needed, careful inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi.

Notably, plant responses differ drastically in response to the same mycorrhizal fungus, and there are ecological risks to using inoculants. Inoculating with locally adapted mycorrhizal fungi is generally more effective and always safer than using commercial inoculants that may contain non-native species, genotypes, and contaminants. Also, using multiple species and a diverse genotypic mixture of mycorrhizal fungi increases inoculation’s infectivity and efficacy to improve plant performance. It is recommended that reforestation practitioners evaluate the reclaimed mine site’s landscape position and topography, geographic size, severity of disturbance to the soil, the state of the surrounding ecosystem, and the tree species selected for planting prior to selecting the most effective means of utilizing mycorrhizal fungi for their situation.