Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Biology, PhD

Committee Chair

Alexander, James

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Barton, Christopher

Committee Member

Barton, Christopher

Committee Member

Cobbs, Gary

Committee Member

Day, C. Andrew

Committee Member

Yanoviak, Steve

Author's Keywords

Robinson Forest; Guy Cove; Mountaintop Removal


The extraction of coal from steep-gradient surface mining sites such as in the Appalachian Coalfields of the U.S. produces excess debris that is often placed in adjacent valleys resulting in the creation of valley fills. Not only are headwater streams buried in the process, but watershed functions are either destroyed outright, or become fragmented and disconnected from adjacent ecosystems resulting in adverse effects to downstream biological communities. In this dissertation, the dynamics of stream macroinvertebrate community structure, composition, diversity, and biotic integrity are assessed at a “proof of concept” stream system recreated on a retrofitted valley fill. For comparison, two reference streams were selected with contrasting degrees of environmental impact from surface mining and deforestation. Each stream was sampled monthly over the course of one year. Sixteen environmental variables were measured and sixteen biotic metrics for benthic invertebrate dynamics were calculated. From this analysis, it was apparent that the recreated stream supported a diverse and abundant benthic macroinvertebrate community more similar to an unmined stream than to a mine-impacted stream located immediately downgradient of a traditionally constructed valley fill. These results suggest that the retrofitted watershed, 1) improved water quality in the recreated stream system by mitigating elevated specific conductance, and 2) improved stream habitat availability and quality by restoring, at least partially, ecological functions that were lost to deforestation, mining, and valley fill creation. Overall, these results can help inform and guide stakeholders and decision-makers considering future reclamation projects at any of the hundreds of valley fills created on the surface mined lands in the Appalachian Coalfields of the Southeastern United States.