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The assessment and evaluation of ecosystem services is a valuable tool to support and justify sustainble soil management.

Researchers of IRNAS, CSIC have contributed to the development of a methodology to quantify changes in ecosystem services induced by soil management measures, as part of the European RECARE consortium.

A comparative analysis of the results for 26 measures applied to remediate degraded soils, in 16 case studies across Europe, has been carried out. In particular, IRNAS´s researchers have evaluated the results of amendments (biosolid compost) and tree planting (wild olive) in contaminated and remediated soils of the Guadiamar Green Corridor.

The new methodology was applied to evaluate the impacts of each 26 measures on different ecosystem services. The most relevant 15 ecosystem services were selected, grouped in provisioning, regulation and cultural services. In general, the applied soil remediation measures produced positive changes in ecosystem services. Within the regulation services, “mediation of flows” (protection from erosion) and “mediation of waste, toxics and other nuisances” (stabilization of contaminants) showed the most important positive impacts.

The methodology also detected synergies and trade-offs among ecosystem services. This holistic approach may be the base for a valuation of the benefits from each ecosystem service and the integrated management of the evaluated land.

The results have been published in the December issue of the open access journal Sustainability:

Gudrun Schwilch, Tatenda Lemann, Örjan Berglund, Carlo Camarotto, Artemi Cerdà, Ioannis N. Daliakopoulos, Silvia Kohnová, Dominika Krzeminska, Teodoro Marañón, René Rietra, Grzegorz Siebielec, Johann Thorsson, Mark Tibbett, Sandra Valente, Hedwig van Delden, Jan van den Akker, Simone Verzandvoort, Nicoleta Olimpia Vrînceanu, Christos Zoumides, Rudi Hessel (2018), Assessing impacts of soil management measures on Ecosystem Services. Sustainability, 10 (12), 4416, doi:10.3390/su10124416.

Soil abiotic properties, such as texture, nutrient availability and water, are essential in the development of terrestrial plants. Mycorrhizal fungi, which are fungi living in symbiosis with plants roots, are also key for plant growing. This symbiosis enhances a trade-off of carbohydrates and nutrients beneficial for both plant and fungi. Therefore, it is expected that different mycorrhizal fungal communities (in terms of species and their morphological traits) would affect plant development (in terms of plant chemical and morphological traits) in different ways.

In order to understand this mycorrhizal fungi-plant relationship, researchers from IRNAS-CSIC and Universidad de Sevilla (Spain), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and the University of Reading (United Kingdom), developed a study on holm oak trees and their symbiotic ectomycorrhizal fungi. The area selected for this study, known as the Guadiamar Green Corridor (Seville), suffered a mine spill leaving behind hectares of land contaminated by trace elements. Twenty years after the accident and the phytoremediation of the affected area, trace elements are still present and the role of ectomycorrhizal fungi might be especially important in this stressful environment.

In this study, we found that ectomycorrhizal fungi explained more than soil abiotic properties for most of the measured plant traits, especially root functional traits. The symbiosis with abundant species of ectomycorrhizal fungi (Hebeloma cavipes and Thelephora terrestris) was related to conservative positions into the root economics spectrum. Conservative traits, like denser roots and higher dry matter content, allow tree survival under adverse conditions. Hebeloma cavipes and Thelephora terrestris were characterised with a high rhizomorph formation, a fungal trait that enhances water and phosphate uptake through a long-distance exploration mechanism. It may be possible that this specific tree-fungi symbiosis was established as a consequence of resource limitations.

Trace element mobility through the soil-root-leaf continuum was analysed and despite soil trace elements concentrations in our environmental gradient was relatively large, accumulation of trace elements in oak leaves was relatively low. This confirms that holm oak is a suitable species for the phytostabilisation of contaminated soils, given its ability to prevent trace element accumulation into aboveground biomass. However, it is not the role of the tree alone, as trace element transfer was highly explained by its associated ectomycorrhizal fungal communities, which suggests that interactions with fungi play an important role at determining the capacity of this tree species to retain trace elements into its roots.

These findings support that ectomycorrhizal fungal community composition and their functional traits mediate plant performance in trace element contaminated soils, and have a high influence on plant capacity for phytoremediation of contaminants.

The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science:

Gil-Martínez, M., López-García, Á., Domínguez, M. T., Navarro-Fernández, C. M., Kjøller, R., Tibbett, M., & Marañón, T. (2018). Ectomycorrhizal Fungal Communities and Their Functional Traits Mediate Plant–Soil Interactions in Trace Element Contaminated Soils. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9, 1682. 

Last September, the 12th International Conference on Mine Closure was celebrated in Leipzig (Germany). This conference, organized by the Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg, is one of the world`s reference events among the mine closure professionals. The main conference topics that were discussed and that have been found as the main issues were:  establishing integrated life of mine planning, design sustainable land uses from the social and environmental perspective, increasing the post-mining assets value, and establishing  stable and self-regenerating ecosystems, among others.

Due to the urgent necessity of improving reclamation of mining areas, abandoned and/ or in transition to close, researchers from IRNAS-CSIC, University of Seville, University of Reading and Haute École Condorcet have collaborated to present a paper and an oral communication in this conference.

Gil-Martínez M, Domínguez MT, Navarro-Fernández CM, Crompot H, Tibbett M , Marañón T (2018). Long-term effects of trace elements contamination on soil microbial biomass and enzyme activities, in C Drebenstedt, F von Bismarck, A Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Mine Closure, Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany, pp. 633-644.

Results from the applied strategy of phytostabilisation on mining areas contaminated by heavy metals were presented. In our study area known as Guadiamar Green Corridor, where phytostabilisation have happened over 19 years, forestation has been found to improve soil fertility and microbial biomass, which is an indicator of improved soil quality. Moreover, different tree species have been found to affect soil chemistry and biology in different ways. White poplar was found to increase soil pH and to recover nutrients levels. However, stone pine was found to acidify the soil, increasing heavy metal availability and reducing microbial communities. In conclusion, previous to forestation is recommended to select the most suitable species for the specific conditions of the mining area to reclaim.

In this conference, Marta Gil-Martínez, predoctoral researcher from IRNAS-CSIC, had the opportunity to visit the Wismut Uranium Tailings Remediation Project , which started back in 1991 and currently clean-up, re-contouring and implementation of covers tasks are still in place. Last cover consists in revegetation to establish some forest and pastures areas, in order to maximize biodiversity.