Industrial barrens: extreme habitats created by non-ferrous metallurgy

Review Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11157-006-9117-9

Cite this article as:
Kozlov, M.V. & Zvereva, E.L. Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol (2007) 6: 231. doi:10.1007/s11157-006-9117-9


Industrial barrens are bleak open landscapes evolved due to deposition of airborne pollutants, with only small patches of vegetation surrounded by bare land. These extreme environments appeared as a by-product of human activities about a century ago. The comparative analysis of information available from 36 industrial barrens worldwide allowed to identify factors and conditions that are necessary and sufficient for the appearance of these specific habitats. Vast majority of industrial barrens is associated with non-ferrous smelters, located predominantly in mountainous or hilly landscapes. Development of industrial barrens starts from gradual decline of vegetation due to severe pollution impact accompanied by other human-induced disturbances (primarily clearcutting) and is usually concluded by a fire, facilitated by accumulation of woody debris. Since vegetation recovery is hampered by soil toxicity caused by extreme contamination by heavy metals, soils remain bare and suffer from erosion enhanced by altered microclimate. In spite of general reduction in biodiversity, industrial barrens still support a variety of life, including regionally rare and endangered species, as well as populations that evolved specific adaptations to the harsh and toxic environment. Recently, most industrial barrens show some signs of natural recovery due to emission decline or closure of responsible polluters; some of barren sites have been or are being successfully revegetated. The remaining industrial barrens offer unique opportunities for conducting ‘basic’ ecological research, in particular for testing some general theories in an evolutionary novel stressful environment; some of barren habitats deserve conservation for scientific and educational purposes.


Biodiversity Clearcutting Conservation Contamination Disturbance Fire Heavy metals Microclimate Pollution Recovery Soil erosion 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

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