Plant and Soil

, Volume 267, Issue 1, pp 191-206

First online:

Rare earth elements in soil and plant systems - A review

  • Germund TylerAffiliated withSoil-Plant Research, Department of Ecology, Lund University

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The rare earth elements (REEs) form a chemically uniform group and include yttrium (Y), lanthanum (La) and the lanthanides cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and lutetium (Lu). Their average abundance in the Earth’s crust range from 66µg g−1 in Ce to 0.5µg g−1 in Tm and «0.1µg g−1 in Pm. Recent great improvements in more routine analytical technique, the use of REEs as fertilisers, at least in East Asian agriculture, and the importance of these elements as indicators in both pedological and physiological processes and reactions have contributed to an increased interest in these previously less considered elements in environmental sciences. This review of recent and current literature deals with REEs in primary and secondary soil minerals, concentrations in surface soils, factors influencing adsorption, solubility and transport in soils, including weathering and transformations of REE minerals, and vertical distribution in soil profiles. Reviewed and discussed are also concentrations, distribution and localisation of REEs in plants and plant organs, soil-plant relationships and interactions, effects on plant growth and crop production and their importance in plant physiology and biochemistry. The REEs are found, usually several elements together, as phosphates, carbonates and silicate minerals finely dispersed especially in magmatic and metamorphic rocks. REE concentrations in surface soils of humid climates, such as the A(E)-horizons of Podzols and Laterites, are usually lower than in the parent material, due to higher weathering and leaching rates than of the average soil constituents. Some fractionation may occur due to the formation of more element-specific secondary minerals. Transfer from soil to plant is usually low, but extreme accumulators are found, e.g., among several species of ferns. Roots have generally higher concentrations than shoots. Possible uptakemechanisms of REEs are discussed. Uptake is positively, though often weakly, correlated with soil acidity and easily soluble concentrations of the elements, but rarely well related to their total concentrations in the soil. Under certain conditions, low concentrations of at least some REEs seem to favour plant growth and productivity, but the physiological mechanisms are still not well understood. Some considerations concerning the boundary between essential and non-essential micro nutrients are discussed.

Key words

lanthanide plant REE review soil