Environmental variation between habitats and uptake of heavy metals by Urtica dioica
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The observation from previous surveys, that Urtica dioica plants that had grown in metal contaminated soil in the floodplains of the former Rhine estuary in different habitats, but at comparable total soil metal concentrations, showed significant differences in tissue metal concentrations, led to the hypothesis that variation in other environmental characteristics than soil composition and chemical speciation of metals between habitats is also important in determining uptake and translocation of metals in plants. A field survey indicated that differences in root Cd, Cu and Zn concentrations might partly be explained by variation in speciation of metals in different habitats. However, shoot concentrations showed a different pattern that did not relate to variation in soil metal concentrations. In a habitat experiment Urtica dioica plants were grown in artificially contaminated soil in pots that were placed in the four habitats (grassland, pure reed, mixed reed, osier bed) that were also included in the field survey. After seven weeks the plants showed significant differences in Cu and Zn concentrations in roots and aboveground plant parts and in distribution of the metals in the plants between habitats. It was concluded that variation between habitats in environmental characteristics other than soil composition can explain as much variation in plants as can variation in soil metal concentrations and/or speciation. The implications for assessment of soil metal contamination and uptake by plants are discussed.
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