Direct and indirect effects of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles on the decomposition of leaf litter in streams

  • Sumaya Al Riyami
  • Dalal Al Mahrouqi
  • Raeid M. M. Abed
  • Abdulkadir Elshafie
  • Priyanka Sathe
  • Michael J. BarryEmail author


As the production of metallic nanoparticles has grown, it is important to assess their impacts on structural and functional components of ecosystems. We investigated the effects of zinc and titanium nanoparticles on leaf decomposition in freshwater habitats. We hypothesized that nanoparticles would inhibit the growth and activity of microbial communities leading to decreased decomposition rates. We also hypothesized that under natural light, the nanoparticles would produce reactive oxygen species that could potentially accelerate decomposition. In the lab, whole Ficus vasta leaves were placed in containers holding one liter of stream water and exposed to either 0, 1, 10 or 100 mg/L of ZnO or TiO2 nanoparticles for six weeks (referred to as Exp. 1). We measured leaf mass loss, microbial metabolism, and bacterial density at 2, 4, and 6 weeks. In a second experiment (referred to as Exp. 2), we measured the effects of light and 10 and 100 mg/L ZnO or TiO2 nanoparticles on leaf mass loss, bacterial density and the bacterial and fungal community diversity over a 2 week period. In Experiment 1, mass loss was significantly reduced at 10 and 100 mg/L after 6 weeks and bacterial density decreased at 100 mg/L. In Experiment 2, there was no effect of ZnO nanoparticles on leaf mass loss, but TiO2 nanoparticles significantly reduced mass loss in the dark but not in the light. One possible explanation is that release of reactive oxygen species by the TiO2 nanoparticles in the light may have increased the rate of leaf decomposition. Bacterial and fungal diversity was highest in the dark, but nanoparticles did not reduce overall diversity.


Nanoparticle Zinc Titanium Leaf litter Ecosystem function Decomposition 



We acknowledge the assistance and advice of Prof Joydeep Dutta, Drs Mohammed Al Abri, Myo Tay Zar Myint and Laila Al-Naamani from the Chair in Nanotechnology at Sultan Qaboos University. This project was funded through a Sultan Qaboos University internal grant to MJB.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This research did not involve the use of human or animal subjects.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentSultan Qaboos UniversityMuscatOman
  2. 2.Department of Marine Biology and FisheriesSultan Qaboos UniversityMuscatOman

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