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Senecio conrathii N.E.Br. (Asteraceae), a new hyperaccumulator of nickel from serpentinite outcrops of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa

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Five nickel hyperaccumulators belonging to the Asteraceae are known from ultramafic outcrops in South Africa. Phytoremediation applications of the known hyperaccumulators in the Asteraceae, such as the indigenous Berkheya coddii Roessler, are well reported and necessitate further exploration to find additional species with such traits. This study targeted the most frequently occurring species of the Asteraceae on eight randomly selected serpentinite outcrops of the Barberton Greenstone Belt. Twenty species were sampled, including 12 that were tested for nickel accumulation for the first time. Although the majority of the species were excluders, the known hyperaccumulators Berkheya nivea N.E.Br. and B. zeyheri (Sond. & Harv.) Oliv. & Hiern subsp. rehmannii (Thell.) Roessler var. rogersiana (Thell.) Roessler hyperaccumulated nickel in the leaves at expected levels. A new hyperaccumulator of nickel was discovered, Senecio conrathii N.E.Br., which accumulated the element in its leaves at 1695 ± 637 µg g−1 on soil with a total and exchangeable nickel content of 503 mg kg−1 and 0.095 µg g−1, respectively. This makes it the third known species in the Senecioneae of South Africa to hyperaccumulate nickel after Senecio anomalochrous Hilliard and Senecio coronatus (Thunb.) Harv., albeit it being a weak accumulator compared with the latter. Seven tribes in the Asteraceae have now been screened for hyperaccumulation in South Africa, with hyperaccumulators only recorded for the Arctoteae and Senecioneae. This suggests that further exploration for hyperaccumulators should focus on these tribes as they comprise all six species (of 68 Asteraceae taxa screened thus far) to hyperaccumulate nickel.

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Mr Arnold Frisby from the University of Pretoria is thanked for assistance with fieldwork. Dr Marinda Koekemoer from the Pretoria National Herbarium confirmed the identity of the hyperaccumulator. Prof Marthie Coetzee from the North-West University confirmed the rock samples as serpentinite. National Geographic Society funded the fieldwork and the Botanical Education Trust funded the plant and soil analyses conducted at the labs of EcoAnalytica at the North-West University. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments which helped in improving the manuscript. Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at, are those of the authors and are not necessarily to be attributed to the funders. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Stefan John Siebert.

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Siebert, S.J., Schutte, N.C., Bester, S.P. et al. Senecio conrathii N.E.Br. (Asteraceae), a new hyperaccumulator of nickel from serpentinite outcrops of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa. Ecol Res 33, 651–658 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-017-1541-5

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  • Asteraceae
  • Hyperaccumulation
  • Nickel
  • Senecio
  • Ultramafic