Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) during Sphagnum litters decay


The dynamics of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) degradation in Sphagnum litters and the decomposition of the litters were investigated. PAH concentration decreased to approximately half of the initial concentration as Sphagnum litters decayed. The initial PAH concentration was 489.2 ± 72.2 ng g−1, and the concentration after 120 days of incubation was 233.0 ± 5.8 ng g−1. The different PAH compositions changed concentrations at different times. The low-molecular-weight (LMW) and high-molecular-weight (HMW) PAHs started to be degraded after incubation and after 40 days of incubation, respectively. PAH concentrations in the Sphagnum litters correlated with the total organic carbon (TOC) content (p < 0.05), indicating that PAHs were associated with the TOC of the Sphagnum litters and were degraded as organic matter decayed. The positive relationship between LMW PAH concentration and the soluble carbohydrate content (p < 0.05) indicated that LMW PAHs and the readily decomposed organic carbon fractions were cometabolized, or that LMW PAHs were mainly absorbed by soluble carbohydrate. The weak negative correlation between fulvic acid (FA) and PAH concentrations (p < 0.1) indicated that FA may enhance PAH degradation. Redundancy analysis suggested that the contents of both soluble carbohydrate and cellulose significantly affected the changes in PAH concentrations (p < 0.05), and that FA content and C/N ratios may also contribute to the changes in PAH concentrations (p < 0.1). However, the polyphenol that was related to microbial activities was not associated with changes in PAH concentrations. These results suggested that litter quality is more important than microbial activities in PAH degradation in Sphagnum litters.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Adamo P, Crisafulli P, Giordano S, Minganti V, Modenesi P, Monaci F, Pittao E, Tretiach M, Bargagli R (2007) Lichen and moss bags as monitoring devices in urban areas. Part II: trace element content in living and dead biomonitors and comparison with synthetic materials. Environ Pollut 146(2):392–399

  2. Ares A, Aboal JR, Carballeira A, Fernandez JA (2015) Do moss bags containing devitalized Sphagnum denticulatum reflect heavy metal concentrations in bulk deposition? Ecol Indic 50:90–98

  3. Augusto S, Sierra J, Nadal M, Schuhmacher M (2015) Tracking polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in lichens: It's all about the algae. Environ Pollut 207:441–445

  4. Baldrian P (2008) Wood-inhabiting ligninolytic basidiomycetes in soils: ecology and constraints for applicability in bioremediation. Fungal Ecol 1:4–12

  5. Bogan BW, Sullivan WR (2003) Physicochemical soil parameters affecting sequestration andmycobacterial biodegradation of polycyclic aromatichydrocarbons in soil. Chemosphere 52:1717–1726

  6. Bragazza L, Freeman C, Jones T, Rydin H, Limpens J, Fenner N, Ellis T, Gerdol R, Hajek M, Hajek T, Iacumin P, Kutnar L, Tahvanainen T, Toberman H (2006) Atmospheric nitrogen deposition promotes carbon loss from peat bogs. P Natl Acad Sci USA 103(51):19386–19389

  7. Capozzi F, Di Palma A, Adamo P, Spagnuolo V, Giordano S (2017) Monitoring chronic and acute PAH atmospheric pollution using transplants of the moss Hypnum cupressiforme and Robinia pseudacacia leaves. Atmos Environ 150:45–54

  8. De Nicola F, Baldantoni D, Alfani A (2014) PAHs in decaying Quercus ilex leaf litter: mutual effects on litter decomposition and PAH dynamics. Chemosphere 114:35–39

  9. Dolegowska S, Migaszewski ZM (2011) PAH concentrations in the moss species Hylocomium splendens (Hedw.) BSG and Pleurozium schreberi (Brid.) mitt. From the Kielce area (south-Central Poland). Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 74(6):1636–1644

  10. Fernandez-Luqueno F, Valenzuela-Encinas C, Marsch R, Martinez-Suarez C, Vazquez-Nunez E, Dendooven L (2011) Microbial communities to mitigate contamination of PAHs in soil-possibilities and challenges: a review. Environ Sci Pollut R 18(1):12–30

  11. Freeman C, Ostle NJ, Fenner N, Kang H (2004) A regulatory role for phenol oxidase during decomposition in peatlands. Soil Biol Biochem 36(10):1663–1667

  12. Garuszka A (2000) Toxic organic compounds in the environment. Prz Geol 48:713–719

  13. Giordano MR, Chong J, Weise DR, Asa-Awuku AA (2016) Does chronic nitrogen deposition during biomass growth affect atmospheric emissions from biomass burning? Environ Res Lett 11(3)

  14. Hájek T, Ballance S, Limpens J, Zijlstra M, Verhoeven JTA (2011) Cell-wall polysaccharides play an important role in decay resistance of Sphagnum and actively depressed decomposition in vitro. Biogeochemistry 103(1–3):45–57

  15. Haritash AK, Kaushik CP (2009) Biodegradation aspects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): a review. J Hazard Mater 169(1–3):1–15

  16. Harmens H, Foan L, Simon V, Mills G (2013) Mosses as biomonitors of atmospheric POPs pollution: a review. Environ Pollut 173:245–254

  17. Himberg KK, Pakarinen P (1994) Atmospheric PCB deposition in Finland during 1970s and 1980s on the basis of concentrations in ombrotrophic peat mosses(Sphagnum). Chemosphere 29:431–440

  18. Holoubek I, Korinek P, Seda Z, Schneiderová E, Holoubková I, Pacl A, Triska J, Cudlin P, Cáslavsky J (2000) The use of mosses and pine needles to detect persistent organic pollutants at local and regional scales. Environ Pollut, 109. In: 283–292

  19. Johnson LC, Damman AWH, Malmer N (1990) Sphagnum macrostructure as an indicator of decay and compaction in peat cores from an ombrotrophic south Swedish peat-bog. J Ecol 78:633–647

  20. Khairy MA, Luek JL, Dickhut R, Lohmann R (2016) Levels, sources and chemical fate of persistent organic pollutants in the atmosphere and snow along the western Antarctic peninsula. Environ Pollut 216:304–313

  21. Klingenfuss C, Rosskopf N, Walter J, Heller C, Zeitz J (2014) Soil organic matter to soil organic carbon ratios of peatland soil substrates. Geoderma 235:410–417

  22. Lang SI, Cornelissen JHC, Klahn T, van Logtestijn RSP, Broekman R, Schweikert W, Aerts R (2009) An experimental comparison of chemical traits and litter decomposition rates in a diverse range of subarctic bryophyte, lichen and vascular plant species. J Ecol 97(5):886–900

  23. Liu X, Zhang G, Jones KC, Li XD, Peng XZ, Qi SH (2005) Compositional fractionation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in mosses (Hypnum plumaeformae WILS.) from the northern slope of Nanling Mountains, South China. Atmos Environ 39:5490–5499

  24. Ma WL, Sun DZ, Shen WG, Yang M, Qi H, Liu LY, Shen JM, Li YF (2011) Atmospheric concentrations, sources and gas-particle partitioning of PAHs in Beijing after the 29th Olympic games. Environ Pollut 159(7):1794–1801

  25. Marquès M, Mari M, Audí-Miró C, Sierra J, Soler A, Nadal M, Domingo JL (2016) Photodegradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in soils under a climate change base scenario. Chemosphere 148:495–503

  26. Migaszewski ZM, Galuszka A, Crock JG, Lamothe PJ, Dolegowska S (2009) Interspecies and interregional comparisons of the chemistry of PAHs and trace elements in mosses Hylocomium splendens (Hedw.) B.S.G. and Pleurozium schreberi (Brid.) mitt. From Poland and Alaska. Atmos Environ 43:1464–1473

  27. Moore TR, Bubier JL, Bledzki L (2007) Litter decomposition in temperate peatland ecosystems: the effect of substrate and site. Ecosystems 10(6):949–963

  28. Orliński R (2002) Multipoint moss passive samplers assessment of urban airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: concentrations profile and distribution along Warsaw main streets. Chemosphere 48:181–186

  29. Paludan C, Jensen HS (1995) Sequential extraction of phosphorus in freshwater wetland and lake sediment. Wetlands 15:365–373

  30. Rice AV, Tsuneda A, Currah RS (2006) In vitro decomposition of Sphagnum by some microfungi resembles white rot of wood. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 56(3):372–382

  31. Sack U, Hofrichter M, Fritsche W (1997) Degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by manganese peroxidase of Nematoloma frowardii. FEMS Microbiol Lett 152:227–234

  32. Schofield WB (2001) Introduction to bryology. Blackburn Press, Caldwell

  33. Shen HZ et al (2013) Global atmospheric emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from 1960 to 2008 and future predictions. Environ Sci Technol 47(12):6415–6424

  34. Steffen KT, Schubert S, Tuomela M, Hatakka A, Hofrichter M (2007) Enhancement of bioconversion of high-molecular mass polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in contaminated non-sterile soil by litter-decomposing fungi. Biodegradation 18(3):359–369

  35. Steffen KT, Hatakka A, Hofrichter M (2002) Removal and mineralization of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by litter-decomposing basidiomycetous fungi. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 60:212–217

  36. Steffen KT, Hatakka A, Hofrichter M (2003) Degradation of benzo(a)pyrene by the litter-decomposing basidiomycete Stropharia coronilla: role of manganese peroxidase. Appl Environ Microbiol 69:3957–3964

  37. Szczepaniak K, Biziuk M (2003) Aspects of the biomonitoring studies using mosses and lichens as indicators of metal pollution. Environ Res 93(3):221–230

  38. Thuens S, Blodau C, Radke M (2013) How suitable are peat cores to study historical deposition of PAHs? Sci Total Environ 450:271–279

  39. Turetsky MR, Crow SE, Evans RJ, Vitt DH, Wieder RK (2008) Trade-offs in resource allocation among moss species control decomposition in boreal peatlands. J Ecol 96(6):1297–1305

  40. Uyttebroek M, Ortega-Calvo JJ, Breugelmans P, Springael D (2006) Comparison of mineralization of solid-sorbed phenanthrene by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-degrading Mycobacterium spp. and Sphingomonas spp. Appl Microbiol Biot 72(4):829–836

  41. Verhoeven JTA, Liefveld WM (1997) The ecological significance of organochemical compounds in Sphagnum. Acta Bot Neerl 46:117–130

  42. Viskari EL, Rekila R, Roy S, Lehto O, Ruuskanen J, Karenlampi L (1997) Airborne pollutants along a roadside: assessment using snow analyses and moss bags. Environ Pollut 97:153–160

  43. Vukovic G, Urosevic MA, Razumenic I, Kuzmanoski M, Pergal M, Skrivanj S, Popovic A (2014) Air quality in urban parking garages (PM10, major and trace elements, PAHs): instrumental measurements vs. active moss biomonitoring. Atmos Environ 85:31–40

  44. Vukovic G, Urosevic MA, Goryainova Z, Pergal M, Skrivanj S, Samson R, Popovic A (2015) Activemoss biomonitoring for extensive screening of urban air pollution: magnetic and chemical analyses. Sci Total Environ 521:200–210

  45. Wang ZC, Liu ZF, Yang Y, Li T, Liu M (2012) Distribution of PAHs in tissues of wetland plants and the surrounding sediments in the Chongming wetland, shanghai, China. Chemosphere 89(3):221–227

  46. Wang WT, Jariyasopit N, Schrlau J, Jia YL, Tao S, Yu TW, Dashwood RH, Zhang W, Wang XJ, Simonich SLM (2011) Concentration and photochemistry of PAHs, NPAHs, and OPAHs and Toxicity of PM2.5 during the Beijing Olympic Games. Environ Sci Technol 45(16):6887–6895

  47. Wang ZC, Wang SZ, Nie JQ, Wang YH, Liu YY (2017) Assessment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in indoor dust from varying categories of rooms in Changchun city, Northeast China. Environ Geochem Hlth 39(1):15–27

  48. Wegener JWM, van Schaik MJM, Aiking H (1992) Active biomonitoring of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by means of mosses Active biomonitoring of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by means of mosses. Environ Pollut 76:1–15

  49. Wolterbeek B (2002) Biomonitoring of trace element air pollution: principles possibilities and perspectives. Environ Pollut 120:11–21

  50. Yuan SY, Shiung LC, Chang BV (2002) Biodegradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by inoculated microorganisms in soil. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 69(1):66–73

  51. Zhang YJ et al (2016) Atmospheric PAHs in North China: spatial distribution and sources. Sci Total Environ 565:994–1000

  52. Zhang YX, Tao S (2009) Global atmospheric emission inventory of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) for 2004. Atmos Environ 43(4):812–819

Download references


We are grateful for the sample collection and analysis from Chao Liu and Xinhua Zhou. We thank Zhiwei Xu for the RDA analysis. This project was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation–China (Grant Nos. 41401544 and 41601085) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Grant No. 2412017FZ022).

Author information

Correspondence to Zucheng Wang.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Zhihong Xu

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wang, Z., Liu, S., Bu, Z. et al. Degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) during Sphagnum litters decay. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 18642–18650 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-018-2019-x

Download citation


  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Natural archives
  • Sphagnum litters decay
  • Degradation
  • Quality of litters