, Volume 101, Issue 1, pp 43–53

Effects of toxic heavy metals (Cd, Pb) on growth and mineral nutrition of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.)

  • S. -W. Breckle
  • H. Kahle

DOI: 10.1007/BF00031914

Cite this article as:
Breckle, S.W. & Kahle, H. Vegetatio (1992) 101: 43. doi:10.1007/BF00031914


The beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) is the dominant tree in Middle Europe under many different ecological conditions. But like other tree species, it is suffering in the last ten years increasingly by air pollutants including heavy metals which have been deposited and accumulated for decades in many forest soils. Increasingly mobilized by acidification processes, these metals may have toxic effects on trees.

In autecological studies (dose-response-experiments) effects of root-applied Pb and Cd on various growth parameters, on uptake of mineral nutrients and on transpiration of young beech trees were evaluated, and ‘critical’ concentrations (threshold levels) could be established. Significant leaf area reduction was found with 6 ppm Pb (0.3 ppm Cd) in the leaves (DW), but biomass reduction only with 18 ppm Pb (3.6 ppm Cd). Root elongation rates of seedlings were significantly reduced with 44 ppm plant-available Pb in the soil by about 30%, but only with 24 ppm Pb when combined with 2 ppm Cd, exhibiting synergistic effects. After treatments with 20 ppm Pb and 1 ppm Cd in sand culture, a considerable decrease in the contents of K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, and Zn in roots and leaves of saplings was coincident with high (roots) and moderate (leaves) accumulation of Pb and Cd. A 20% reduction of transpiration rates was measured in ten-year-old beech trees after three months of exposure to a forest soil containing 2.5 ppm plant-available Cd.

The data indicate that present-day concentrations mainly of Pb, but not yet of Cd, in acidified European forest soils are sufficiently high to affect germination, growth and mineral nutrition of natural rejuvenation of beech.


Growth Root-growth Transpiration Toxicity Synergism Forest decline Tree dieback 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. -W. Breckle
    • 1
  • H. Kahle
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EcologyFaculty of BiologyBielefeldGermany

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