Metal Contamination Disturbs Biochemical and Microbial Properties of Calcareous Agricultural Soils of the Mediterranean Area

  • Ana de Santiago-Martín
  • Natalie Cheviron
  • Jose R. Quintana
  • Concepción González
  • Antonio L. Lafuente
  • Christian Mougin


Mediterranean climate characteristics and carbonate are key factors governing soil heavy-metal accumulation, and low organic matter (OM) content could limit the ability of microbial populations to cope with resulting stress. We studied the effects of metal contamination on a combination of biological parameters in soils having these characteristics. With this aim, soils were spiked with a mixture of cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc, at the two limit values proposed by current European legislation, and incubated for ≤12 months. Then we measured biochemical (phosphatase, urease, β-galactosidase, arylsulfatase, and dehydrogenase activities) and microbial (fungal and bacterial DNA concentration by quantitative polymerase chain reaction) parameters. All of the enzyme activities were strongly affected by metal contamination and showed the following inhibition sequence: phosphatase (30–64 %) < arylsulfatase (38–97 %) ≤ urease (1–100 %) ≤ β-galactosidase (30–100 %) < dehydrogenase (69–100 %). The high variability among soils was attributed to the different proportion of fine mineral fraction, OM, crystalline iron oxides, and divalent cations in soil solution. The decrease of fungal DNA concentration in metal-spiked soils was negligible, whereas the decrease of bacterial DNA was ~1–54 % at the lowest level and 2–69 % at the highest level of contamination. The lowest bacterial DNA decrease occurred in soils with the highest OM, clay, and carbonate contents. Finally, regarding the strong inhibition of the biological parameters measured and the alteration of the fungal/bacterial DNA ratio, we provide strong evidence that disturbance on the system, even within the limiting values of contamination proposed by the current European Directive, could alter key soil processes. These limiting values should be established according to soil characteristics and/or revised when contamination is produced by a mixture of heavy metals.


Fungal Community Arylsulfatase Uncontaminated Soil Diethylene Triamine Pentaacetic Acid Recalcitrant Organic Matter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by the PESSAC department (INRA), Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and the Community of Madrid through Grant No. GR58/08, Research Team 950605, and Network CARESOIL, Ref. P2009/AMB-1648. The authors gratefully acknowledge the help of Christelle Marrauld (PESSAC, INRA) in biochemical analyses as well as the comments and suggestions of the editor and the anonymous referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ana de Santiago-Martín
    • 1
  • Natalie Cheviron
    • 2
  • Jose R. Quintana
    • 1
  • Concepción González
    • 1
  • Antonio L. Lafuente
    • 1
  • Christian Mougin
    • 2
  1. 1.Departamento de Edafología, Facultad de FarmaciaUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.INRA, UR 251 PESSACVersailles CedexFrance

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