Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 21, Issue 9, pp 6176–6187 | Cite as

Biological activity in metal-contaminated calcareous agricultural soils: the role of the organic matter composition and the particle size distribution

  • Luisa Martin Calvarro
  • Ana de Santiago-Martín
  • Javier Quirós Gómez
  • Concepción González-Huecas
  • Jose R. Quintana
  • Antonio Vázquez
  • Antonio L. Lafuente
  • Teresa M. Rodríguez Fernández
  • Rosalía Ramírez Vera
Research Article


Organic matter (OM) plays a key role in microbial response to soil metal contamination, yet little is known about how the composition of the OM affects this response in Mediterranean calcareous agricultural soils. A set of Mediterranean soils, with different contents and compositions of OM and carbonate and fine mineral fractions, was spiked with a mixture of Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn and incubated for 12 months for aging. Microbial (Biolog Ecoplates) and enzyme activities (dehydrogenase, DHA; β-galactosidase, BGAL; phosphatase, PHOS; and urease, URE) were assessed and related to metal availability and soil physicochemical parameters. All enzyme activities decreased significantly with metal contamination: 36–68 % (DHA), 24–85 % (BGAL), 22–72 % (PHOS), and 14–84 % (URE) inhibitions. Similarly, catabolic activity was negatively affected, especially phenol catabolism (∼86 % compared to 25–55 % inhibition for the rest of the substrates). Catabolic and DHA activities were negatively correlated with ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA)-extractable Cd and Pb, but positively with CaCl2, NaNO3, and DTPA-extractable Cu and Zn. Soluble OM (water- and hot-water-soluble organic C) was positively related to enzyme and catabolic activities. Recalcitrant OM and fine mineral fractions were positively related to BGAL and PHOS. Conversely, catabolic activity was negatively related to clay and positively to silt and labile OM. Results indicate that the microbial response to metal contamination is highly affected by texture and OM composition.


Microbial activity Enzyme activity Calcareous soils Organic matter composition Heavy metals Metal availability 



This work was supported by the Complutense University in Madrid and the Madrid Autonomous Region through Grant GR58/08, Research Team 950605, and Network CARESOIL, Ref. P2009/AMB-1648. We especially wish to thank both English correction experts, Ms Pru Brooke-Turner and Mr David Bruhn, for the revision of the English version of the manuscript as well as the comments and suggestions of the editor and the anonymous referees.

Supplementary material

11356_2014_2561_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (32 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luisa Martin Calvarro
    • 1
  • Ana de Santiago-Martín
    • 2
  • Javier Quirós Gómez
    • 1
  • Concepción González-Huecas
    • 2
  • Jose R. Quintana
    • 2
  • Antonio Vázquez
    • 3
  • Antonio L. Lafuente
    • 2
  • Teresa M. Rodríguez Fernández
    • 1
  • Rosalía Ramírez Vera
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Biología Vegetal I, Facultad de Ciencias BiológicasUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Edafología, Facultad de FarmaciaUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.Centro de Investigación Forestal-Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA)MadridSpain

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