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Effects of long-term radionuclide and heavy metal contamination on the activity of microbial communities, inhabiting uranium mining impacted soils

Abstract

Ore mining and processing have greatly altered ecosystems, often limiting their capacity to provide ecosystem services critical to our survival. The soil environments of two abandoned uranium mines were chosen to analyze the effects of long-term uranium and heavy metal contamination on soil microbial communities using dehydrogenase and phosphatase activities as indicators of metal stress. The levels of soil contamination were low, ranging from ‘precaution’ to ‘moderate’, calculated as Nemerow index. Multivariate analyses of enzyme activities revealed the following: (i) spatial pattern of microbial endpoints where the more contaminated soils had higher dehydrogenase and phosphatase activities, (ii) biological grouping of soils depended on both the level of soil contamination and management practice, (iii) significant correlations between both dehydrogenase and alkaline phosphatase activities and soil organic matter and metals (Cd, Co, Cr, and Zn, but not U), and (iv) multiple relationships between the alkaline than the acid phosphatase and the environmental factors. The results showed an evidence of microbial tolerance and adaptation to the soil contamination established during the long-term metal exposure and the key role of soil organic matter in maintaining high microbial enzyme activities and mitigating the metal toxicity. Additionally, the results suggested that the soil microbial communities are able to reduce the metal stress by intensive phosphatase synthesis, benefiting a passive environmental remediation and provision of vital ecosystem services.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the National Science Fund of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science (Grant DO12-131/ 2008). The authors thank Assoc. Prof. Rosen Tzonev (Sofia University “St. Kl. Ohridski”, The Faculty of Biology) for providing information for the type of vegetation at the study sites.

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Correspondence to Anelia Kenarova.

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Boteva, S., Radeva, G., Traykov, I. et al. Effects of long-term radionuclide and heavy metal contamination on the activity of microbial communities, inhabiting uranium mining impacted soils. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 5644–5653 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-015-5788-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-015-5788-5

Keywords

  • Soil contamination
  • Uranium and heavy metals
  • Dehydrogenase
  • Phosphatase
  • Soil organic matter