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Quarter century of mercury litterfall at a coniferous forest responding to climate change, Central Europe

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This work evaluated the 25-year-long trends (1994–2018) in mercury (Hg) concentrations and fluxes in spruce litterfall at a forest research plot Načetín (NAC) recovering from acidic deposition in the Ore Mountains, Czech Republic. The mean litterfall Hg deposition averaged 51 ± 18 µg m−2 year−1, which has been the highest litterfall Hg deposition reported up to date on the European continent. In contrast, the wet deposition (2017–2019) was an order of magnitude lower averaging at 2.5 ± 1.5 µg m−2 year−1. All the spruce litterfall components bark, twigs, needles, cones, and a mixture of unidentified fragments had elevated mean Hg concentrations relative to background sites averaging 256 ± 77, 234 ± 62, 119 ± 23, 95 ± 14, and 44 ± 15 µg kg−1, respectively. Elevated litterfall Hg deposition and concentrations were attributed to the nearby local Hg emission source—coal-fired power plants. Temporally, the decrease of Czech Hg emissions since the 1990s was reflected by the decreasing trend of Hg concentrations in litterfall bark, cones, and twigs, while in needles and other material, Hg increased but insignificantly. Total litterfall ratios of Hg/C, Hg/N, and Hg/S were lower than those in soil O horizons averaging at 0.23 ± 0.04, 9.5 ± 2.0, and 170 ± 37 μg g−1, respectively. Since the beginning of monitoring, total litterfall Hg/C exhibited no trend, Hg/N decreased, and Hg/S increased. The litterfall biomass deposition averaging at 469 ± 176 g m−2 year−1 increased through time resulting in an increased Hg litterfall deposition at NAC by 1.1 µg m−2 year−1 despite the decreases in Czech Hg emissions. Peaks of annual litterfall Hg deposition up to 96 µg m−2 year−1 at NAC during the 25 years of monitoring resulted from weather extremes such as rime-snow accumulation, wind gusts, droughts, and insect infestation, which all significantly affected the annual biomass deposition. Based on our observations, further increases in biomass and litterfall Hg deposition rates can be expected due to the onset of bark beetle infestation and the increasing number of droughts caused by climate change.

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The datasets generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The main financial support for this research was provided by the Czech Science Foundation Project No. 20-14292S. Long-term research program support at the Institute of Geology CAS was provided by institutional project RVO67985831.

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TN: study design, data curation, visualization, data collection, and writing of manuscript draft; funding; JR: methods, analytical works, data quality assurance, writing—review and editing; TerN: visualization, writing—review and editing; MR: analytical works, data quality assurance, writing—review and editing; PC and FO: funding; field work, writing—review and editing.

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Correspondence to Tomáš Navrátil.

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Navrátil, T., Rohovec, J., Nováková, T. et al. Quarter century of mercury litterfall at a coniferous forest responding to climate change, Central Europe. Environ Sci Pollut Res 31, 34936–34952 (2024).

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