Heavy Metal Threats to Plants and Soil Life in Southern Africa: Present Knowledge and Consequences for Ecological Risk Assessment

  • Herman Eijsackers
  • Adriaan Reinecke
  • Sophié Reinecke
  • Mark MaboetaEmail author
Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series (RECT, volume 249)


In recent times there has been remarkable development in the field of soil ecotoxicology and risk assessment (RA) models. It is, however, debatable if these RA models are robust representatives for worldwide relevance. In order to investigate this, the current overview aims to address heavy metal threats to soil life in southern Africa by investigating present knowledge and consequences for RA using research in southern Africa as a case. To this end, the focus is on southern African soils, soil life and living conditions. To critically discuss these issues, we report on extensive research conducted in the southern African context and looked how comparable these findings are to RA models employed in the western world. This is done by providing an inventory of selected studies focused on the ecotoxicity of metals towards soil life. It is concluded that there is a dearth of information on southern African soil life, most of which are laboratory-based studies carried out by a handful of researchers. Future research incorporating the available information into a soil ecosystem assessment procedure is paramount. It is recommended that a starting point to tackle this might be the development of holistic sight-specific guidelines for ecological risk assessment at larger spatial scales (km2) which takes into cognizance landscapes, vegetation and faunal characteristics.


African soils Anthropogenic impacts Background metal concentrations Biomarkers Contamination Ecological risk assessment Edible plants Environmental conditions Heavy metals Legislation Metal contaminated soils Metals in plants Mine waste Mining Plant-soil life interaction Regional risk assessment Restoration Risk assessment Soil ecotoxicology Soil mesofauna Soil microorganisms Soil quality Soil threats South Africa 



Arbuscular mycorrhiza


Bioaccumulation factor


Cation exchange capacity


Deoxyribonucleic acid


Ecological risk assessment


Heavy metal


International Organization for Standardization


3-(4,5-Dimethylthiazol-2-Yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide spectrophotometric test


Neutral red spectrophotometric assay


Neutral red retention test


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Poly aromatic hydrocarbons


Risk assessment


South Africa


Southern African Development Community


Species sensitivity distribution


Soil screening value


Tailing disposal facility


United Nations Environment Programme


United States



This work was funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa and the Unit of Environmental Sciences of the North-West University. Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at are those of the authors alone. The authors would also like to thank Oluwatosin Oladipo.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Herman Eijsackers
    • 1
    • 2
  • Adriaan Reinecke
    • 3
  • Sophié Reinecke
    • 3
  • Mark Maboeta
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Unit for Environmental Sciences and ManagementNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa
  2. 2.Wageningen University & ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Botany and ZoologyStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa

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