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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department Soil Ecology - Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff

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Schwesig, D; Krebs, O: The role of ground vegetation in the uptake of mercury and methylmercury in a forest ecosystem, Plant and Soil, 253, 445-455 (2003)
Litterfall fromtrees has been identified as an important pathway for deposition of mercury (Hg) and methylmercury (MeHg) in forested catchments, but very little is known about the role of ground vegetation in deposition and cycling of Hg compounds. This study was conducted to identify the origin of Hg compounds in the ground vegetation, and to estimate the role of its litterfall with respect to pools and fluxes of Hg in a coniferous forest in the German Fichtelgebirge mountains. Above and below ground biomass of the dominant ground vegetation (Vaccinium myrtillus, Deschampsia flexuosa and Calamagrostis villosa) were sampled at several plots successively during the growing season. The fluxes to the soil via litterfall of the ground vegetation were calculated using contents of Hg and MeHg in the annual fractions of aboveground biomass. With fluxes of 0.4 – 7.8 mg Hgtotal ha−1 a−1 and 0.01 – 0.04 mg MeHg ha−1 a−1 (depending on the plant species) this pathway contributes only a few percent to the total deposition of both compounds in the catchment. To identify the uptake pathways of Hg compounds, the same plant species were grown in a pot experiment with addition of isotope labelled Hg compounds (202Hg2+, Me198Hg) to a clean sand substrate. Only small proportions of 202Hg and Me198Hg in the substrate were taken up by the plants, but in all cases the proportion translocated into aboveground biomass after uptake was greater in case of Me198Hg. Thus, internal recycling in the plant-soil system is a source especially forMeHg in the ground vegetation. However, as compared to the input of Hg compounds by tree litterfall and storage in the forest floor, Hgtotal and MeHg in ground vegetation are of minor importance. High volatilization of added Hg isotopes raises the question of a re-emission of Hg compounds by the transpiration flux of the ground vegetation.
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