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Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Vol. 129, 2016, Pages: 242–249

Assessing microbial activities in metal contaminated agricultural volcanic soils An integrative approach

C. Parelho, A.S. Rodrigues, M.C. Barreto, N.G.C. Ferreira, P. Garcia

Department of Biology, University of the Azores, 9501-801 Ponta Delgada, Portugal.

Abstract

Volcanic soils are unique naturally fertile resources, extensively used for agricultural purposes and with particular physicochemical properties that may result in accumulation of toxic substances, such as trace metals. Trace metal contaminated soils have significant effects on soil microbial activities and hence on soil quality. The aim of this study is to determine the soil microbial responses to metal contamination in volcanic soils under different agricultural land use practices (conventional, traditional and organic), based on a three-tier approach: Tier 1 – assess soil microbial activities, Tier 2 – link the microbial activity to soil trace metal contamination and, Tier 3 – integrate the microbial activity in an effect-based soil index (Integrative Biological Response) to score soil health status in metal contaminated agricultural soils. Our results showed that microbial biomass C levels and soil enzymes activities were decreased in all agricultural soils. Dehydrogenase and β-glucosidase activities, soil basal respiration and microbial biomass C were the most sensitive responses to trace metal soil contamination. The Integrative Biological Response value indicated that soil health was ranked as: organic>traditional>conventional, highlighting the importance of integrative biomarker-based strategies for the development of the trace metal “footprint” in Andosols.

Graphical abstract

Keywords: Soil enzyme activities; Soil microbial activities; Andosols; Trace metal; Integrative Biological Response.

 
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