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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Vol. 91, 2015, Pages: 291–297

Effect of metal contamination on microbial enzymatic activity in soil

Diane F. Hagmann, Nina M. Goodey, Carolyn Mathieu, Jessica Evans, Myla F.J. Aronson, Frank Gallagher, Jennifer Adams Krumins

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ, USA.


Anthropogenic metal contamination is a pervasive problem in many urban or industrial areas. The interaction of metals with native soil communities is an important area of research as scientists strive to understand effects of long-term metal contamination on soil properties. Measurements of free soil enzyme activities can serve as useful indicators of microbial metabolic potential. The goals of this study are to determine extracellular soil enzymatic activities with respect to corresponding metal concentrations within a site of long-term contamination. These data are examined to understand relationships between extracellular soil enzyme activities and persistent metal loads in situ. Here we present such results from a rare research opportunity at an un-remediated, urban brownfield in Jersey City, NJ, USA. The soils of the site developed over the last 150 years through the dumping of urban fill from New York City as well as industrial rail use. The site was abandoned and fenced in the late 1960s, and within it, there is a mapped gradient of metal concentration in the soils, including As, Pb, Cr, Cu, Zn, and V. We measured soil enzymatic potential (alkaline phosphatase, cellobiohydrolase, and l-leucine-amino-peptidase) across four plots within the site and at an uncontaminated reference site that is of the same successional age and geographic influence. We found the highest enzymatic activities for all three activities measured at the site with the greatest soil metal loads and a particularly strong relationship among enzyme activity and the metals V and Cr. Our results differ from many experimental studies that show decreased soil enzyme activity in soils experimentally treated with metals. The results may indicate the effects of long-term adaptation of soil communities within these metal contaminated soils.

Graphical abstract

Keywords: Enzyme activities; Heavy metals; Microbial community; Brownfield.

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