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Environmental Pollution
Volume 327, 2023, 121548

Heavy metal effects on multitrophic level microbial communities and insights for ecological restoration of an abandoned electroplating factory site?

Xuehua Wanga,b, Zhongmin Daia,b,c, Haochun Zhaoa,b

Institute of Soil and Water Resources and Environmental Science, College of Environmental and Resource Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China.


The response of soil microbes to heavy metal pollution provides a metric to evaluate the soil health and ecological risks associated with heavy metal contamination. However, a multitrophic level perspective of how soil microbial communities and their functions respond to long-term exposure of multiple heavy metals remains unclear. Herein, we examined variations in soil microbial (including protists and bacteria) diversity, functional guilds and interactions along a pronounced metal pollution gradient in a field surrounding an abandoned electroplating factory. Given the stressful soil environment resulting from extremely high heavy metal concentrations and low nutrients, beta diversity of protist increased, but that of bacteria decreased, at high versus low pollution sites. Additionally, the bacteria community showed low functional diversity and redundancy at the highly polluted sites. We further identified indicative genus and “generalists” in response to heavy metal pollution. Predatory protists in Cercozoa were the most sensitive protist taxa with respect to heavy metal pollution, whereas photosynthetic protists showed a tolerance for metal pollution and nutrient deficiency. The complexity of ecological networks increased, but the communication among the modules disappeared with increasing metal pollution levels. Subnetworks of tolerant bacteria displaying functional versatility (BlastococcusAgromyces and Opitutus) and photosynthetic protists (microalgae) became more complex with increasing metal pollution levels, indicating their potential for use in bioremediation and restoration of abandoned industrial sites contaminated by heavy metals.

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