Relative Strengths of Relationships Between Plant, Microbial, and Environmental Parameters in Heavy-Metal Contaminated Floodplain Soil

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We used a combination of sampling and statistical approaches to investigate the relative influence of metals, soil acidity, and organic matter on a suite of analogous plant and microbial community parameters in floodplain soils contaminated by mine wastes in the early twentieth century. We compared the sensitivity of plant and microbial communities to environmental variables and to one another using constrained ordination analyses. Environmental factors accounted for a larger percentage of the total variance in microbial communities (56.2%) than plant communities (22.0%). We also investigated biological and geochemical changes that occurred along a short transect (64 cm) that spanned a transition from productive grassland to an area of barren wasteland representing a total functional collapse of the grassland/soil ecosystem. Along this small-scale transect we quantified geochemical parameters and biological parameters in two soil layers, an upper layer (0–10 cm) and a lower layer (10–20 cm). Results from the short transect indicated that soil respiration was not a strong indicator of underlying metal concentrations, but soil acidity was correlated in the upper and lower layers. PLFA profiles changed with distance along the gradient in the upper, but not the lower layer. Implications for remediation of contaminated floodplain soils are discussed.