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Moss and lichen biomonitoring of atmospheric mercury: A review

Bargagli, Roberto
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.572 pp. 216-231
air, atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric deposition, bioaccumulation, climate change, collectors, cryptogams, ecophysiology, elemental composition, emissions, environmental factors, laboratory experimentation, lichens, melting, mercury, monitoring, mosses and liverworts, phytoremediation, terrestrial ecosystems, vegetation, volatilization, Polar Regions
Long-range transport and residence time of elemental Hg (Hg°) in air promote global dispersion and deposition in remote ecosystems. Many biotic and abiotic factors contribute to the photoreduction and phytovolatilization of Hg from terrestrial ecosystems, and the assessment of deposition and volatilization fluxes is very challenging. Mosses and lichens are widespread in nature and constitute the dominant vegetation in alpine and polar ecosystems. This review surveys the results of Hg biomonitoring with cryptogams in areas with different Hg sources and deposition processes. Lichen and moss ecophysiology, and factors affecting Hg uptake and bioaccumulation are discussed. Although some laboratory experiments indicate a linear accumulation of Hg in cryptogams exposed to Hg°, without any significant release, in nature the Hg accumulated in cryptogams is in a dynamic equilibrium with Hg in air and decreases when organisms are transplanted to clean environments. Mercury concentrations in mosses and lichens have often been used to estimate concentrations and deposition fluxes of atmospheric Hg; however, Hg° exchanges between cryptogams and air, and the time necessary for mosses and lichens to equilibrate elemental composition with changing atmospheric chemistry, preclude reliable estimates. Biological processes of Hg uptake and exchange with air cannot be reproduced by mechanical collectors, and comparisons between Hg concentrations in biomonitors and those in atmospheric deposition are scarcely reliable. However, the Hg biomonitoring with mosses and lichens is easy and cheap and allows to locate “hot spots” of natural or anthropogenic emissions and to assess spatio-temporal changes in Hg deposition patterns. Climate change is affecting the global Hg cycle through the melting of sea-ice in coastal Polar Regions, and modifying Hg sequestration in mountain ecosystems. Despite limitations, large-scale monitoring of Hg with mosses and lichens may be used as a tool to evaluate the impact of global processes in remote ecosystems.