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Bioconcentration of Cd and Zn in the soils of an uncontaminated forest in the Quebec Laurentians

Munro, L., Courchesne, F.
Biogeochemistry 2019 v.143 no.3 pp. 293-312
B horizons, Betula, cadmium, canopy, forest ecosystems, forests, leaves, phytoaccumulation, soil sampling, trees, watersheds, zinc, Quebec
Fine-scale trace element (TE) concentration patterns exist in soils that were never exposed to the direct deposition of TE in the past. We aimed to understand the role of vegetation, in particular trees, in defining these spatial patterns in the soil horizons of an uncontaminated forest ecosystem. Living tree leaves and surface soil samples (L, F, and B horizons) were collected from a ca. 1400 m² plot in the Hermine watershed where a strong gradient in the abundance of Yellow birches (Betula alleghaniensis—BA) exists. TE analysis showed that BA leaves had up to 13 times more Cd and Zn than the other tree species. Significantly similar spatial patterns were detected between the density of BA trunks, the abundance of BA leaves in the litter (L) layer, and Cd and Zn concentrations in the F horizon. The opposite trend was found in the upper B horizon, where Cd and Zn were depleted under a denser BA canopy. We submit that soil depletion could be associated with the preferential phytoextraction of Cd and Zn by BA over a period of several decades. Our study stresses the role of biological cycling by trees on the profile redistribution and the generation of patterns of soil TE in quasi-pristine forests.