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Biogeochemical responses of soil ecosystems to raw coal pollution in Xuanhua, China

Liu, Yu, Xiang, Wu, Zhu, Jie, Zhang, Xiu-Zhi, Xing, Xu-Dong, Yang, Wei-Lin
Journal of soils and sediments 2020 v.20 no.1 pp. 181-189
alkaline phosphatase, beta-glucosidase, biogeochemistry, coal, cobalt, community structure, dissolved organic carbon, electrical conductivity, enzyme activity, gene expression, heavy metals, ions, microbial communities, microorganisms, nickel, pH, pollutants, pollution, soil acidification, soil chemical properties, soil ecosystems, soil enzymes, soil physical properties, soil respiration, surveys, transportation, urease, zinc, China
PURPOSE: China is the world’s largest coal producer and consumer. Despite extensive studies on coal-burning pollution, the effect of raw coal pollutants caused by transportation and turnover on soil along the road received little attention. The main purpose of the study was to clarify the biogeochemical response of soil ecosystems to raw coal pollution. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The raw coal and unpolluted soil from the coal distribution area in Xuanhua, China were collected for the incubation experiments. Combined with the determination of soil physicochemical properties, including pH, electric conductivity, soluble ions, dissolved organic carbon, and available heavy metals, the biogeochemical responses of soil to raw coal pollution, such as soil enzyme activities (β-glucosidase, alkaline phosphatase, and Urease), microbial community composition, and soil respiration, were systematically studied. In addition, a q-PCR analysis of the urease was performed to clarify the inhibitory mechanism of urease by coal pollution. Furthermore, a simple field investigation was carried out to confirm the incubation results. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Raw coal pollution not only changed the soil physicochemical properties but also made the available Zn, Ni, and Co accumulate significantly. A positive priming effect in soil with the low-dose raw coal addition was trigged, but soil respiration rate and soil enzyme activity, such as β-glucosidase and alkaline phosphatase, were inhibited to different degrees with the increased pollution. Urease activity also decreased under the higher coal contamination, which was due to inhibition of ureC gene expression. In addition to the slight soil acidification caused by coal pollution, microbial communities and diversity was also found to be affected. The relative abundances of the microorganisms related to urease, alkaline phosphatase, and β-glucosidase changed accordingly. The incubation results are in good agreement with the field survey results. CONCLUSIONS: Low-dose raw coal pollution can trigger the soil positive priming effect. However, as the coal pollution increased, the β-glucosidase, alkaline phosphatase, and urease in the soil were inhibited to varying degrees. The compounding effects of soil acidification, increased electric conductivity, and the accumulation of available heavy metals such as Zn, Ni, and Co are the key causes for the biogeochemical response of soil to coal pollution.