Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services


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The book leads the user towards an understanding of how the sustainability of soils, biodiversity, and ecosystem services can be maintained and how humans, other animals, and ecosystems are dependent on living soils and ecosystem services.

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Is It the Same Below Ground?

Section 2From Genes to Ecosystem Services. Section 3Community Structure and Biotic Assemblages. Section 4Global Changes. Section 5Sustainable Soils.

Wall , Richard D. Ecosystem Services and Global Ecology. Pollution has become a worldwide concern because its effects can lead to ecological imbalances, affecting flora, fauna, and the health of people living in the vicinity of the contaminated sites. Soil pollution with heavy metals is as old as human ability to melt and process ores.

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Each stage of cultural development of humanity left behind its pollution with metals, mainly stored in soil, sediments, and ice [ 1 ]. Heavy metal pollution is a major public health concern, and although efforts have been made to limit the population exposure, the problem persists due to the accumulation of these substances in the environment [ 2 ]. Especially long-term industrial and mining activities are the preponderent sources for heavy metal environmental contamination worldwide. Unlike other pollutants organic compounds and radionuclides , heavy metals are considered to be the most persistent contaminants in soil because these elements tend to accumulate in the soil and then, through the plant and animal food chain, the population is exposed to their toxic effects [ 3 , 4 ].

They occur naturally in the soil in relatively small concentrations but can occur in much higher quantities as a result of human activities. Some heavy metals, in small amounts, have a physiologically beneficial role for plants or in the human body e. Expansion of areas affected by mining and industrial activities contaminating the environment with heavy metals makes the application of traditional technologies inappropriate due to the high costs associated with soil remediation. The majority of conventional methods such as incineration, vitrification, or land replacement are extremely expensive.

Also, the potential impact on the environment must be considered, in particular the change of agricultural soil properties and damage to the landscape [ 9 ]. In historically polluted areas, the challenge is to decontaminate soils in order to resume agricultural practices and protect the population health. Thus, in addition to soil remediation, it is necessary to remedy the water or wastewater used for crop irrigation [ 10 ]. The importance of biodiversity, both below and above ground, is currently increasing for the cleaning of metal-contaminated ecosystems [ 11 ].

The concept of ecosystem services may be integrated in this field, having implications for the practice of soil remediation [ 12 , 13 ]. There is a close connection between soil, plants, and other ecosystem components. In fact, ecosystem services include the services provided by air, water, soil, and biota.

Of these, the soil functions are important for the ecosystem good functioning and refer to some valuable properties: the capacity of storing, filtering, or transforming nutrients, substances, and water; biomass production crops and forestry ; host of biodiversity habitats, species, etc.


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Ecological consequences of soil pollution apply not only to soil functions, such as its biological activity, but have also negative effects on soil-crop-animal-human system [ 5 ]. On the other hand, plants and microorganisms play a crucial role in restoring the specific soil functions and also other ecosystem components, being considered as ecological or ecosystem engineers [ 15 ]. A wide range of biodegradation processes of soil contaminants are currently available, an advantage of these biological treatments being their potential to be cost-effective [ 16 , 17 , 18 ].

Initially, research is focused on bacteria, taking into account catabolic reactions mediated by bacterial enzymes. The first investigations into phytoremediation have been confronted with some opinions that if a contaminant cannot be degraded by bacteria that have a wide range of catabolic enzymes, it can certainly not be by plants [ 19 ].

Phytoremediation, also known as green remediation or agro-remediation, uses vegetation to remove pollutant substances such as heavy metals, organic compounds, and radioactive compounds from the soil, sediments, or water [ 21 ]. Phytoextraction, one of the most important phytoremediation techniques, is defined as the extraction of contaminants from soils by plants and is known as a mild, ecological remediation method. It uses the plants to take pollutants from the soil through the roots, with their subsequent accumulation on the upper part of plant, generally followed by the harvesting and elimination of plant biomass [ 22 ].

The applicability of phytoremediation depends on the possibility of identifying plants that have the ability to tolerate high concentrations of heavy metals, to extract and accumulate important quantities of heavy metals from the soil, or to immobilize contaminants at the soil-root interface, thus reducing the possibility of groundwater contamination. Soil is the most important compartment for all terrestrial ecosystems, providing essential nutrients for plant growth, plant degradation, and transport of biomass. A significant role of the soil is also as natural buffer within the transport of chemical elements and substances in the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biota [ 3 ].

The persistence of contaminants in soil is much higher than in other compartments of the biosphere, and soil pollution by heavy metals appears to be permanent in soils [ 23 ]. Heavy metals are native components of the earth crust, existing in different concentrations in all ecosystems [ 24 ]. The sources of heavy metals in the environment are very diverse and can be of both natural and anthropogenic origins. The main natural sources are rocks and soils [ 26 ], and the anthropogenic sources are represented by socioeconomic activities; some of these are illustrated in Table 1.

The problem of this type of pollution derives in particular from the exploitation of minerals and the use of metals by the human population. Industrial sources of the most important heavy metals in the soil [ 27 ]. Historically contaminated areas by heavy metals are found all over the world, especially caused by mining and ore processing activities.

Consequently, the metal pollution is not attributable exclusively to mining activities, although these are preponderent in many regions [ 28 , 29 , 30 ]. Most of these activities are currently closed, remaining behind enormous quantities of heavy metals that have been deposited in the soil.

The volume of tailing dumps discharged has exceeded 10 billion tonnes per year [ 31 ].

Usually, these mine tailings are not covered by vegetation caused by a poorly structured soil, being potential sources of heavy metal spreading through water infiltration or wind [ 32 ]. Many remediation techniques have been used to respond to the growing number of soils contaminated with heavy metals [ 33 , 34 , 35 ]. Decontamination methods currently applied in the majority of sites are mainly characterized by the manipulation of enormous quantities of soil or heavy metal extraction by using chemical reagents.

Soil Ecology Ecosystem Services by Richard Bardgett

These practices are very expensive and also lead to the loss of soil fertility by changing its physicochemical properties structure, cationic exchange capacity, etc. In this situation, other less brutal methods for heavy metal extraction were searched and developed. Thus, methods by which plants, natural or genetically modified, alone or in the presence of auxiliary substances cause polluted soils to become less dangerous for humans have been developed [ 37 , 38 ].

Phytoremediation is defined as a phenomenon of polluting substances extraction by using plants. With all these, there are many types of phytoremediation, so we can state that phytoremediation represents a much broader defined term [ 39 , 40 ]. Phytoremediation of soils, waters, and sediments is not a new concept; for decades it has been found that some plants can degrade or extract heavy metals and other pollutants from these environmental compartments.

Thlaspi caerulescens and Viola calaminaria were the first species of plants used in the nineteenth century and found to accumulate large concentrations of metals [ 4 ]. A strong motivation to apply phytoremediation in historically contaminated sites, in addition to other advantages, is the particularly low cost of this method compared to conventional ones. Table 2 highlights the costs of different soil remediation techniques. Nevertheless, the most frequently applied remediation techniques for contaminated soil in Europe include land excavation or disposal [ 41 ].

The metal extraction or accumulation by plants involves a variety of biological mechanisms and requires direct knowledge of plant physiology and soil science. Through the rhizosphere the interface between plant roots and soil , the water is absorbed by the roots to replace the evaporated water from the leaves. The metals in the soil solution free ions or organometallic complexes can move together with water by convection or mass transfer as the plant absorbs the water needed for vital processes.

Absorption of water from the rhizosphere creates a hydraulic gradient directly from the ground to the surface of the roots. This concentration gradient or hydraulic control ensures the diffusion of ions from the soil particles to the deficient layer surrounding the roots [ 45 , 46 ]. The elimination by plants of exudates and metabolites play an important role in the phytoremediation process. Thus, enzymes such as dehydrogenase, hydrolase, peroxidase, and phosphatase are released at the plant-soil interface and contribute to the degradation of some soil compounds [ 47 ].

Plant enzymes named metallothioneins and phytochelatins bind the heavy metals increasing the extraction of these elements [ 48 , 49 ]. In fact, phytoremediation is based on the extension of already existing processes in different ecosystems, with other processes that occur under different conditions, different degrees of contamination, different pollutants, and plant species.

Depending on the mode of action on the pollutants and the place where the action takes place, the following phytoremediation mechanisms and biological processes are distinguished: phytoextraction, phytostabilization, phytoimobilization, evapotranspiration, rhizodegradation, rhizofiltration, phytodegradation, and phytovolatilization [ 35 , 50 , 51 ].

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Heavy metals in the soil are only suitable for phytoextraction, evapotranspiration, phytostabilization, and phytoimobilization [ 35 , 52 ]. Phytoextraction is by far the most studied and applied method. Yes—Save my other items for later. No—I want to keep shopping. Order by , and we can deliver your NextDay items by.

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Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services

Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services - eBook. Average rating: 0 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews Write a review. Tell us if something is incorrect. Book Format: Choose an option. Product Highlights This multi-contributor, international volume synthesizes contributions from the world's leading soil scientists and ecologists, describing cutting-edge research that provides a basis for the maintenance of soil health and sustainability.

The book covers these advances from a unique perspective of ex.

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Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services
Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services
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