Growth of Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin ex. Steudel in mine water treatment wetlands: effects of metal and nutrient uptake

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The abandoned mine of Shilbottle Colliery, Northumberland, UK is an example of acidic spoil heap discharge that contains elevated levels of many metals. Aerobic wetlands planted with the common reed, Phragmites australis, were constructed at the site to treat surface runoff from the spoil heap. The presence of a perched water table within the spoil heap resulted in the lower wetlands receiving acidic metal contaminated water from within the spoil heap while the upper wetland receives alkaline, uncontaminated surface runoff from the revegetated spoil. This unique situation enabled the comparison of metal uptake and growth of plants used in treatment schemes in two cognate wetlands. Results indicated a significant difference in plant growth between the two wetlands in terms of shoot height and seed production. Analyses of metal and nutrient concentrations within plant tissues provided the basis for three hypotheses to explain these differences: (i) the toxic effects of high levels of metals in shoot tissues, (ii) the inhibition of Ca (an essential nutrient) uptake by the presence of metals and H+ ions, and (iii) low concentrations of bioavailable nitrogen sources resulting in nitrogen deficiency. This has important implications for the engineering of constructed wetlands in terms of the potential success of plant establishment and vegetation development.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-93
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004