The effect of pH on plant litter decomposition and metal cycling in wetland mesocosms supplied with mine drainage

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The long term effectiveness of compost-based wetland systems treating net-acidic mine waters is reliant upon a continuing supply of decomposed organic matter which provides the basic foodstock for sulphate reducing bacteria. The annual turnover of wetland vegetation within these systems has been suggested to be the primary source for this material once the original substrate has been consumed. This study aimed to determine whether plant litter (of Common Reed, Phragmites australis) decomposition rates and release of metals and nutrients were affected by pH using controlled experiments under laboratory conditions. Loss of plant biomass was found to be unaffected by pH (3.0-6.5) suggesting that plant litter could be an important source of organic molecules for bacterial populations even under acidic conditions. The decomposing plant litter also acted as a focus for the precipitation of Fe oxides and sorption of Zn thereby acting as a short-term sink for these contaminants. This has important implications for geochemical cycling within the wetland system and potential transport out of the system. The essential nutrients (K and Mg) released from plant litter were affected by pH which could be important in nutrient availability for re-use by vegetation and other organisms within the system.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-164
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


  • nutrients, metal cycling, constructed wetlands, decomposition, acid mine drainage, plant litter