Environmental factors influencing the structural dynamics of soil microbial communities during assisted phytostabilization of acid-generating mine tailings: a mesocosm experiment

Sci Total Environ. 2014 Dec 1;500-501:314-24. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.08.107. Epub 2014 Sep 18.


Compost-assisted phytostabilization has recently emerged as a robust alternative for reclamation of metalliferous mine tailings. Previous studies suggest that root-associated microbes may be important for facilitating plant establishment on the tailings, yet little is known about the long-term dynamics of microbial communities during reclamation. A mechanistic understanding of microbial community dynamics in tailings ecosystems undergoing remediation is critical because these dynamics profoundly influence both the biogeochemical weathering of tailings and the sustainability of a plant cover. Here we monitor the dynamics of soil microbial communities (i.e. bacteria, fungi, archaea) during a 12-month mesocosm study that included 4 treatments: 2 unplanted controls (unamended and compost-amended tailings) and 2 compost-amended seeded tailings treatments. Bacterial, fungal and archaeal communities responded distinctively to the revegetation process and concurrent changes in environmental conditions and pore water chemistry. Compost addition significantly increased microbial diversity and had an immediate and relatively long-lasting buffering-effect on pH, allowing plants to germinate and thrive during the early stages of the experiment. However, the compost buffering capacity diminished after six months and acidification took over as the major factor affecting plant survival and microbial community structure. Immediate changes in bacterial communities were observed following plant establishment, whereas fungal communities showed a delayed response that apparently correlated with the pH decline. Fluctuations in cobalt pore water concentrations, in particular, had a significant effect on the structure of all three microbial groups, which may be linked to the role of cobalt in metal detoxification pathways. The present study represents, to our knowledge, the first documentation of the dynamics of the three major microbial groups during revegetation of compost-amended, metalliferous mine tailings.

Keywords: Acidification; Mesocosms; Metal(loid)s; Microbial community structure; Mine tailings; Phytostabilization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Mining*
  • Plant Development
  • Plant Roots
  • Plants*
  • Soil / chemistry*
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis


  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants