Accumulation of heavy metals in phytoliths from reeds growing on mining environments in Southern Europe

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Apr 10;712:135595. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135595. Epub 2019 Nov 30.


In Southern Europe, soil contamination by heavy metals (HM) due to mining and industrial activities is a long-known problem. Yet, despite soils being widely contaminated through decades, some plants are still able to grow. Some of these plants, like giant reed (Arundo donax) or common reed (Phragmites australis) are capable of accumulating substantial amount of HM. These reeds also contain small silica structures in their shoots, called phytoliths. However, the role of phytoliths in reducing stress caused by these HM remains unknown. The aim of this work is then to determine if phytoliths represent a preferential structure for the bioacccumulation of HM in plants. Therefore, plants from mining-contaminated sites in Spain and France were sampled and HM concentrations in total plant shoots were compared to those in phytoliths for eight metal(oid)s: As, Cd, Cu, Mn, Pb, Sb, Sn and Zn. Results show that Arundo donax and Phragmites australis tend to accumulate Cd, Sb and Sn but limit the uptake of As, Cu, Mn, Pb and Zn in plant shoots despite that the concentration of these HM in soil is quite high. Therefore, reeds appear as tolerant to high metal concentrations in soils, and phytoliths are identified as preferential structures for encapsulation of As, Cu, Mn, Pb and Zn, while Cd, Sb and Sn were mainly found to be accumulated in organic tissues rather than in phytoliths.

Keywords: Bioaccumulation; Environment contamination; Heavy metals (HM); Phytoliths.

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • France
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Mining
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Spain


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants