Mercury in a birch forest in SW Europe: Deposition flux by litterfall and pools in aboveground tree biomass and soils

Sci Total Environ. 2023 Jan 15;856(Pt 1):158937. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158937. Epub 2022 Sep 24.


Atmospheric mercury (Hg) is largely assimilated by vegetation and subsequently transferred to the soil by litterfall, which highlights the role of forests as one of the largest global Hg sinks within terrestrial ecosystems. We assessed the pool of Hg in the aboveground biomass (leaves, wood, bark, branches and twigs), the Hg deposition flux through litterfall over two years (by sorting fallen biomass in leaves, twigs, reproductive structures and miscellaneous) and its accumulation in the soil profile in a deciduous forest dominated by Betula alba from SW Europe. The total Hg pool in the aboveground birch biomass was in the range 532-683 mg ha-1, showing the following distribution by plant tissues: well-developed leaves (171 mg ha-1) > twigs (160 mg ha-1) > bark (159 mg ha-1) > bole wood (145 mg ha-1) > fine branches (25 mg ha-1) > thick branches (24 mg ha-1) > newly sprouted leaves (20 mg ha-1). The total Hg deposition fluxes through litterfall were 15.4 and 11.7 μg m-2 yr-1 for the two years studied, with the greatest contribution coming from birch leaves (73 %). In the soil profile, the pool of Hg in the mineral soil (37.0 mg m-2) was an order of magnitude higher than in the organic horizons (1.0 mg m-2), mostly conditioned by parameters such as soil bulk density and thickness, total C and N contents and the presence of certain Al compounds.

Keywords: Betula alba; Birch; Climate; Growing season; Heavy metal; Pool.

MeSH terms

  • Betula
  • Betulaceae
  • Biomass
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Forests
  • Mercury* / analysis
  • Soil
  • Trees* / chemistry


  • Mercury
  • Soil