Effects of Mercury (Hg) on Soil Nematodes: A Microcosm Approach
Mercury (Hg), one of the most toxic heavy metals, is commonly used in the gold extraction process in small-scale mining operations in many countries. Our previous field work on the impact of mining on soil nematode assemblages in a small-scale mining area in Sibutad, the Philippines, revealed no significant negative effects despite sometimes strongly elevated Hg concentrations. Using a microcosm approach, we now applied similar Hg concentrations as commonly found in these field sites (2.5, 5, and 10 mg/kg Hg) and determined their impact on nematode assemblages from a different soil with different physicochemical soil attributes. Our results demonstrate (a) limited “bottling” effects (incubation effects) after a 45-day incubation period: a nematode abundance decrease of up to 37%, but absence of significant differences in diversity and nematode assemblage composition; (b) that total nematode abundance already decreased at Hg concentrations (2.5 mg/kg), which did not yield significant impacts on other nematode assemblage descriptors, such as assemblage composition and different diversity indices; and (c) that the Hg concentrations found in the Sibutad field sites can be detrimental to soil nematode assemblages. The discrepancy between our microcosm and the field-based results is probably related to differences in physicochemical soil attributes (e.g., OM contents, soil pH), which suggests that nematode-based environmental assessments should be interpreted in a context-dependent manner.
The first author acknowledges the full support of VLIR-UOS of the Belgian government for funding this Ph.D. project in Mindanao. The authors thank the staff of the Marine Biology Research Group of Ghent University and Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) through the Complex Systems Initiative SO No. 00886-IIT, s. 2018 for the assistance. The two anonymous reviewers are acknowledged for their valuable input to improve the quality of the work.
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