Free Lipid Biomarkers in Anthropogenic Soils

  • Irena AtanassovaEmail author
  • Harizanova Milena
  • Martin Banov


Free lipid biomarkers are sensitive indicators of the extent of climatic and anthropogenic disturbances in soils, in contrast to “bound lipids” that are tightly incorporated in the soil organic matrix and may be fixed for long periods of time. The studies reported in this chapter describe signature free lipid biomarkers in anthropogenic soils and their role as indicators of the degree of pedogenesis and degradation processes, e.g., technogenic pollution and water repellency. Soils separated from different horizons of a Technosol on which sewage sludge from paint and print industry was deposited indicated small quantitative changes in the major compound classes. Free lipids show similarities in the free lipid signature and predominant microbial sources, as indicated by the presence of even number and branched alkanes (C16–C33), short-chain (C6–C18) fatty acids, and C11–C32 fatty alcohol distributions. No xenobiotics at measurable quantities were detected, except some metabolites.

Lipid compounds from a major coal mine area in Southeastern Europe, i.e., alkanes, fatty acids and fatty alcohols, as well as coal biomarkers (phyllocladane), were more abundant in the coal ash-amended water-repellent Technosols. The alkane distribution was monomodal, maximizing at C29, while fatty acids maximized at C26. These compounds indicate the ongoing pedogenesis in the long-time reclaimed spoils-turned soils. Statistical analysis reveals that total organic carbon (TOC) and the lipid fraction (the long-chain > C22 fatty acids, alcohols, and alkanes) were the drivers of soil water repellency in the studied water-repellent Technosols. In the non-water-repellent Technosols, lacking coal ash amendment, lower concentrations of the alkanes (< 2 μg/g) including the long-chain ones (C29–33) and the presence of < C24 branched alkanes were recorded. The alkane distribution points at two origins for the alkanes, i.e., higher plants and microbial sources. The analysis of free lipid extracts allowed for the assessment of sensitive molecular indicators of biogenic terrigenous and coal origin and the degree of soil restoration following >40 years of post reclamation period.

The surface horizons of an Anthrosol amended with 3 t/ha biochar contained alkanes <C24 with prevailing even over odd predominance (EOP) of homologues and carbon preference index (CPI) of 10.6. The free lipid signature indicates anthropogenic sources and/or predominant microbial contribution to soil organic matter; however, thermally disrupted (from biochar) and microbial alkanes were difficult to discriminate.


Free lipid biomarkers Anthropogenic soil Technosol Sewage sludge Coal Biochar 



Average chain length


Cation exchange capacity


Electrical conductivity


Even over odd predominance


Fulvic organic carbon


Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry


Humic organic carbon


Linear alkylbenzene sulfonates


Match factor


Mineral nitrogen


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons


Polybrominated diphenylethers


Polychlorinated biphenyls


Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins


Polychlorinated dibenzofurans


Predicted non-effect concentrations


Persistent organic pollutants


Response factor


Soil organic carbon


Soil organic matter


Tetramethyl ammonium hydroxide


Total organic carbon


Water drop penetration time


Wastewater treatment plant


Carbon preference index



Studies reported in this chapter were supported by the National Science Fund (NSF), Ministry of Education and Science, project: DN 06/1 (2016–2019).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irena Atanassova
    • 1
    Email author
  • Harizanova Milena
    • 1
  • Martin Banov
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Agrochemistry, Agroecology and Farming SystemsInstitute of Soil Science, Agrotechnologies and Plant ProtectionSofiaBulgaria
  2. 2.Department of Genesis, Geography and Soil ClassificationInstitute of Soil Science, Agrotechnologies and Plant ProtectionSofiaBulgaria

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