Phytochelatins Are Bioindicators of Atmospheric Metal Exposure via Direct Foliar Uptake in Trees Near Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

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Plants produce phytochelatins in response to copper and nickel, the primary metal pollutants emitted by the dominant smelting operation in Sudbury. Copper and nickel concentrations in soils decline sharply with distance from this facility, primarily as a result of early smelting practices. Phytochelatin concentrations in Sudbury-area trees, however, do not correlate with metal levels in soils. Rather, phytochelatin production in tree leaves is driven by metals currently released to the atmosphere through the 381 m emissions stack. Phytochelatin concentrations in the foliage of three tree species growing in situ are highest 20-30 km from the stack, correlated with maximum acid-leachable concentrations of deposited copper and nickel. Similar results observed in potted trees placed adjacent to indigenous trees confirm that aerially deposited metals are the source of current metal stress patterns. The addition of peat moss "filters" to potted soils did not alter this response, indicating that direct foliar metal uptake is responsible.

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Environmental Science & Technology



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