Rehabilitation of the nematode fauna in a phytostabilized, heavily zinc-contaminated, sandy soil

L.A. Bouwman, J. Vangronsveld

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Background, Aim and Scope. The Maatheide in Lommel, Belgium, is an extremely metal contaminated, sandy area where vegetation has disappeared over ca. 130 hectares due to the activities of a former pyrometallurgical zinc smelter. To reduce the environmental impact of this area a rehabilitation strategy had to be developed. Therefore, in the centre of this area, an experimental phytostabilization (grass) field of three hectares had been installed in 1990. After a grass cover had been established, the development of the nematode fauna in the phytostabilized soil was studied. Nematodes act at various levels in soil ecosystems: herbivorous species extract their food from plant roots, bacterivorous and fungivorous species feed on microbes, predatory species consume other nematodes, and omnivorous species have mixed diets. In a mature soil ecosystem that normally exercises its manifold functions, a diverse nematode fauna occurs, reflecting the intactness of the ecosystem. As such, this fauna is indicative of crop growth, vegetative diversity, organic matter decomposition, microbial activity and diversity, and the maturity of the soil ecosystem. Methods. A metal immobilizing soil amendment (beringite) and municipal waste compost (to improve the nutrient status and water-retaining capacity) were incorporated in the soil and metal tolerant ecotypes of grasses were sown. Soil samples for nematode analyses were taken four times. Results. As a result of the treatment, pH of the soil increased and the water extractable amount of Zn was strongly reduced. Grass growth revitalized the impoverished soil ecosystem, organisms as well as metabolic processes. The nematode fauna of the experimental field in the Maatheide has been studied since 1997 and the recovery of the various feeding guilds and taxa was checked again in 2002. Nematode densities and feeding guilds have normalized, with omnivores and predators as the last guilds to reappear. Up to 27 species with a current diversity were observed in the grass-covered experimental plot, but a number of ubiquitous species, present at a comparable site at some distance, remained absent. Conclusion. It can thus be concluded that rehabilitation of an impoverished soil ecosystem is possible in heavily contaminated soils by means of phytostabilization, but there are some limitations on rehabilitation, since a number of common nematode species remained absent. Further research should indicate if this absence is indicative of a loss of essential processes in the soil. Recommendation and Perspective. Phytostabilization of heavily zinc-contaminated, sandy soil also remediates impoverished soil ecosystems. In particular, the recovery of nematode feeding categories is indicative for the normalization of soil life. The absence/presence of a number of ubiquitous taxa should be checked again after some time to verify if recovery is completed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-23
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • sandy soils
  • heavy metals
  • zinc
  • soil biology
  • rehabilitation
  • belgium

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