Phragmites australis as a dual indicator (air and sediment) of trace metal pollution in wetlands – the key case of Flix reservoir (Ebro River)

Gacia, Esperança Soto, D. X.Roig, R.Catalán, Jordi. . Science of the Total Environment : doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142789 (2020)  DIGITAL CSIC

Evaluation of trace metal pollution in an environmentally complex context may require the use of a suite of indicators. Common reed, Phragmites australis, is a well-known biomonitor of sediment pollution. Here, we show its potential for also assessing air pollution. The plant panicles, holding silky hairs with high surface to volume ratio, are appropriate collectors of atmospheric contaminants, which perform independently from root bioconcentration. We applied the dual value of common reed as an indicator of trace metal pollution to the case of a chlor-alkali plant in the Ebro river bank (Spain). This factory had historically damped waste to the shallow Flix reservoir. Extensive common reed meadows are growing on the top of the waste, in a nearby nature reserve across the reservoir and a meander immediately downriver. Three replicated individuals from a total of 11 sites were sampled, and the trace metal content measured in the main plant compartments (roots, rhizomes, stems, leaves, and panicles). Panicles and roots showed a much larger concentration of trace metals than the other plant compartments. Levels of Hg, Cu, and Ni were markedly higher in panicles at the factory and nearby points of the reserve and lowered at the meander. In contrast, Cd, Zn, and Mn in roots increased from the factory to the meander downriver. We conclude that panicles show recent (less than a year) airborne pollution, whereas roots indicate the long-term transport of pollutants from the waste in the shoreline of the factory to downriver sedimentation hotspots, where they become more bioavailable than in the factory waste. The Hg spatial patterns in panicles agree with air measurements in later years, therefore, confirming the panicles suitability for assessing airborne pollution and, consequently, Phragmites as a potential dual biomonitor of air and sediments.