Soil organic matter prevails over heavy metal pollution and vegetation as a factor shaping soil microbial communities at historical Zn–Pb mining sites
Abstract This study examined the effects of soil heavy metals, macronutrients, texture and pH as well as plant species richness and composition on soil respiration, enzymatic activity, microbial biomass, metabolic quotient (qCO2) and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) at sites of historical Zn–Pb mining. The study was conducted both on a large scale (65 heaps scattered over the area of 750 km2) and on a small scale (25 plots along two 48 m transects extending from heaps to adjacent fallow fields). Total concentrations of metals exceeded 400 (Cd), 20,000 (Pb) and 80,000 (Zn) mg kg−1 at the most polluted sites. Although they decreased along the heap-fallow direction, they still remained above environmental standards in fallow soils. In contrast, some soluble metal forms increased with the increasing distance from heaps. Soil organic matter had the strongest positive effect on most microbial parameters. Total and/or available heavy metals exhibited significant negative effects on microbial biomass, enzymatic activity and AMF, and a positive effect on qCO2. Organic matter alleviated negative effects of heavy metals on microorganisms; they were not observed where the increase in the contamination was accompanied by the increase in organic matter content. Plant species richness affected positively enzymatic activity and mycorrhization level. Plant species composition possibly contributed to the formation of soil microbial communities, but its effect was entangled in that of heavy metals as plant communities changed along pollution gradients (from metal-tolerant grasslands dominated by Festuca ovina to calcareous grasslands and ruderal communities at less polluted sites).