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Forest Disturbance Processes

Using Short Rotation Woody Crops to Remediate Soils Contaminated with Organics

[photo:] Poplar planted in soils heavily contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons. Research Issue

Organic contaminants such as petroleum hydrocarbons are a major pollution source of surface water, groundwater, soil, and sediments throughout North America and the rest of the world. The rhizosphere is the zone of soil surrounding plant roots. Utilization of plants and their rhizospheric microorganisms to destroy, remove, and stabilize contaminated soils is currently gaining global attention because such systems are efficient and effective from biological and economic standpoints. Phytoremediation, plant-enhanced bioremediation, consists of using this symbiotic relationship, along with soil amendments and proper management practices, to remediate contaminated soils in situ.  Poplars and willows are the most commonly used tree crops for such phytotechnologies. 

Our Research

We have tested the efficacy of using current genotypes of poplar and willow for effective rhizosphere degradation and as a vegetative pump and treat system under soil conditions with heavy concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons, along with selecting promising genotypes for potential use in future systems of this nature.

Expected Outcomes

Successful establishment of poplar and willow in these petroleum contaminated soils verified their use for streambank stabilization, filtration, and remediation. The majority of resources for subsequent research and management should be allocated into commercial poplar and willow genotypes because of their generalist growth performance. Nevertheless, further selection and utilization of experimental genotypes is needed for increased remedial benefits as such benefits are proportional to gains from selection. Specific genotypes rather than genomic groups should be selected based on the geographic location of the site and magnitude of contaminant concentrations. 

Research Results

Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Bauer, E.O.; Hall, R.B.; Zalesny, J.A.; Kunzman, J.; Rog, C.J.; Riemenschneider, D.E. 2005. Clonal variation in survival and growth of hybrid poplar and willow in an in situ trial on soils heavily contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons. International Journal of Phytoremediation 7:177-197.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Ronald S. Zalesny Jr., USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station - Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist
  • Edmund O. Bauer, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station - Technician Emeritus

Research Partners

  • Jill A. Zalesny, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Research Volunteer (Plant Physiologist)
  • Richard B. Hall, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Ames, IA

Last Modified: 03/22/2012