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Forest Disturbance Processes

Phytoremediation of Organic Contaminants

Research Issue

[photo:] Poplar planted in soils heavily contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.Organic contaminants such as petroleum hydrocarbons and industrial solvents 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 vegetative pump and treat systems under soil conditions with heavy concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons, industrial solvents, and other organic contaminants. Our long-term objective is to refine selection of promising genotypes for potential use in future systems of this nature.

Expected Outcomes

Successful establishment of poplar and willow in organic-contaminated soils verified their use for streambank stabilization, filtration, and remediation. The majority of resources for subsequent research and deployment should be allocated into a combination of generalist genotypes that perform well over a broad range of contaminants and specialist genotypes adapted to local site conditions with specific contaminants. These outcomes are important for researchers, policymakers, and growers as the trees provide essential ecosystem services during times of accelerated ecological degradation.   

Research Results

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Headlee, W.L. 2014. Using environmental remediation to enhance afforestation and reforestation. In: 3rd Science in the Northwoods Conference; October 15-17, 2014; Boulder Junction, WI.

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Headlee, W.L.; Gopalakrishnan, G.; Hall, R.B.; Hazel, D.W.; Isebrands, J.G.; Negri, M.C.; Guthrie-Nichols, E.; Rockwood, D.L. 2014. Ecosystem services of poplar at long-term phytoremediation sites in the Midwest and Southeast, United States. In: International Poplar Symposium VI; July 20-23, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Burken, J.G.; Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Kennan, K. 2013. Valuation of phytotechnology benefits: more than just ‘aesthetically pleasing’. In: 10th International Phytotechnologies Conference; October 1-4, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA.

Zalesny, R.S. Jr. 2013. A review of ecosystem services associated with using Populus for phytotechnologies. In: 10th International Phytotechnologies Conference; October 1-4, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA.

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Coyle, D.R. 2013. Short Rotation Populus: A Bibliography of North American Literature, 1989 – 2011. Gen. Tech. Report NRS-P-110. Newtown Square, PA; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. p 103.

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Headlee, W.L.; Gopalakrishnan, G.; Hall, R.B.; Hazel, D.W.; Isebrands, J.G.; Negri, M.C.; Guthrie-Nichols, E.; Rockwood, D.L. 2013. Growth, biomass productivity, and aboveground carbon storage of poplar at long-term phytotechnology installations. In: 10th International Phytotechnologies Conference; October 1-4, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA. (NON-REFEREED)  

Zalesny, R.S. Jr. 2012. A review of North American Populus phytotechnologies research published from 1989 to 2011. In: 9th Conference of the International Phytotechnology Society: Phytotechnologies – Plant-based Strategies to Clean Water, Soil, Air and Provide Ecosystem Services; September 11-14, 2012; Hasselt, University, Diepenbeek, Belgium.

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Hallett, R.; Falxa-Raymond, N.; Grassi, C. 2012. Improving ecosystem health and functioning through phytotechnologies at Freshkills Park, Staten Island, New York, USA. In: 9th Conference of the International Phytotechnology Society: Phytotechnologies – Plant-based Strategies to Clean Water, Soil, Air and Provide Ecosystem Services; September 11-14, 2012; Hasselt, University, Diepenbeek, Belgium.

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 Investigator

  • Ronald S. Zalesny Jr., US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist

Research Partners

  • William L. Headlee, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Ames, IA
  • Edmund O. Bauer, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Technician Emeritus
  • Richard B. Hall, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Ames, IA
  • Adam H. Wiese, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Forestry Technician
  • Bruce A. Birr, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Laboratory Technician
  • Gayathri Gopalakrishnan, Space Science Institute, Boulder, CO
  • Dennis W. Hazel, North Carolina State University, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, Raleigh, NC
  • J.G. Isebrands, Environmental Forestry Consultants, New Longdon, WI
  • M. Cristina Negri, Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, IL
  • Elizabeth Guthrie Nichols, North Carolina State University, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, Raleigh, NC
  • Donald L. Rockwood, University of Florida, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Gainesville, FL
  • Joel G. Burken, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, Rolla, MO
  • Jill A. Zalesny, US Forest Service Northern Research Station- Research Volunteer (Plant Physiologist)
  • David R. Coyle, University of Georgia, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Athens, GA

Last Modified: October 3, 2016