Agroforestry Phytoremediation Buffer Systems in the Great Lakes Basin

Research Issue

The Laurentian Great Lakes Basin of eastern North America is the largest surface freshwater ecosystem in the world, containing 20% of global freshwater supply and 95% of the United States’ surface freshwater. As a result, the Great Lakes provide substantial provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural ecosystem services throughout North America. Potential impacts to these ecosystem services have increased in recent decades, which is consistent with worldwide losses of ecosystem services resulting from land use changes (LUCs). Such LUCs have disrupted terrestrial water cycles and impacted water quantity and quality across the Great Lakes Basin.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was established in 2010 to protect and restore Great Lakes ecosystems from many threats, including those attributed to pollution from landfills, brownfields, and similar sites. Nonpoint sources like these contribute pollution via runoff (aboveground) and leakage (belowground) that can negatively impact nearshore health. Since 2010, the GLRI has funded over 5,000 projects throughout the basin. One of these projects led by Northern Research Station scientists involves development of the world’s largest regional phytotechnologies network consisting of 16 agroforestry phytoremediation buffer systems (i.e., phyto buffers) in the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan watersheds.

Our Research

Phytoremediation, which is the use of plants to clean up contaminated soil, sludge, sediment, or groundwater, is the most common of all phytotechnologies, with processes depending on contaminant type (inorganic versus organic) and ecophysiological mechanisms involved. Poplars and willows are ideal tree species for phytoremediation because they grow quickly, propagate easily, and have extensive root systems and hydraulic control potential, all of which enable them to serve as biological systems that mitigate, capture, and remediate pollution.

Agroforestry phytoremediation buffer system in southeastern Wisconsin.To establish the phytotechnologies network, we used phyto-recurrent selection to choose superior poplar and willow genotypes belonging to two categories: 1) generalists that remediate a broad range of contaminants across sites, and 2) specialists that are matched to specific pollutants and site conditions. Our newest results identify poplar clones belonging to both of these groups with maximum phytoremediation potential. These data are useful for clonal selection to maximize ecosystem services in future phytotechnologies, regardless of specific site conditions or genotypes deployed. Using generalists and specialists enhances the potential for phytoremediation best management practices that are geographically robust, being regionally designed yet globally relevant.

Expected Outcomes

Agroforestry phytoremediation buffer system in southeastern Wisconsin.In temperate zones, poplars and willows contribute multifunctional ecosystem services combining environmental restoration, land reclamation, and feedstock production for bioenergy and paper production, thus increasing environmental sustainability and livelihood for communities across the rural to urban continuum. The application of phyto buffers to lands within the Great Lakes Basin helps to reduce the uncertainty about the efficacy of using poplars and willows to remediate landfills, brownfields, and similar sites, with the long-term goal of providing landowners and site managers with environmentally-friendly treatment options. To this end, hundreds of superior poplar and willow varieties have been tested and dozens matched to soils and climate at the phyto buffer sites in Wisconsin and Michigan to provide societal benefits such as: water quality improvement, stream bank stabilization, forest cover enhancement, and ecosystem restoration. 

Research Results

To date, we have published 7 peer-reviewed manuscripts and given 28 presentations about these agroforestry phytoremediation buffer systems: 3 international keynote addresses (Argentina, Serbia, Sweden), as well as 18 oral presentations and 7 posters (Canada, Germany, Serbia, USA). Peer-reviewed manuscripts and presentations with online links are listed below.

Rogers, E.R.; Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Lin, C-H. 2021. A systematic approach for prioritizing landfill pollutants based on toxicity: Applications and opportunities. Journal of Environmental Management, 284: 112031. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112031.

Rogers, E.R.; Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Lin, C-H. 2021. Integrating novel methodologies from the benchtop to the plot scale in an environmental cleanup project. In: University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry (UMCA) Annual Research Review; University of Missouri – Columbia; January 27, 2021; online at 3:16 (ORAL)

Vinhal, R.A.; Lin, C-H.; Zalesny, R.S. Jr. 2021. Identifying chemical compounds responsible for deer browse resistance in northern white cedar. In: University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry (UMCA) Annual Research Review; University of Missouri – Columbia; January 27, 2021; online at 4:05 (ORAL)

Zalesny, Ronald S.; Pilipović, Andrej; Rogers, Elizabeth R.; Burken, Joel G.; Hallett, Richard A.; Lin, Chung-Ho; McMahon, Bernard G.; Nelson, Neil D.; Wiese, Adam H.; Bauer, Edmund O.; Buechel, Larry; DeBauche, Brent S.; Peterson, Mike; Seegers, Ray; Vinhal, Ryan A. 2021. Establishment of regional phytoremediation buffer systems for ecological restoration in the Great Lakes Basin, USA. I. Genotype × environment interactions. Forests. 12(4): 430-. https://doi.org/10.3390/f12040430

Pilipović, Andrej; Zalesny, Ronald S.; Rogers, Elizabeth R.; McMahon, Bernard G.; Nelson, Neil D.; Burken, Joel G.; Hallett, Richard A.; Lin, Chung-Ho. 2021. Establishment of regional phytoremediation buffer systems for ecological restoration in the Great Lakes Basin, USA. II. New clones show exceptional promise. Forests. 12(4): 474-. https://doi.org/10.3390/f12040474

Isebrands, J.G.; Zalesny, R.S. 2021. Reflections on the contributions of Populus research at Rhinelander, Wisconsin, USA. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 51(2): 139-153. https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfr-2020-0248.

Pilipović, A.; Headlee, W.L.; Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Pekeč S.; Bauer, E.O.; Wiese, A.H. 2020. Water use efficiency of poplars grown for biomass production in the North Central United States. Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group, University of Minnesota – Duluth (Duluth, MN), University of Minnesota – Extension, Short Rotation Woody Crops Webinar Series (from Rhinelander, WI); November 12, 2020. (ORAL)

Rogers, E.R.; Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Lin, C-H. 2020. Analytical techniques, sap flow methodologies, environmental education: integrating diverse disciplines in phytotechnologies research. Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group, University of Minnesota – Duluth (Duluth, MN), University of Minnesota – Extension, Short Rotation Woody Crops Webinar Series (from Rhinelander, WI); October 13, 2020. (ORAL)

Vinhal, R.A.; Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; DeBauche, B.S.; Rogers, E.R.; Pilipović, A.; Soolanayakanahally, R.; Wiese, A.H. 2020. Establishment of willows using the DeValix technique: ecological restoration mats designed for phytotechnologies. Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group, University of Minnesota – Duluth (Duluth, MN), University of Minnesota – Extension, Short Rotation Woody Crops Webinar Series (from Rhinelander, WI); October 13, 2020. online at 31:10 (ORAL)

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Rogers, E.R.; Nelson, N.D.; McMahon, B.; Lazarus, W.; Jackson, J. 2020. Short rotation woody crops Midwest regional update. Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group, University of Minnesota – Duluth (Duluth, MN), University of Minnesota – Extension, Short Rotation Woody Crops Webinar Series (from Rhinelander, WI); October 27, 2020. (ORAL)

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Pilipović, A.; McMahon, B.; Nelson, N.D. 2020. New hybrid poplar clones show exceptional promise for phytotechnologies. Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group, University of Minnesota – Duluth (Duluth, MN), University of Minnesota – Extension, Short Rotation Woody Crops Webinar Series (from Rhinelander, WI); September 23, 2020. online at 30:10 (ORAL)

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Foen, F.; Eanes, S. 2020. Phytoremediation of soils using fast-growing trees in vacant lots and landfills. USFS Urban Forest Connections Webinar Series (from Rhinelander, WI); February 12, 2020. (ORAL)

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Berndes, G.; Dimitriou, I.; Fritsche, U.; Miller, C.; Eisenbies, M.; Ghezehei, S.; Hazel, D.; Headlee, W.L.; Mola-Yudego, B.; Negri, M.C.; Nichols, E.G.; Quinn, J.; Shifflet, S.D.; Therasme, O.; Volk, T.A.; Zumpf, C.R. 2019. Positive water linkages of producing short rotation poplars and willows for bioenergy and phytotechnologies. WIREs Energy and Environment e345. https://doi.org/10.1002/wene.345

Zalesny, R.S. Jr.; Headlee, W.L.; Gopalakrishnan, G.; Bauer, E.O.; Hall, R.B.; Hazel, D.W.; Isebrands, J.G.; Licht, L.A.; Negri, M.C.; Guthrie-Nichols, E.; Rockwood, D.L.; Wiese, A.H. 2019. Ecosystem services of poplar at long-term phytoremediation sites in the Midwest and Southeast, United States. WIREs Energy and Environment e349. https://doi.org/10.1002/wene.349

Rogers, E.R.; Zalesny, R.S., Jr.; Hallett, R.A.; Headlee, W.L.; Wiese, A.H. 2019. Relationships among root-shoot ratio, early growth, and health of hybrid poplar and willow genotypes grown in different landfill soils. Forests 10:49-67. https://doi.org/10.3390/f10010049

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Ronald S. Zalesny Jr., USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station- Supervisory Research Plant Geneticist
  • Joel G. Burken, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, Rolla, MO, USA
  • Brent S. DeBauche, University of Missouri – Columbia, Center for Agroforestry, Columbia, MO, USA
  • Richard A. Hallett, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station-Research Ecologis
  • Elizabeth R. Rogers, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station- Pathways Intern; University of Missouri – Columbia- PhD Student
  • Ryan A. Vinhal, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station- Forestry Technician; University of Missouri – Columbia, Center for Agroforestry, Columbia, MO, USA
  • Adam H. Wiese, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station- Forestry Technician

Research Partners

  • Edmund O. Bauer, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station- Technician Emeritus
  • Larry Buechel, Waste Management, Inc., Environmental Legacy Management Group – Midwest, Menomonee Falls, WI, USA
  • William Headlee, Weyerhaeuser Company, Hot Springs, AR, USA
  • Dave Henderson, AECOM Technical Services, Inc., Milwaukee, WI, USA
  • Paul V. Manley, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, Rolla, MO, USA
  • Bernard G. McMahon, University of Minnesota Duluth, Natural Resources Research Institute, Duluth, MN, USA
  • Neil D. Nelson, University of Minnesota Duluth, Natural Resources Research Institute, Duluth, MN, USA
  • Mike Peterson, Waste Management, Inc., Environmental Legacy Management Group – Midwest, Menomonee Falls, WI, USA
  • Ray Seegers, Waste Management of Wisconsin, Inc., Whitelaw, WI, USA
  • Bart Sexton, Sand County Environmental, Rhinelander, WI, USA
  • Raju Y. Soolanayakanahally, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Indian Head, Saskatchewan, Canada

 

  • Last modified: April 16, 2021