Researchers from the Institute for Problems of Industrial Ecology of the North of the Kola Science Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences have found the species of organisms that were the first to inhabit the technogenic wastelands of the Arctic.
Cryptogamous (from two Greek words crypto - "hidden", "secret" and gameein - "marriage", that is, "secret marriage") organisms do not have flowers and are spread by spores or vegetatively. Mosses, liverworts and lichens belonging to this group play an important role in Arctic ecosystems.
They are small, can form dense films or tussocks, which allows them to maintain humidity and temperature, and are also able to develop on a variety of substrates, including rocks and bare mineral soil. The characteristics of lichens and bryophytes give them additional advantages to survival in harsh conditions. The formation of plant communities is impossible without cryptogamous organisms.
Technogenic desert on the northern slope of Mount Sopcha in the area of the first site - neither lichens nor any vascular plants live here, and only three species of bryophytes are noted / © Press Service of the KSC RAS
An increased sensitivity of bryophytes and lichens to air pollution is known. In the Murmansk region, the activity of the mining and industrial complex has led to the disappearance of many species of mosses and lichens, as well as to the disturbance and almost complete destruction of plant communities around some enterprises. Industrial emissions have been declining in recent years, giving disturbed ecosystems the opportunity to start recovering.
Positive shifts have already been observed in the ground cover at a distance of several tens of kilometers from pollution sources, but in the areas immediately adjacent to them, there are no mosses and lichens, or any higher vascular plants. The problem is in the restoration of man-made deserts - not only in the high level of air pollution, but also in the destruction of the soil cover, as well as in the disturbance of the nutrient regime of the soil.
Experiments to restore vegetation cover in the vicinity of Monchegorsk, where the most notorious man-made wasteland of the Murmansk region is located, have been underway for two decades, but they are based on artificial restoration of vegetation. Until now, no one has studied the natural settlement of wastelands by aboriginal species.
Employees of the Institute of Industrial Ecology of the North of the Kola Science Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences took the first step in studying the dynamics of restoration of the ground cover of super-polluted technogenic deserts, where, unlike technogenic wastelands, no higher vascular plants survive. An article about this was published in the journal "Forest Science".
At a distance of 1, 7 to 10 kilometers in the impact zone of the Severonikel plant, scientists have laid registration sites for identifying the species composition of lichens and bryophytes. Sediments falling at various distances from the plant were also selected and the content of pollutants in them, as well as in the underlying soil horizon at all sites, was studied.
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The study showed that when approaching the source of pollution, the number of species in the ground cover, as expected, decreases, and there are no vascular plants in the first three kilometers. Actually, the ground cover itself is absent in the usual sense of this term. The first settlers to withstand the maximum levels of pollution were the liverwort Nardia geoscyphus and the leafy mosses Dicranella cerviculata and Pohlia nutans.
One of the few lichen species that have adapted to the high concentration of heavy metals, the stereocaulon almost ashy (Stereocaulon leucophaeopsis), settles on the sods formed by live or dead bryophytes, at a distance from the plant. At a greater distance from the source of pollution, the species composition of cryptogamous organisms increases, and vascular plants appear, for example, meadow bluegrass, narrow-leaved ivan tea, alpine tar, as well as Cherepanov birch and northern willow. The abundance and the area covered with mosses and lichens are increasing.
Moss Pohlia nutans is one of the first settlers in technogenic wastelands, it grows in depressions where moisture accumulates / © Press Service of the KSC RAS
Thus, scientists have found out: the pioneers of the settlement of man-made deserts are traditionally considered "fastidious" bryophytes. It was possible for the first time to identify the organisms that are most resistant to polluting compounds: these are the liverworts Isopaches bicrenatus (Isopaches bicrenatus), nardia cup-shaped, swollen hymnogue (Gymnocolea inflatа) and thick-leaved saline (Solenostoma confertissimum) and wild mosses, which form a napkin. for colonization by other pioneer species - lichens with stereocoulons almost ashy and cap-like. The higher the humidity, the more actively the soil is colonized by cryptogamous organisms.
These species are very resistant to toxic effects and high concentrations of heavy metals. It was established for the first time that, despite the absence of roots and seemingly less dependence on soil pollution, even these lichens cannot survive in disturbed territories without a “substrate” of mosses.
The data obtained allow us to conclude that the restoration of vegetation destroyed as a result of the activity of industrial enterprises begins not in a hundred years after the decrease in loads (as was assumed earlier), but much earlier. The pioneers will be toxic-tolerant species of lichens and bryophytes, which are gradually preparing the basis for the settlement of other plants. Undoubtedly, it is necessary to conduct research for a longer time and expand the area of their conduct, so that more definite conclusions can be drawn.