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Research article2015Peer reviewed

Relative importance of plant uptake and plant associated denitrification for removal of nitrogen from mine drainage in sub-arctic wetlands

Hallin, Sara; Hellman, Maria; Choudhury, Maidul I.; Ecke, Frauke


Reactive nitrogen (N) species released from undetonated ammonium-nitrate based explosives used in mining or other blasting operations are an emerging environmental problem. Wetlands are frequently used to treat N-contaminated water in temperate climate, but knowledge on plant microbial interactions and treatment potential in sub-arctic wetlands is limited. Here, we compare the relative importance of plant uptake and denitrification among five plant species commonly occurring in sub-arctic wetlands for removal of N in nitrate-rich mine drainage in northern Sweden. Nitrogen uptake and plant associated potential denitrification activity and genetic potential for denitrification based on quantitative PCR of the denitrification genes nirS, nirK, nosZI and nosZII were determined in plants growing both in situ and cultivated in a growth chamber. The growth chamber and in situ studies generated similar results, suggesting high relevance and applicability of results from growth chamber experiments. We identified denitrification as the dominating pathway for N-removal and abundances of denitrification genes were strong indicators of plant associated denitrification activity. The magnitude and direction of the effect differed among the plant species, with the aquatic moss Drepanocladus fluitans showing exceptionally high ratios between denitrification and uptake rates, compared to the other species. However, to acquire realistic estimates of N-removal potential of specific wetlands and their associated plant species, the total plant biomass needs to be considered. The species-specific plant N-uptake and abundance of denitrification genes on the root or plant surfaces were affected by the presence of other plant species, which show that both multi- and inter-trophic interactions are occurring. Future studies on N-removal potential of wetland plant species should consider how to best exploit these interactions in sub-arctic wetlands. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Denitrification; Macrophytes; Nitrogen assimilation; Nitrogen removal; Phytoremediation; Wetlands

Published in

Water Research
2015, Volume: 85, pages: 377-383