Maintenance of photosynthesis by Betula populifolia in metal contaminated soils

Allyson B. Salisbury, Frank J. Gallagher, Joshua S. Caplan, Jason C. Grabosky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Improving our understanding of plant responses to elevated trace metal concentrations under field conditions will enhance restoration and urban greening practices in settings with contaminated soils. This study examined the effects of trace metal pollution on the leaf gas exchange rates of mature, field-grown Betula populifolia Marsh. (gray birch) trees, additionally assessing whether elevated temperature and drought compounded the effects of trace metal contamination. The study compared B. populifolia growing in areas of comparatively high and low trace metal loads (HML and LML, respectively) within a former rail yard at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, USA. Gas exchange parameters were determined monthly from May through September in 2014 and 2015 using a portable photosynthesis system. The effects of drought and high temperature were assessed during a short heat wave in July 2015 and via a manipulative experiment, respectively. During a few of the measurement months, some parameters differed significantly between the LML and HML groups. However, when considered over the entire study period, no significant differences in biophysical parameters were observed between groups. The photosynthetic capacity of B. populifolia thus appears to be fairly robust across this site's steep gradient of trace metal contamination. Nonetheless, leaf mass per unit area was significantly lower in the HML group, indicating that metal loads affected resource allocation within trees. Also, immediately following the heat wave in 2015, intrinsic water use efficiency declined significantly in the HML group, suggesting that extreme climatic conditions can have a disproportionate effect on the physiological performance of plants growing in metal contaminated soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1615-1627
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Assimilation-intercellular CO (A-C) curve
  • Dark respiration
  • Heavy metals
  • Light response curve
  • Phytostabilization
  • Stomatal conductance


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