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Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2008 Sep;15(6):492-8. doi: 10.1007/s11356-008-0026-z.

Experimental research on recolonisation with Anemone nemorosa of the beech forests of the Ruhr district (Germany) floristically impoverished by air pollution.

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Department of Ecology and Geobotany, Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Siesmayerstr. 70, 60323, Frankfurt a.M., Germany.



High SO(2) concentrations as have been observed over decades in the Ruhr district lead to a remarkable reduction of leaf area in the majority of the characteristic broad-leafed herbs of the Central European beech forests even after only a few months of experimental fumigation. Thus, it is no wonder in the time of high SO(2) pollution, e.g., in the town of Herne (centre of the Ruhr district), that there was not a single beech forest hosting, for instance, Viola reichenbachiana or Anemone nemorosa. As air quality has improved very much over some decades in the Ruhr district, one can expect a recolonisation of the beech forests by the species of former time characteristic for the herb layer. However, one has to consider that only the air pollution was reduced, while soil acidification and contamination with heavy metals and PAH are, on the short run, irreversible. That is why experiments were carried out, considering the question as to whether recolonisation of the forests of the Ruhr district by the aforementioned species is possible and why such a recolonisation up to now has not occurred.


The experiments were carried out in a beech forest situated in the centre of the Ruhr district in the City of Herne. The wood anemone (A. nemorosa) was chosen as test plant because of its high frequency in beech forests on loess soils outside the Ruhr district, and its absence in beech forests in the Ruhr district. The experiments with A. nemorosa were carried out in three variants with different soils: (a): soil of the local forests (R); (b): soil of the local forests whose soot layer was removed (r); (c): imported soil from a clean air region far away from the Ruhr district (Odenwald).


Survival of rhizomes of A. nemorosa is possible for some years in the soils of the Ruhr district; however, the establishment of a population could not be achieved. The results obtained by the imported soil show that it is no longer air pollution, but the soil which prevents the establishment of a population. Sexual reproduction is rather impossible because of the thick litter layer with which all of the Ruhr district's beech forests are covered.


With respect to the unfavourable chemistry of the soil of the Ruhr district and in consideration of the unfavourable attributes of the soot layer, the author expected the following order of the development of shoot numbers: O > r > R. However, the result is: O > R > r. In contrast to the expected result, the soot layer has no negative but slightly positive effects on the implanted rhizomes. A possible explanation is that the soot layer, which is situated immediately below the top soil, prevents the top soil from drying up and thus even protects the rhizomes from desiccation. Also, the possibility has to be considered that the soot layer functions as a nutrient storage area.


At present, a survival of the rhizomes of A. nemorosa in the soils of the Ruhr district is temporarily possible but does not lead to the establishment of a permanent population. This only can be achieved by additional sexual reproduction. However, the thick litter layer present in all beech forests of the Ruhr district prevents the establishment of seedlings, i.e., it does not allow sexual reproduction to contribute to the population. The soot layer situated below the litter layer represents a second hindrance for germination. Other than seedlings, rhizomes are not negatively affected by the soot layer but even a slight stabilisation has to be stated. As a reason for this slightly positive effect, a protection of the upper mineral soil from desiccation by the hydrophob soot layer has to be considered. Secondly, the soot layer may serve as a nutrient storage which is of particular importance in acid soils, because acidification generally leads to a leeching of nutrients. To answer these questions, detailed further research is necessary.


In order to restore the formerly rich herbaceous layer of the forests of the Ruhr district, experiments (removal of the litter layer; liming; ploughing) should be carried out at broad-scale to solve the question of how the strong negative effects of the established thick raw humus layer can be reduced or even be avoided. When the problem of the humus layer is solved, the beech forests of the Ruhr district today highly impoverished in species will become a vivid ecosystem, rich in flowering herbaceous species and thus much more attractive for the people of the Ruhr district than at present.

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