Kamila Murawska-Wlodarczyk

Graduate Student, PhD


Dr. Raina Maier and Dr. Alicja Babst-Kostecka


Environmental Science


The effect of capping material on successful seed germination and seedling growth for quantification of root development in contaminated mine tailings

Kamila Murawska-Wlodarczyk, Alicja Babst-Kostecka, Priyanka Kushwaha, Julie Neilson, Craig Rasmussen, Raina M. Maier

Centuries of anthropogenic industrial activities, including mining, smelting, wastewater disposal, chemical production, and other industries, have contributed to the accumulation of heavy metals and metalloids (including As, Hg, Pb, Cd, Cr, Cu, Co, Zn and Ni) at elevated levels in soil and water. Problematically, the mobility and bioavailability of these elements result in their transfer into the food chain via direct human, animal, and plant exposure, impairing the health of local communities. Once accumulated in soil, metal(loid)s do not self-degrade into non-toxic forms, thus development of remediation technologies is needed to stabilize and remediate metal-contaminated sites. Plant-based technology – phytoremediation – is considered environmentally friendly, simple and economic. Disturbances in soil structure and composition caused by industrial damage are, however, not favorable for the growth of most plant species. Emplacement of non-contaminated capping material on top of tailings is a promising technology to improve the plant vegetation establishment on disturbed areas.

Here, we will conduct a series of greenhouse experiments using As contaminated mine tailings, layers of different quality capping materials, and Atriplex lentiformis – a plant species that can grow in harsh environmental conditions and is native to the study area. We aim at identifying the properties of capping material that support seed germination and root propagation into contaminated tailings. Seed germination tests followed by monitoring of the above- and belowground plant traits will be conducted using the novel non-invasive root phenotyping approach in rhizoboxes. The differences in root growth and plant performance under metal stress in hazardous mine tailings will be linked with biophysicochemical properties (e.g. total carbon and nitrogen content, or microbiome composition) of the capping material. The expected outcome of this study will help to optimize the use of capping material in successful phytoremediation techniques.