When Marinus Otte, professor, and Donna Jacob, research assistant professor, arrived at NDSU in 2006 to join the Department of Biological Sciences, they brought with them expertise on wetlands and metals. They initiated the Wet Ecosystem Research Group and are the directors of the Metal Analysis Core of the North Dakota Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence.
The work of the Wet Ecosystem Research Group addresses a wide range of topics, but a main theme is the interaction between wetland plants and soil, particularly regarding metals. Now a major article, titled "Multi-element Accumulation Near Rumex Crispus Roots Under Wetland and Dryland Conditions," based solely on work carried out at NDSU by doctoral student La Toya Kissoon, is being published in the scientific journal, Environmental Pollution.
In the years just before their arrival at NDSU, Otte and Jacob had shown that many wetland plant species can grow in soils that contain concentrations of metals that are toxic to most other plants. This tolerance of high metal concentrations is rare in plants of dry habitats, but is quite common among wetland plants. One reason this observation is important is wetland plants may be more suitable to rehabilitate lands contaminated with metals than are “dryland” plants.
Kissoon wondered what might cause the difference in tolerance to metals between wetland and dryland plants. She investigated the possibility that wetland plants alter the soil near their roots in a way that is different from dryland plants. She predicted that as a result of differences in soil chemistry, wetland plants are continuously exposed to higher levels of metals compared to dryland plants and so have adapted a tolerance to high metal concentrations. Kissoon’s experiment showed that plants of the same species, curly dock, grown under wetland conditions accumulate more metals near the root than when grown under dryland conditions and that they also take up more metals. The findings, therefore, support the theory.