Multiple environmental factors influence 238U, 232Th and 226Ra bioaccumulation in arbuscular mycorrhizal-associated plants

Helena Davies, Jeanette Rosas Moreno, Filipa Cox, Paul Lythgoe, Alastair Bewsher, Francis Livens, Clare H. Robinson, Jon Pittman

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    Ecological consequences of low-dose radioactivity from natural sources or radioactive waste are important to understand but knowledge gaps still remain. In particular, the soil transfer and bioaccumulation of radionuclides into plant roots is poorly studied. Furthermore, better knowledge of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi association may help understand the complexities of radionuclide bioaccumulation within the rhizosphere. Plant bioaccumulation of uranium, thorium and radium was demonstrated at two field sites, where plant tissue concentrations reached up to 46.93 μg g−1 238U, 0.67 μg g−1 232Th and 18.27 kBq kg−1 226Ra. High root retention of uranium was consistent in all plant species studied. In contrast, most plants showed greater bioaccumulation of thorium and radium into above-ground tissues. The influence of specific soil parameters on root radionuclide bioaccumulation was examined. Total organic carbon significantly explained the variation in root uranium concentration, while other soil factors including copper concentration, magnesium concentration and pH significantly correlated with root concentrations of uranium, radium and thorium, respectively. All four orders of Glomeromycota were associated with root samples from both sites and all plant species studied showed varying association with AM fungi, ranging from zero to >60% root colonisation by fungal arbuscules. Previous laboratory studies using single plant-fungal species association had found a positive role of AM fungi in root uranium transfer, but no significant correlation between the amount of fungal infection and root uranium content in the field samples was found here. However, there was a significant negative correlation between AM fungal infection and radium accumulation. This study is the first to examine the role of AM fungi in radionuclide soil-plant transfer at a community level within the natural environment. We conclude that biotic factors alongside various abiotic factors influence the soil-plant transfer of radionuclides and future mechanistic studies are needed to explain these interactions in more detail.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)921-934
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Early online date5 Jun 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


    • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
    • Environmental radioactivity
    • Plants
    • radium
    • thorium
    • Uranium


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