Soil microbiome dynamics during pyritic mine tailing phytostabilization: Understanding microbial bioindicators of soil acidification

John D. Hottenstein, Julie W. Neilson, Juliana Gil-Loaiza, Robert A. Root, Scott A. White, Jon Chorover, Raina M. Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Challenges to the reclamation of pyritic mine tailings arise from in situ acid generation that severely constrains the growth of natural revegetation. While acid mine drainage (AMD) microbial communities are well-studied under highly acidic conditions, fewer studies document the dynamics of microbial communities that generate acid from pyritic material under less acidic conditions that can allow establishment and support of plant growth. This research characterizes the taxonomic composition dynamics of microbial communities present during a 6-year compost-assisted phytostabilization field study in extremely acidic pyritic mine tailings. A complementary microcosm experiment was performed to identify successional community populations that enable the acidification process across a pH gradient. Taxonomic profiles of the microbial populations in both the field study and microcosms reveal shifts in microbial communities that play pivotal roles in facilitating acidification during the transition between moderately and highly acidic conditions. The potential co-occurrence of organoheterotrophic and lithoautotrophic energy metabolisms during acid generation suggests the importance of both groups in facilitating acidification. Taken together, this research suggests that key microbial populations associated with pH transitions could be used as bioindicators for either sustained future plant growth or for acid generation conditions that inhibit further plant growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1211
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - 2019


  • Acid mine drainage
  • Iron-oxidizing bacteria
  • Iron-reducing bacteria
  • Mine tailing acidification
  • Mine tailings
  • Phytostabilization
  • Plant growth-promoting bacteria
  • Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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