Treatment impacts on temporal microbial community dynamics during phytostabilization of acid-generating mine tailings in semiarid regions

Alexis Valentín-Vargas, Julia W. Neilson, Robert A. Root, Jon Chorover, Raina M. Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Direct revegetation, or phytostabilization, is a containment strategy for contaminant metals associated with mine tailings in semiarid regions. The weathering of sulfide ore-derived tailings frequently drives acidification that inhibits plant establishment resulting in materials prone to wind and water dispersal. The specific objective of this study was to associate pyritic mine waste acidification, characterized through pore-water chemistry analysis, with dynamic changes in microbial community diversity and phylogenetic composition, and to evaluate the influence of different treatment strategies on the control of acidification dynamics. Samples were collected from a highly instrumented one-year mesocosm study that included the following treatments: 1) unamended tailings control; 2) tailings amended with 15% compost; and 3) the 15% compost-amended tailings planted with Atriplex lentiformis. Tailings samples were collected at 0, 3, 6 and 12 months and pore water chemistry was monitored as an indicator of acidification and weathering processes. Results confirmed that the acidification process for pyritic mine tailings is associated with a temporal progression of bacterial and archaeal phylotypes from pH sensitive Thiobacillus and Thiomonas to communities dominated by Leptospirillum and Ferroplasma. Pore-water chemistry indicated that weathering rates were highest when Leptospirillum was most abundant. The planted treatment was most successful in disrupting the successional evolution of the Fe/S-oxidizing community. Plant establishment stimulated growth of plant-growth-promoting heterotrophic phylotypes and controlled the proliferation of lithoautotrophic Fe/S-oxidizers. The results suggest the potential for eco-engineering a microbial inoculum to stimulate plant establishment and inhibit proliferation of the most efficient Fe/S-oxidizing phylotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-368
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 15 2018


  • Iron oxidation
  • Microbial diversity
  • Mine reclamation
  • Plant growth promoting bacteria
  • Sulfur oxidation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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