Soil microbial response to metal contamination in a vegetated and urban brownfield

Jay Prakash Singh, Bhagyashree P. Vaidya, Nina M. Goodey, Jennifer Adams Krumins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The ubiquity of urban brownfields presents not only a challenge for environmental managers but also an opportunity to study the functional aspects of degraded ecosystems that are in close contact with human habitation. In this study, we investigate the soil microbial community response to heavy metal contamination at Liberty State Park (LSP), an urban brownfield in Jersey City, NJ, USA. Heavy metal contamination of the soils at LSP is heterogeneous, varying widely across site and among metals. We collected soils along a previously mapped gradient of metal contamination at LSP and sampled soil from a local and uncontaminated reference site (Hutcheson Memorial Forest (HMF)) for comparison. For all soils, we measured soil heavy metal concentrations, soil organic carbon content, bacterial density, and extracellular phosphatase activity as a proxy of ecosystem functioning. Additionally, we analyzed the microbial community composition using high-throughput sequencing. Data show that some sites within LSP have significantly higher phosphatase activity compared to HMF, indicating that some heavily contaminated LSP soils are highly functional. We also found that soil organic carbon and bacterial density have a significant and positive relationship with phosphatase activity. The microbial community analyses showed that the bacterial communities were sensitive to heavy metals and that the composition was significantly affected in particular by copper, zinc, and lead. The fungal communities, however, did not vary significantly with heavy metals. Our results shed important light on the composition and functioning of urban brownfield soils. A deeper understanding of these unique ecosystems is required for successful remediation, restoration and urban sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-319
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2019


  • Brownfield
  • Heavy metal contamination
  • Soil enzymes
  • Soil microbiome


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