American Journal of Plant Sciences, 2013, 4, 1938-1940 Published Online October 2013 (
BioRem—Database for Remediation of Heavy Metal Rich
Habitats and Protection of Their Biodiversity
Lukas Nebel1, Gerhard Kreitner1,2, Othmar Horak1, Wolfram Adlassnig1, Gregor Eder1,
Edwin Palomino3, Mario Leyva3, Irene Lichtscheidl1*
1Core Facility Cell Imaging and Ultrastructure Research, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria; 2blp GeoServices lim, Vienna, Aus-
tria; 3Universidad Nacional Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo, Huaraz, Perú.
Email: *
Received April 16th, 2013; revised May 17th, 2013; accepted June 15th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Lukas Nebel et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
BioRem is an open access on-line resource, which aims to document the biodiversity of terrestrial heavy metal rich sites
around the globe that are the habitats of specialized metal tolerant organisms (MTOs). A comprehensive inventory of
MTOs together with an analysis of environmental co nditions and research about th e adaptations of MTOs shall support
the development of holistic models about the functioning of heavy metal ecosystems and lead to an improved under-
standing of interactions and adaptation strategies of MTOs. Furthermore, the database enables the identification of
plants and microorganisms suited for remediation actions where protection of the population and the environment is
needed. Information abou t scientific data shall lay the ground for the d efinition of h eav y metal h abitats with un ique bio-
coenoses as reservoirs of biodiversity: accordingly, BioRem shall be a resource for education and for dissemination of
our knowledge about the ecology of heavy metal rich sites and their habitats, and it shall provide tools for the evaluation
of socio-economic strategies for either remediation or preservation of heavy metal habitats. Where needed, alternative
strategies for the survival of MTOs shall be developed, hence contributing to the aim of the Göteborg 2010 target to halt
loss of biodiversity.
Keywords: Ecology; Heavy Metals; Metallophytes; Plant Tolerance; Biodiversity Phytoremediation
1. Introduction: Life in Habitats
Contaminated by Heavy Metals
Toxic concentrations of heavy metals (HMs, here defined
as elements with a specific weight > 5 g·cm-3 in the me-
tallic state) in soil occur either fro m natural ore outcrops,
serpentine rock and other geoanomalies, or from man-
made metal mining, smelting and metal processing. Met-
als can be differentiated into elements essential for orga-
nisms (Fe, Cu, Mn, Zn, Ni Cr, Co, Mo), such without
known effects (V, W, Sn) and those that are always toxic
(Pb, Cd, Hg, Pt). However, at supra-optimal levels all
heavy metals become toxic. This threshold level is spe-
cific for each organism, ecotype and element [1,2].
Only few species (MTOs, metal-tolerant organisms)
have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to control metal
homeostasis at the levels of uptake, distribution, seques-
tration and export, and to survive and propagate in toxic
environments better than others [3-5].
MTOs—including plants, fungi and bacteria—are of
special interest, since some of them, so far mainly plants,
are candidates for the improvement of HM sites. Some
plants are capable of accumulating valuable HMs (“phy-
to-mining”, [6]), of removing HMs from the soil (“phy-
to-extraction”, [7]) and of preventing leaching of HM
into the environment (“phyto-stabilisation”, [8]), thus lead-
ing to phyto-remediation of the soil. Fungi may increase
the metal resistance of plants by forming mycorrhiza, and
bacteria may crucially influence the bioavailability of
toxic elements. On the other hand, little is known on the
role of the soil fauna, on the differing effects of different
metal rich ore minerals, and on the interaction of all these
parameters with each other. In order to gain a compre-
hensive image of the biodiversity and adaptations of
MTOs, we therefore need to overcome fragmentation of
knowledge by accumulating and summarizing existing
information abo ut the ecology of HM sites and their bio-
Remediation of toxic HM soil is of paramount socio-
*Corresponding a uthor.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. AJPS
BioRem—Database for Remediation of Heavy Metal Rich Habitats and Protection of Their Biodiversity 1939
economic importance in order to ensure that humans are
provided with an environment as healthy as possible. On
the other hand, removal of contaminated sites inevitably
causes the loss of habitats for MTOs, hence threatening
them into extinction, maybe even before we have learnt
to know them. It is therefore important to understand the
complex relationships between HM pollution and ecol-
ogy before remediation of HM polluted sites can be ap-
plied correctly. Furthermore, it is crucial to distinguish
between HM polluted habitats which pose a threat for
humans and the environment, and those successfully sta-
bilized by their biocoenoses; the latter can serve as mod-
els for the study of the ecology of HM rich habitats and
of the strategies of their host organisms for tolerating
HM stress.
The aim of this database therefore is to document the
biodiversity of terrestrial heavy metal rich habitats, which
are the homes of specialized metal tolerant organisms. It
shall lead to a holistic model about the functioning of
heavy metal ecosystems, to an improved understanding
of interactions and survival strategies of MTOs, and to
the identification of plants and microorganisms suitable
for remediation actions where protection of the people
and the environment are needed. BioRem shall be a re-
source for education and for dissemination of knowledge
about the functioning of heavy metal sites and their
MTOs, and it shall help in deciding about best practice
for remediation actions and for plant conservation.
The database has been developed in the frame of the
EU project Umbrella (EU 226870), of the Austrian ŒAD/
Appear project BioRem (Appear 43) and of the bilateral
project Promote between Austria and Romania (WTZ-
OEAD RO-08/2012). It is interlinked with the Global
Metallophyte Database [9], a leading database about me-
tal-tolerant plants, and with ISES, the website of the In-
ternational Serpentine Ecology Society. ISES gives infor-
mation about habitats on metal rich serpentine bedrock
and their metal tolerant plants [10]. We also draw atten-
tion to a list of metal hyperaccumulating plants provided
on the internet [11]. In providing Bio Rem, we invite col-
leagues world-wide to contribute their experience of hea-
vy metal rich sites and their biodiversity.
2. Expected Results from the Database
BioRem is created as a platform for the exchange of in-
formation from biodiversity and ecophysiology research
on heavy metal ecosystems. It shall lead to an inventory
of MTOs and promote our understanding of the ecology
of HM polluted habitats as well as of adaptation strate-
gies of MTOs. Accordingly, we want to contribute infor-
mation to funda mental questions conc erning:
Structure and diversity of heavy metal biocoenoses by
assessing genetic diversity and distribution: 1) gain a
comprehensive inventory of MTOs, including not
only vascular plants but also mosses, lichens, terre-
stric algae, animals and microorganisms; 2) identify
specialised phenotypes, genotypes and ecotypes ori-
ginating from different HM rich areas; 3) evaluate their
status of threat.
Environmental conditions and functioning of HM eco-
systems: 1) study the environmental conditions that
typically add to h eavy metal stress includ ing high so-
lar irradiation, extreme temperatures, drought, low nu-
trient supply and radioactivity; 2) correlate these con-
ditions with geology, mineralogy and metal content of
bedrock and soils as well as the occurrence of specific
MTOs; 3) assess the influence of other important fac-
tors like herbivory and human perturbation.
Adaptation strategies of MTOs: 1) identify the struc-
tural base for heavy metal homeostasis, inc luding mor-
phological, anatomical and ultrastructural approaches;
2) analyse physiological reactions to heavy metal stress,
integrating results from research fields as diverse as
genetics, proteomics, cell biology, classical physiolo-
gy and evodevo-research; 3) establish new model sys-
tems of MTO-research in the fields of bryology, my-
cology and microbiology.
Closing the gap between mineralogy and diversity re-
search: 1) identify the major HM minerals present at
HM contaminated habitats, especially mining sites; 2)
correlate the occurrence of specific min erals with other
abiotic conditions like redox potential, pH and water
regime; 3) correlate the occurrence of HM minerals
and specific MTOs.
Survival strategies on the community level: Vascular
metallophytes live in close contact with specialised
fungi and bacteria that may influence the bioav ailabi-
lity of heavy metals and may be stimulated or inhib-
ited by the plants via exudates. We want to accumu-
late information about how these communities are
structured and if key species can be identified. This
may add to th e question if the tr ansfer of whol e com-
munities could provide a superior strategy for phyto-
remediation compared to the convention al planting of
isolated HM toleran t vascula r p lants.
Need for remediation or conservation of heavy metal
ecosystems: 1) identify plants suited for remediation;
2) define specific heavy metal habitats with unique
biocoenoses as reservoirs of biodiversity; 3) hence
contribute to the aim of the Göteborg 2010 target to
halt loss of biodiversity.
In addition, sharing information shall add to develop-
ing a network of scientists and stakeholders with multi-
disciplinary backgro und, and hence create a synoptic en-
vironment for education and research in the field of me-
tal-rich ecosystems.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. AJPS
BioRem—Database for Remediation of Heavy Metal Rich Habitats and Protection of Their Biodiversity
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. AJPS
3. Layout of the Database
We set up a frame system that is based on the Wordpress
content management system ( The
advantages of Wordpress include both easy setup and
easy use. Compared to the construction of a custom plat-
form, the use of Wordpress results in a considerable re-
duction of cost for setup and maintenance, as it is equip-
ped with an own, built in database and user management.
In order to provide easy access for the worldwide scien-
tific community, the database is set up in English.
Currently a development version is available at W e start to integrate data
of various habitats in order to check for the applicability
of the suggested topics, and we invite our colleagues to
contribute their expertise in order to see if the system is
able to mirror the actual situation of the fields.
At the present state, we invite information about HM
habitats by mail to in or-
der to install the website. Information can then be added
about geology and mineralogy, about physical and che-
mical properties of the so il, about flora and fauna as well
as soil microbes, and about the history of the mining site
as well as about its socio-economic conditions. Articles
can be contributed and texts can be commented after re-
gistration. Special emphasize is laid on the provenience
of the data; they are all linked with the name and affilia-
tion of the contributor.
4. Conclusion
BioRem shall document the biodiversity of heavy metal
rich sites around the globe, which are the habitats of spe-
cialized MTOs. Accordingly, it shall provide a compre-
hensive inventory of MTOs together with the analysis of
environmental conditions, and hence lead to a holistic
model of life in heavy metal rich habitats providing ob-
servations and research publications. It shall be a source
for quotable scientific information of research about ad-
aptation mechanisms of MTOs as well as for applied
questions such as gentle remediation by plants and soil
microbes. Information will be useful not only for resear-
chers but also for stakeholders and communities, and it
will support developing guidelines for either remediation
or conservation of habitats.
5. Acknowledgements
The authors acknowledge the funding of the work by the
EU project Umbrella (EU 22687 0), by the Austrian Min-
istery for Science and Research, by the Austrian ŒAD/
Appear funded project BioRem (Appear 43), and by the
OEAD funded project Promote (WTZ-RO 08/2012).
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