Previous studies have shown that high concentrations of metals in soil are associated with reductions in decomposer populations. We have here determined the relation between the concentrations of lead and zinc added as oxides to soil litter and the survival and reproduction of a decomposer population under controlled conditions. Laboratory populations of woodlice (Porcellio scaber Latr) were fed soil litter treated with lead or zinc at concentrations that ranged from 100 to 12,800 ppm. The survival of the adults, the maximum number of young alive, and the average number of young alive, were recorded over 64 weeks. Lead at 12,800 ppm and zinc at 1,600 ppm or more had statistically significant (p < 0.05) negative effects on the populations. These results agree with field observations suggesting that lead and zinc have reduced populations of decomposers in contaminated forest soil litter, and concentrations are similar to those reported to be associated with reductions in natural populations of decomposers. Poisoning of decomposers may disrupt nutrient cycling, reduce the numbers of invertebrates available to other wildlife for food, and contribute to the contamination of food chains.
Additional publication details
Toxicity to woodlice of zinc and lead oxides added to soil litter