We report on the geochemistry of soil and bryophyte-laden sediment and on the biogeochemistry of willows growing in an undisturbed volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit in the Alaska Range ecoregion of east-central Alaska. We also describe an unusual bryophyte assemblage found growing in the acidic metal-rich waters that drain the area. Ferricrete-cemented silty alluvial sediments within seeps and streams are covered with the liverwort Gymnocolea inflata whereas the mosses Polytrichum commune and P. juniperinum inhabit the area adjacent to the water and within the splash zone. Both the liverwort-encrusted sediment and Polytrichum thalli have high concentrations of major and trace metal cations (e.g., Al, As, Cu, Fe, Hg, La, Mn, Pb, and Zn). Soils in the area do not reflect the geochemical signature of the mineral deposit and we postulate they are influenced by the chemistry of eolian sediments derived from outside the deposit area. The willow, Salix pulchra, growing mostly within and adjacent to the larger streams, has much higher concentrations of Al, As, Cd, Cr, Fe, La, Pb, and Zn when compared to the same species collected in non-mineralized areas of Alaska. The Cd levels are especially high and are shown to exceed, by an order of magnitude, levels demonstrated to be toxic to ptarmigan in Colorado. Willow, growing in this naturally occurring metal-rich Red Mountain alteration zone, may adversely affect the health of browsing animals. ?? 2006 Regents of the University of Colorado.
Additional publication details
Biogeochemical characterization of an undisturbed highly acidic, metal-rich bryophyte habitat, east-central Alaska, U.S.A.