Bioindication of atmospheric heavy metal deposition in the Southeastern US using the moss Thuidium delicatulum

Jonathan S. Schilling, Mary E. Lehman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Ectohydric mosses are known accumulators of atmospheric heavy metals. Reliable bioindication of atmospheric heavy metals in the Southern Appalachians using moss has been limited by poor species distribution in moss used in analogous studies. In this study, Pb, Cu, Cr, and Ni concentrations were quantified in the tissue of fern moss Thuidium delicatulum in the central Blue Ridge of Virginia. The objectives of the study were to evaluate the suitability of fern moss for moss-monitoring studies in the Southern Appalachians, to compare local terrestrial metal concentrations, and to test the effects of several geographical and environmental variables on deposition. Fern moss was sampled over four mountains in Virginia following the standard protocol of the German moss-monitoring method. Sampling was standardized for monitoring in deciduous forests, and analysis was performed by graphite furnace-atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Overall concentrations of two metals were significantly different depending on the presence of Pinus spp. in the canopy. Positive and negative correlations of heavy metal concentrations with elevation were also observed, suggesting a need for comprehensive sampling at high and low elevations in mountainous areas. A role for similar moss-monitoring is suggested as a complement to current precipitation analysis techniques and as a compendium for landscape-scale metal monitoring projects. The applications of heavy metal bioindication with this particular species throughout the physiographic province of the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians in future heavy metal deposition studies are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1611-1618
Number of pages8
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support from the Stemmler Fund for Research in the Natural Sciences, The Wintergreen Nature Foundation (TWNF), and the Longwood College Dept. of Nat. Sciences is gratefully acknowledged. Doug Coleman, Joan Stemmler, Chip Morgan, Jim Burgess, Pat Barber, Lance Williams, and Jennifer Meunier are thanked for their gracious field and laboratory assistance. Thanks also to Dana Johnson and Katie Register for helping review the precursors to this manuscript.


  • Appalachian
  • Biomonitoring
  • Bryophyte
  • Mosses
  • Trace metals


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