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Rhizoremediation of hydrocarbon contaminated soil using Australian native grasses.


Rhizoremediation involves the breakdown of contaminants in soil resulting from microbial activity that is enhanced in the plant root zone. The objective of this study was to assess Australian native grasses for their ability to stimulate removal of aliphatic hydrocarbons from a mine site soil. Time-course pot experiments were conducted in a greenhouse with three grass species (Cymbopogon ambiguus, Brachiaria decumbens, and Microlaena stipoides) in a mine site soil experimentally contaminated with a 60:40 diesel:oil mixture at 1% (w/w) concentration. Plants were cultivated for 100days with periodic evaluation of changes in soil total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) concentration, soil lipase activity, and abundance of hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms. Results were compared to unplanted control treatments. Significantly lower endpoint TPH concentrations were recorded in planted soil compared to unplanted soil (p=0.01). Final TPH concentrations and rates of TPH removal varied between grass species, with total TPH removal of between 50% and 88% achieved in planted treatments. The presence of grasses significantly increased the abundance of hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms and soil lipase activity relative to unplanted soil (p<0.05). Residual TPH concentration was found to be closely (negatively) correlated with abundance of hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms and to a lesser extent with soil lipase activity. Australian native grass species were identified that effectively enhance the remediation of diesel/oil contaminated soil, without any requirement for nutrient supplementation. Results may have extensive application to the nationwide problems associated with hydrocarbon contaminated sites.