Towards an integrative soil health assessment strategy: a three tier (integrative biomarker response) approach with Eisenia fetida applied to soils subjected to chronic metal pollution

Vega Asensio, Amaia Rodríguez-Ruiz, Larraitz Garmendia, Jane Andre, Peter Kille, Andrew John Morgan, Manu Soto, Ionan Marigómez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

32 Citations (Scopus)


This is a pilot study for assessing soil ecosystem health in chronically polluted sites on the basis of a 3-tier approach (screening+scoring+understanding) designed to be cost-effective and scientifically based, and to provide straightforward advice and support to managers and stakeholders involved in environmental protection. For the initial screening (Tier 1), the use of a highly sensitive, low-cost biomarker such as neutral red uptake (NRU) in earthworm coelomocytes is proposed. In sites where an alteration in NRU has been established, the stress level may be further assessed by utilising a suite of low-cost and rapid biomarkers of effect integrated in an integrative biological response (IBR) index to obtain an objective (scored) assessment of the induced stress syndrome (Tier 2). The IBR/n index is based on the integration of biomarkers at different levels of biological organisation. Acyl-CoA oxidase activity (AOX), catalase activity (CAT), lipofuscin optical density (LOD%), NRU and the mean epithelial thickness (MET) have been used to calculate the IBR/n index. Biomarkers are determined in earthworms, Eisenia fetida, exposed ex situ to real soils (three mining sites and a reference) for 3, 10 and 17d. The 3d NRU (Tier 1) provided signal of stress. After 3d, PCA, based on the suite of biomarkers (Tier 2), discriminated reference and polluted sites according to toxicity profiles and at 17d, the most polluted site is segregated from less polluted and reference sites. Soils were classified as harmful, unhealthy (not apparently toxic) or healthy. Soils were investigated by microarray transcriptomics (Tier 3), to understand the causes (aetiology) and consequences (prognosis) of health impairment. Tier 3 discriminates, according to stress syndrome traits, soils that did not fall into the category of highly stressed and revealed the main agent causing toxicity at each site by identifying the toxicity mechanisms and biological responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-365
Number of pages22
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date22 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


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