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Mercury accumulation in leaves of different plant types – the significance of tissue age and specific leaf area


Pleijel, Håkan et al. (2021), Mercury accumulation in leaves of different plant types – the significance of tissue age and specific leaf area, Dryad, Dataset,


Mercury, Hg, is one of the most problematic metals from an environmental perspective. To assess the problems caused by Hg in the environment it is crucial to understand the processes of Hg biogeochemistry, but the exchange of Hg between the atmosphere and vegetation is not sufficiently well characterised. We explored the mercury concentration, [Hg], in foliage from a diverse set of plant types, locations and sampling periods to study whether there is a continuous accumulation of Hg in leaves/needles over time. Measurements of [Hg] were made in deciduous and conifer trees in Gothenburg, Sweden (Botanical Garden and city area) as well as of evergreen trees in Rwanda. In addition, data for wheat from an ozone experiment conducted at Östad, Sweden, were included. Conifer data were quantitatively compared with literature data. In every case where older foliage was directly compared with younger, [Hg] was higher in older tissue. Covering the range of current year up to four-year old needles, there was no sign of Hg saturation in conifer needles with age. Thus, over time scales of approximately one month to several years, the Hg uptake in foliage from the atmosphere always dominated over Hg evasion. Rwandan broadleaved trees had generally older leaves due to lack of seasonal abscission and higher [Hg] than Swedish broadleaved trees. The significance of atmospheric Hg uptake in plants was shown in a wheat experiment where charcoal filtrated air lead to significantly lower leaf [Hg]. To search for general patterns, the accumulation rates of Hg in the diverse set of tree species in the Gothenburg area were related to the specific leaf area (SLA). Leaf area based [Hg] was strongly negatively and non-linearly correlated with SLA, while mass-based [Hg] had a somewhat weaker positive relationship with SLA (both relationships with p < 0.001). An elaborated understanding of the relationship behind [Hg] and SLA would support large-scale modelling of Hg uptake by vegetation and Hg circulation in general.


Analyses of mercury in leaves and needles of trees as well as wheat collected in the field in Sweden and Rwanda. Chemical analysis was made by ICP-MS. Specific leaf area was estimated and used to calculate unit leaf area mercury concentration.

Usage Notes

No missing values but some samples for wheat were below detection limit (clearly indicated in the data file).

Detailed descriptions of sites and sampling methods will be described in a manuscript to be submitted to Biogeosciences.


Svenska Forskningsrådet Formas, Award: 2017-00696

Strategic Research Area BECC - Biodiveristy and Ecosystem Services in a Changing Climate

Helge Ax:son Johnsons Stiftelse