Highway increases concentrations of toxic metals in giant panda habitat

Zheng, Ying-juan; Chen, Yi-ping; Maltby, Lorraine; Jin, Xue-lin
November 2016
Environmental Science & Pollution Research;Nov2016, Vol. 23 Issue 21, p21262
Academic Journal
The Qinling panda subspecies ( Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis) is highly endangered with fewer than 350 individuals inhabiting the Qinling Mountains. Previous studies have indicated that giant pandas are exposed to heavy metals, and a possible source is vehicle emission. The concentrations of Cu, Zn, Mn, Pb, Cr, Ni, Cd, Hg, and As in soil samples collected from sites along a major highway bisecting the panda's habitat were analyzed to investigate whether the highway was an important source of metal contamination. There were 11 sites along a 30-km stretch of the 108th National Highway, and at each site, soil samples were taken at four distances from the highway (0, 50, 100, and 300 m) and at three soil depths (0, 5, 10 cm). Concentrations of all metals except As exceeded background levels, and concentrations of Cu, Zn, Mn, Pb, and Cd decreased significantly with increasing distance from the highway. Geo-accumulation index indicated that topsoil next to the highway was moderately contaminated with Pb and Zn, whereas topsoil up to 300 m away from the highway was extremely contaminated with Cd. The potential ecological risk index demonstrated that this area was in a high degree of ecological hazards, which were also due to serious Cd contamination. And, the hazard quotient indicated that Cd, Pb, and Mn especially Cd could pose the health risk to giant pandas. Multivariate analyses demonstrated that the highway was the main source of Cd, Pb, and Zn and also put some influence on Mn. The study has confirmed that traffic does contaminate roadside soils and poses a potential threat to the health of pandas. This should not be ignored when the conservation and management of pandas is considered.


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