ISSN 1067-4136, Russian Journal of Ecology, 2009, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 254–260. © Pleiades Publishing, Ltd., 2009.
Original Russian Text © V.E. Zverev, 2009, published in Ekologiya, 2009, No. 4, pp. 271–277.
Atmospheric emissions from the nonferrous metal
industry cause serious alterations in terrestrial ecosys-
tems, including their degradation into industrial barrens
(Kozlov and Zvereva, 2007). In economically devel-
oped countries, general reduction of industrial emis-
sions was achieved 10–20 years ago due to environ-
mental law enforcement and shutdown of some indus-
tries. In Russia, industrial emissions of sulfur dioxide
and heavy metals have also been reduced during the
past 10–15 years (
which gives hope for alleviation of degradation and
subsequent recovery of disturbed ecosystems.
The question arises as to whether rapid ecosystem
recovery can be expected soon after the reduction of
emissions or this process will take decades or even cen-
turies unless appropriate measures are taken. For exam-
ple, some specialists regard forest degradation near
Monchegorsk as irreversible, at least on a decennial
scale (Tsvetkov, 1991).
The concept of slow community recovery has pro-
vided a basis for many rehabilitation projects, including
the well-known project implemented near Sudbury,
Restoration and Recovery…
, 1995). Neverthe-
less, natural recovery of heavily polluted habitats some-
times begins after only 5–15 years. For example, insec-
tivorous birds returned to their former nesting sites near
the copper–nickel smelter in Harjavalta, Finland,
7 years after emissions from this plant were reduced
(Eeva and Lehikoinen, 2000). Obvious signs of forest
ecosystem recovery in the Krusne Hory Mountains,
Czech Republic, were revealed 16 years after consider-
able reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions in the region
(Cerny, 1995), and plant species richness in an indus-
trial barren near Karabash (Chelyabinsk oblast) proved
to increase signiﬁcantly within 5 years after copper
smelter shutdown (Chernen’kova et al., 2001).
Unfortunately, information on natural (without
human interference) recovery of terrestrial ecosystems
disturbed by long-term industrial pollution is scarce: on
the one hand, situations involving a signiﬁcant decrease
in emissions within a relatively short time are rare; on
the other hand, long-term monitoring is necessary for
obtaining such information (Hawkins et al., 2002).
Moreover, such monitoring should be initiated prior to
the onset of emission reduction, which is not always
possible to plan beforehand. The recovery of lands pol-
luted with heavy metals is a very slow process, since the
leaching of pollutants from the soil may take several
decades or even centuries (Tyler, 1978; Barcan, 2002a).
Hence, the concept was formulated that degradation of
Mortality and Recruitment of Mountain Birch
) in the Impact Zone
of a Copper–Nickel Smelter in the Period of Significant
Reduction of Emissions: The Results of 15-Year Monitoring
V. E. Zverev
University of Turku, FI-20014 Turku, Finland
Received May 7, 2008
—Long-term monitoring of mountain birch populations (1992–2006) was performed in 14 test plots
located at distances of 1 to 63 km from the copper–nickel smelter in Monchegorsk (Murmansk oblast) and dif-
fering in the degree of disturbance. In the period from 1999 to 2006, atmospheric emissions of sulfur dioxide
and heavy metals amounted to only one-third of those between 1992 and 1998, but birch mortality in heavily
polluted areas (with nickel concentrations in leaves exceeding 160 mg/kg) remained at the same level, being
absent (as previously) in less polluted areas. Throughout the observation period, birch recruitment was observed
only in areas where nickel concentrations in the leaves were below 160 mg/kg; i.e., this concentration proved
to be the threshold with respect to both mortality and recruitment of mountain birch. The course of demographic
processes in its populations has remained unchanged after the reduction of emissions, conﬁrming the hypothe-
sis of the “inertial” effect of industrial emissions on ecosystems. In some areas of industrial barrens, mountain
birch may perish completely within the next decade.
: heavy metals, mountain birch, mortality, recruitment, industrial pollution, northern taiga.