Mining activities on metal sulphide ores are considered one of the most environmentally damaging anthropogenic activities worldwide, mainly due to the production of metal(loid)- enriched tailings. The objective of the work was to elucidate which factors, including edaphic, vegetation and microbiological aspects, determine soil functionality in the phytomagement of mine tailings piles in semiarid areas. For this purpose, a field study was conducted using a transect experimental design in a former mining area located in southern Spain. Soil characteristics, including edaphic parameters, bacterial and fungal compositions, were determined. The variation in edaphic parameters (pH, electrical conductivity, organic carbon, particle size distribution, etc) through the deterioration transect caused a decrease in plant and microbial diversities, as well as in microbial productivity measured by enzymatic activities. Variation in bacterial relative abundances through the transect was better explained by soil fertility related factors, such as organic matter, pH, salinity, enzymatic activities or microbial biomass (which in turn were related to the presence of plants), than by metals concentrations. The presence of vegetation at the tailings allowed the transition from lithotrophic bacterial orders which dominated in bare tailings areas (e.g. Acidimicrobiales, Chromatiales) to organotrophic oriented orders (e.g. Cytophagales, Actinomycetales). Vegetated patches at the tailings pile and its borders shared some organotrophic bacteria with control forest samples (e.g. Rhizobiales), indicating that natural plant mediated successional processes might stimulate biogeochemical cycles similar to those occurring at non-polluted systems. This functionality of the impacted sites, which include unfavourable edaphic conditions, should be taken into account in the phytomanagement of mine tailings, since it may support its long-term sustainability. Unlike bacteria, variations in fungal relative abundances through the transect were not clearly explained by soil parameters or the presence of plants. Other factors related to spatial distribution or the type of organic substrates may be more determinant in the case of fungi.
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