Plant growth promotion on and phytoremediation of Athabasca oil sands coarse tailings using the endophytic fungus, Trichoderma harzianum TSTh20-1
The environmental impact of bitumen mining in the Athabasca region of Canada is of growing concern. Among these concerns is the need and difficulty to remediate and reclaim affected land, including tailing sands (TS), a byproduct of the hot water extraction used to separate bitumen from solid materials. Current reclamation methods consist of multiple steps and take several decades to be effective. The primary reason for the difficulty in reclaiming disturbed land is the harsh environment found within the TS combined with the scale of the problem. TS are extremely nutrient poor, having below-detectable levels of NPK and extremely low C and S. In addition to this TS have pHs outside of environmental normals, and are hydrophobic due to residual hydrocarbons. Previously, an endophytic fungus, Trichoderma harzianum strain TSTh20-1, was isolated from pioneer plants growing naturally on TS sites, and was found to promote plant growth on TS. In my study TSTh20-1 was also found to increase the rate of drought recovery, and to enhance seed germination rates on a variety of soils. Suitable application methods were explored for this endophyte, including seed coatings, granules, as well as direct application to plant/soil. Regardless of method, TSTh20-1 was found to successfully colonize the plants. Twenty-four species of grasses, forbs, and legumes were tested for their ability to grow on TS. The four most successful species (Trifolium repens, Bouteloua gracilis, Medicago sativa, and Elymus trachycaulus) were put into a seed mixture for use in experiments. In mesocosm-scale experiments, plant health and soil parameters were measured after 2 months of growth. Hydrocarbon analysis of the first mesocosm showed a 2.7-fold increase in total hydrocarbons when TSTh20-1 and plants were present, suggesting degradation of large hydrocarbons beyond the scope of the analysis. A repeat experiment using a different source of tailings did not yield this same result. This is most likely due using a source of tailings that had substantially different chemical characteristics. TSTh20-1 was also analyzed for its ability to produce plant hormones or siderophores, to increase peroxidase enzyme activity, to protect plants from reactive oxygen species, and to solubilize phosphate precipitates from soil. All of these are known mechanisms microbes use to promote plant growth.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
SupervisorKaminskyj, Susan; Germida, James
CommitteeBasinger, James; Wei, Yangdou
Copyright DateFebruary 2014
Athabasca Oil Sands, phytoremediation, endophyte, coarse tailings, revegetation, hydrocarbon degradation