Research Priorities for Conservation of Metallophyte Biodiversity and their Potential for Restoration and Site Remediation



Plants that have evolved to survive on metal-rich soils—metallophytes—have key values that must drive research of their unique properties and ultimately their conservation. The ability of metallophytes to tolerate extreme metal concentrations commends them for revegetation of mines and metal-contaminated sites. Metallophytes can also be exploited in environmental technologies, for example, phytostabilization, phytoremediation, and phytomining. Actions towards conserving metallophyte species are imperative, as metallophytes are increasingly under threat of extinction from mining activity. Although many hundreds of papers describe both the biology and applications of metallophytes, few have investigated the urgent need to conserve these unique species. This paper identifies the current state of metallophyte research, and advocates future research needs for the conservation of metallophyte biodiversity and the sustainable uses of metallophyte species in restoration, rehabilitation, contaminated site remediation, and other nascent phytotechnologies. Six fundamental questions are addressed: (1) Is enough known about the global status of metallophytes to ensure their conservation? (2) Are metallophytes threatened by the activities of the minerals industry, and can their potential for the restoration or rehabilitation of mined and disturbed land be realized? (3) What problems exist in gaining prior informed consent to access metallophyte genetic resources and how can the benefits arising from their uses be equitably shared? (4) What potential do metallophytes offer as a resource base for phytotechnologies? (5) Can genetic modification be used to “design” metallophytes to use in the remediation of contaminated land? (6) Does the prospect of using metallophytes in site remediation and restoration raise ethical issues?