The effects of elevated metal concentrations in forest soils on terrestrial organisms were investigated by determining the toxicity of six site soils from northern Ontario and Quebec, Canada, using a battery of terrestrial toxicity tests. Soils were collected from three sites on each of two transects established downwind of nickel (Sudbury, ON, Canada) and copper (Rouyn-Noranda, PQ, Canada) smelting operations. Site soils were diluted to determine if toxicity estimates for the most-contaminated site soils could be quantified as a percent of site soil. Rouyn-Noranda soils were toxic following acute exposure (14 d) to plants, but not to invertebrates (7 d for collembola and 14 d for earthworms). However, Rouyn-Noranda soils were toxic to all species following chronic exposure (21, 35, and 63 d for plants, collembola, and earthworms, respectively). The toxicity of the Rouyn-Noranda site soils did not correspond to the gradient of metal concentrations in soil. Metal-contaminated Sudbury soils were toxic to plants but not to invertebrates, following acute exposure. Chronic exposure to Sudbury soils caused adverse effects to plant growth and invertebrate survival and reproduction. The toxicity of Sudbury soils corresponded to the metal concentration gradient, with one exception: The reference soil collected in October was toxic to collembola following acute and chronic exposure. This study evaluated the applicability of the new Environment Canada terrestrial toxicity test methods, developed using agricultural soils, to forest soils and also provided useful data to assess the ecological risk associated with mixtures of metals in soil.
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