Soil is terrestrial life support system. Its genesis involves tight interactions between biota and mineral surfaces that mobilize structural elements into biogeochemical cycles. Of all chemical elements rare earth elements (REE) are a group of 16 non-nutrient elements of unusual geochemical similarity and present in all components of the surface environment. While much is known about the role of major nutrients in soil development we lack vital understanding of how early biotic colonization affects more conservative elements such as REE.
A highly controlled experiment was set up at University of Arizona’s Biosphere-2 that tested the effect of 4 biological treatments, incorporating a combination of microbe, grass, mycorrhiza and uninoculated control on REE leaching and uptake in 4 bedrock substrates: basalt, rhyolite, granite and schist. Generally the response of REE to biota presence was synergistic. Variation in total bedrock chemistry could explain major trends in pore water REE. There was a fast transition from chemistry-dominated to a biota dominated environment in the first 3-4 months of inoculation/seeding which translated into increase in REE signal over time. Relative REE abundances in water were generally reflected in plant concentrations, particularly in root, implying that below ground biomass is the main sync of REE in the ecosystem. Mycorrhiza effect on REE uptake in plant organs was significant and increased with infection rates. Presence of different biota translated into subtle differences in REE release, reveling potential biosignatures of biolota-rock colonization. The results thus bring fundamental insight into early stages non-nutrient cycle and soil genesis.