In a forthcoming special issue of the Inderscience publication, the International Journal of Environment and Pollution (2008, Volume 32, Issue 4), researchers from various fields explain how living organisms can be used to track the dispersal of atmospheric pollutants, particulates, and trace elements.
Borut Smodi, of the Joef Stefan Institute, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, provides an editorial explaining how biomonitoring can be used in environments where a technological approach to monitoring is not only difficult and costly but may be impossible.
"Biomonitoring allows continuous observation of an area with the help of bioindicators, an organism that reveals the presence of a substance in its surroundings with observable and measurable changes, such as accumulation of pollutants, which can be distinguished from the effects of natural stress."
Smodi points to numerous other advantages of biomonitoring: "Simple and inexpensive sampling procedures allow a very large number of sites to be included in the same survey, permitting detailed geographical patterns to be drawn. Biomonitoring can be an effective tool for pollutant mapping and trend monitoring in real time and retrospective analysis," he says.
While any organism might be used as a biomonitoring agent, Smodi points out that mosses and lichens, which lack root systems, are dependent on surface absorption of nutrients, so reflect materials absorbed from the atmosphere rather than the soil.
In 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency part of the United Nations, started a Coordinated Research Project on biomonitoring. Several papers in the special issue of IJEP detail methodologies, case studies and other aspects of various projects within this initiative and point to future avenues that might be explored.
While biomonitoring techniques are improving rapidly and researchers are quickly validating results at the local level, Smodi points out that there is no
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