Isotopic signatures reveal zinc cycling in the natural habitat of hyperaccumulator Dichapetalum gelonioides subspecies from Malaysian Borneo

Ent, Antony van der; Nkrumah, Philip Nti; Aarts, Mark G.M.; Baker, Alan J.M.; Degryse, Fien; Wawryk, Chris; Kirby, Jason K.


Background: Some subspecies of Dichapetalum gelonioides are the only tropical woody zinc (Zn)-hyperaccumulator plants described so far and the first Zn hyperaccumulators identified to occur exclusively on non-Zn enriched 'normal' soils. The aim of this study was to investigate Zn cycling in the parent rock-soil-plant interface in the native habitats of hyperaccumulating Dichapetalum gelonioides subspecies (subsp. pilosum and subsp. sumatranum). We measured the Zn isotope ratios (δ66Zn) of Dichapetalum plant material, and associated soil and parent rock materials collected from Sabah (Malaysian Borneo). Results: We found enrichment in heavy Zn isotopes in the topsoil (δ66Zn 0.13 ‰) relative to deep soil (δ66Zn -0.15 ‰) and bedrock (δ66Zn -0.90 ‰). This finding suggests that both weathering and organic matter influenced the Zn isotope pattern in the soil-plant system, with leaf litter cycling contributing significantly to enriched heavier Zn in topsoil. Within the plant, the roots were enriched in heavy Zn isotopes (δ66Zn ~ 0.60 ‰) compared to mature leaves (δ66Zn ~ 0.30 ‰), which suggests highly expressed membrane transporters in these Dichapetalum subspecies preferentially transporting lighter Zn isotopes during root-to-shoot translocation. The shoots, mature leaves and phloem tissues were enriched in heavy Zn isotopes (δ66Zn 0.34–0.70 ‰) relative to young leaves (δ66Zn 0.25 ‰). Thisindicates that phloem sources are enriched in heavy Zn isotopes relative to phloem sinks, likely because of apoplastic retention and compartmentalization in the Dichapetalum subspecies. Conclusions: The findings of this study reveal Zn cycling in the rock-soil-plant continuum within the natural habitat of Zn hyperaccumulating subspecies of Dichapetalum gelonioides from Malaysian Borneo. This study broadens our understanding of the role of a tropical woody Zn hyperaccumulator plant in local Zn cycling, and highlights the important role of leaf litter recycling in the topsoil Zn budget. Within the plant, phloem plays key role in Zn accumulation and redistribution during growth and development. This study provides an improved understanding of the fate and behaviour of Zn in hyperaccumulator soil-plant systems, and these insights may be applied in the biofortification of crops with Zn.