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Cork (Quercus suber) forests are important ecological hotspots which are home to two of Europe’s most endangered species. They are also economically important as they used not only for cork stopper production but also crop growing, honey production and grazing animals; in Tunisia for example 10% of the population is estimated to rely on cork forests for their livelihood. It is evident though that cork forests cannot survive without human management as other vegetation types will overtake Quercus suber trees as the dominant species if the forests are not maintained.
The wrong type of management however can have a detrimental affect; the use of persistent organic pollutants (e.g. chlorophenols) resulted in an industry wide problem that caused millions of dollars annually. By determining the presence of pentachlorophenol and its metabolites using LC-MS and metal content using ICP-OES, this NATO Science for Peace project has been investigating the extent of human impacts on cork forests.
Other human impacts can be monitored by investigating the levels of metallic elements within the soil. Although some metals will be a result of the local geology, others can be related to human activity e.g. Cu, Pb and Zn1. We report here the results from the evaluation of soil geochemistry in the assessment of human interaction in forest ecosystems. This focuses on a comparison between a control forest in Sardinia and Tunisian forests where industrial cork production has been disrupted due to contamination from pesticide use.