Impacts of industrial pollution on terrestrial ecosystems

Past research

I started to study the impact of industrial pollution on terrestrial biota in 1981, and these studies remained the main research direction of my team until the late 2000s. We considered impact zones of point polluters as ‘unintentional experiments’ and used these to explore the biotic consequences of environmental contamination. By combining different research methods, including field observations, experiments and meta-analysis, we demonstrated that the responses of living beings to pollution are hrerse and not always negative. Our results suggest that the development of evolutionary adaptations to pollution is a common phenomenon and that the harmful effects of pollution on terrestrial ecosystems are likely to increase as the climate warms.

Ongoing research

We continue to monitor population densities of birch-feeding insects (ongoing since 1981), birch growth and fluctuating asymmetry of birch leaves (since 1993) around the nickel-copper smelter al Monchegorsk and the abundance of the leafmining moth, Phyllonorycter strigulatella (since 1991) on alder around the power plant in Apatity. We are also charting the recovery of plant communities following the decline in emissions from the Monchegorsk smelter, and we are conducting small-scale field experiments that address the mechanisms of pollution impacts on ecosystems.

Featured publications

Kozlov, M. V., Zvereva, E. L. & Zverev, V. E. (2009) Impacts of point polluters on terrestrial biota: Comparative analysis of 18 contaminated areas. Springer, Dordrecht, XVII + 466 p. (ISBN: 978-90-481-2466-4).

This book is unique in identifying general patterns in responses of terrestrial biota to industrial pollution and the sources of variation in these responses. The meta-analysis is based on extensive original data on soils, plants and animals collected around 18 large industrial polluters in six countries. The variation in the direction and magnitude of changes in ecosystem parameters observed near these polluters relative to unpolluted sites was primarily explained by composition and amount of aerial emissions. Comparison of outcomes of meta-analyses of our data and of published data suggests that published results generally overestimated (by an average factor of 3.5) the magnitude of the effects of industrial pollution on terrestrial biota. This overestimation is likely to result from both research and publication biases frequently observed in pollution studies.

Kozlov, M. V. & Zvereva, E. L. (2011) A second life for old data: global patterns in pollution ecology revealed from published observational studies. Environmental Pollution, 159, 1067-1075 (doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2010.10.028). (Review)

A synthesis of research on the responses of terrestrial biota (1095 effect sizes) to industrial pollution (206 point emission sources) was conducted to reveal regional and global patterns from small-scale observational studies. A meta-analysis showed that the effects of pollution depend on characteristics of the specific polluter (type, amount of emission, duration of impact on biota), the affected organism (trophic group, life history), the level at which the response was measured (organism, population, community), and the environment (biome, climate).

Zvereva, E. L. & Kozlov, M. V. (2010) Responses of terrestrial arthropods to air pollution: a meta-analysis. Environmental Science and Pollution Research17, 297-311 (doi: 10.1007/s11356-009-0138-0).

Meta-analysis of 448 effect sizes extracted from 134 studies demonstrated that the overall effect of pollution on arthropod hrersity did not differ from zero. Abundance of soil arthropods decreased near point polluters, whereas densities of herbivores increased; but the latter effect is evidently overestimated due to research biases. Overall effect of pollution on arthropod performance was negative; but this negative effect weakened with increase in duration of the pollution impact, hinting evolution of pollution resistance. Ecosystem-wide adverse effects of pollution are likely to increase under predicted climate change.

Kozlov, M. V. & Zvereva, E. L. (2007) Industrial barrens: extreme habitats created by non-ferrous metallurgy. Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology6, 231-259 (doi: 10.1007/s11157-006-9117-9).

Industrial barrens are bleak open landscapes evolved due to deposition of airborne pollutants; they appeared as a by-product of human activities about a century ago. The comparative analysis of information available from 36 industrial barrens worldwide demonstrated that, in spite of general reduction in biohrersity, industrial barrens still support a variety of life, including regionally rare and endangered species, as well as populations that evolved specific adaptations to the harsh and toxic environment. These habitats offer unique opportunities for testing some general theories in an evolutionary novel stressful environment.


A. Bakhtiarov
V. Barcan
E. Belsky
I. Bergman
N. K. Brodskaya
T. Eeva
J. Eränen
A. Gilyazov
A. Girs
A. Haarto
K. Hangasmaa
E. Haukioja
J. Jalava
P. Kaitaniemi
G. Kataev
E. Kovnatsky
K. Kuusela
M. Kytö
J. Loponen
K. Lempa
A. Lvovsky
S. Manninen
A. Markkola
†K. Mikkola
†E. Mälkönen
S. Neuvonen
J. Nielsen
V. Ossipov
O. Rigina
M. Roitto
K. Ruohomäki
A. Ruotsalainen
M. Schäfer
A. Selikhovkin
D. Stroganov
T. Tammaru
E. Toivonen
E. Vorobeichik
T. Whitworth
V. Zhirov
S. Zimina
E. Zvereva
V. Zverev

Co-operating scientists

P. Beckett
S. Bogart
V. Chepinoga
T. Chernenkova
†J. Derome
A. Doronina
A. Egorov
T. Gorbacheva
J. Gunn
E. Khantemirova
G. Konechnaya
J. Kulfan
L. Kuusisto
K. Kvapilova
N. Lukina
I. Mikhailova
H. Raitio
E. Runova
V. Savchenko
I. Sokolova
E. Szkokan
M. Trubina
†N. Tzvelev
H. Tømmervik
T. Vlasova
P. Zach


Academy of Finland
Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation