Modelling and mapping heavy metal and nitrogen concentrations in moss in 2010 throughout Europe by applying Random Forests models

This study explores the statistical relations between the concentration of nine heavy metals (HM) (arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), vanadium (V), zinc (Zn)), and nitrogen (N) in moss and potential explanatory variables (predictors) which were then used for mapping spatial patterns across Europe.

Based on moss specimens collected in 2010 throughout Europe, the statistical relation between a set of potential predictors (such as the atmospheric deposition calculated by use of two chemical transport models (CTM), distance from emission sources, density of different land uses, population density, elevation, precipitation, clay content of soils) and concentrations of HMs and nitrogen (N) in moss (response variables) were evaluated by the use of Random Forests (RF) and Classification and Regression Trees (CART). Four spatial scales were regarded: Europe as a whole, ecological land classes covering Europe, single countries participating in the European Moss Survey (EMS), and moss species at sampling sites.

Spatial patterns were estimated by applying a series of RF models on data on potential predictors covering Europe. Statistical values and resulting maps were used to investigate to what extent the models are specific for countries, units of the Ecological Land Classification of Europe (ELCE), and moss species. Conclusions: RF is an eligible method identifying and ranking boundary conditions of element concentrations in moss and related mapping including the influence of the environmental factors.

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