Heavy metals are naturally omnipresent in aquatic systems. Excess amounts of heavy metals can accumulate in organisms of pollution impacted systems and transfer across a food web. Analysing the food web structure and metal contents of the organisms can help unravel the pathways of biomagnification or biodilution and gain insight in trophic linkages. We measured heavy metals and other elements in mussel bank detritus and organisms of the Biesbosch reservoirs (the Netherlands) and linked those to stable isotopic signatures. The heavy metal contents (cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc) were often lowest in benthivorous, omnivorous and piscivorous species (mainly fish); whereas, phosphorus contents were lower in the autotrophs. Mussel bank detritus contained the highest amounts of heavy metals. The heavy metals were negatively correlated with δ15N values. For selenium no clear trend was observed. Furthermore, there was a negative correlation between fish length and some heavy metals. Based on all 20 analysed elemental contents, similarities between species became apparent, related to niche or habitat. This study confirms that elemental contents of species can differ between feeding guilds and/or species, which can be attributed to metabolic and physiological processes. The organisms in higher trophic levels have adaptations preventing metal accumulation, resulting in lower contents. Within the fish species biodilution occurs, as most metal contents were lowest in bigger fish. Overall, the metals did not seem to biomagnify, but biodilute in the food web. Metal analyses combined with isotopic signatures could thus provide insights in metal transfer and possible trophic linkages within a system.

Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

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Staff publications

Verstijnen, Yvon J. M., Lucassen, Esther C. H. E. T., Wagenvoort, Arco J., Ketelaars, Henk A. M., van der Velde, G., & Smolders, Alfons J. P. (2024). Trophic Transfer of Cd, Cu, Pb, Zn, P and Se in Dutch Storage Water Reservoirs. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 2024. doi:10.1007/s00244-023-01041-x