Diminished metal accumulation in riverine fishes exposed to acid mine drainage over five decades
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Bony bream (Nematalosa erebi) and black catfish (Neosilurus ater) were sampled from the fresh surface waters of the Finniss River in tropical northern Australia, along a metal pollution gradient draining the Rum Jungle copper/uranium mine, a contaminant source for over five decades. Paradoxically, populations of both fish species exposed to the highest concentrations of mine-related metals (cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, nickel, uranium and zinc) in surface water and sediment had the lowest tissue (bone, liver and muscle) concentrations of these metals. The degree of reduction in tissue concentrations of exposed populations was also specific to each metal and inversely related to its degree of environmental increase above background. Several explanations for diminished metal bioaccumulation in fishes from the contaminated region were evaluated. Geochemical speciation modeling of metal bioavailability in surface water showed no differences between the contaminated region and the control sites. Also, the macro-nutrient (calcium, magnesium and sodium) water concentrations, that may competitively inhibit metal uptake, were not elevated with trace metal contamination. Reduced exposure to contaminants due to avoidance behavior was unlikely due to the absence of refugial water bodies with the requisite metal concentrations lower than the control sites and very reduced connectivity at time of sampling. The most plausible interpretation of these results is that populations of both fish species have modified kinetics within their metal bioaccumulation physiology, via adaptation or tolerance responses, to reduce their body burdens of metals. This hypothesis is consistent with (i) reduced tissue concentrations of calcium, magnesium and sodium (macro-nutrients), in exposed populations of both species, (ii) experimental findings for other fish species from the Finniss River and other contaminated regions, and (iii) the number of generations exposed to likely selection pressure over 50 years. © 2014 Jeffree et al.
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