Development of multispecies algal bioassays using flow cytometry

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Journal Article
Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 2004, 23 (6), pp. 1452 - 1462
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Multispecies algal bioassays, suitable for assessing copper toxicity, were developed with three marine (Micromonas pusilla, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, and Heterocapsa niei) and three freshwater (Microcystis aeruginosa, Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata, and Trachelomonas sp.) microalgae. Flow cytometry was used to separate and count algal signals based on pigment fluorescence and cell size. Species were mixed together on the basis of equivalent surface areas to avoid the confounding effect on toxicity of increased biomass for metal binding. Under control conditions (no added copper), M. pusilla growth was inhibited in the presence of the other marine microalgae compared to single-species tests, while the opposite was true (i.e., growth stimulation) for M. aeruginosa and P. subcapitata in freshwater mixtures. Competition for nutrients, including CO2, and algal exudate production may account for these effects. Interactions between microalgal species also had a significant effect on copper toxicity to some species. In freshwater multispecies bioassays, the toxicity of copper to Trachelomonas sp. was greater in the presence of other species, with copper concentrations required to inhibit growth (cell division) rate by 50% (72-h [IC50]) decreasing from 9.8 to 2.8 μg Cu/L in single- and multispecies bioassays, respectively. In contrast, in marine multispecies bioassays, copper toxicity to the marine diatom P. tricornutum was reduced compared to single-species bioassays, with an increase in the 72-h IC50 value from 13 to 24 μg Cu/L. This reduction in copper toxicity was not explained by differences in the copper complexing capacity in solution (as a result of exudate production) because labile copper, measured by anodic stripping voltammetry, was similar for P. tricornutum alone and in the mixture. These results demonstrate that single-species bioassays may over- or underestimate metal toxicity in natural waters.
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