Toxicity of dissolved Cu, Zn, Ni and Cd to developing embryos of the blue mussel (Mytilus trossolus) and the protective effect of dissolved organic carbon Academic Article uri icon

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  • Marine water quality criteria for metals are largely driven by the extremely sensitive embryo-larval toxicity of Mytilus sp. Here we assess the toxicity of four dissolved metals (Cu, Zn, Ni, Cd) in the mussel Mytilus trossolus, at various salinity levels while also examining the modifying effects of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) on metal toxicity. In 48 h embryo development tests in natural seawater, measured EC50 values were 6.9-9.6 microg L(-1) (95% C.I.=5.5-10.8 microg L(-1)) for Cu, 99 microg L(-1) (86-101) for Zn, 150 microg L(-1) (73-156) for Ni, and 502 microg L(-1) (364-847) for Cd. A salinity threshold of >20 ppt (approximately 60% full strength seawater) was required for normal control development. Salinity in the 60-100% range did not alter Cu toxicity. Experimental addition of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from three sources reduced Cu toxicity; for example the EC50 of embryos developing in seawater with 20 mg C L(-1) was 39 microg Cu L(-1) (35.2-47.2) a 4-fold increase in Cu EC50. The protective effects of DOC were influenced by their distinct physicochemical properties. Protection appears to be related to higher fulvic acid and lower humic acid content as operationally defined by fluorescence spectroscopy. The fact that DOC from freshwater sources provides protection against Cu toxicity in seawater suggests that extrapolation from freshwater toxicity testing may be possible for saltwater criteria development, including development of a saltwater Biotic Ligand Model for prediction of Cu toxicity.


  • Nadella, Sunita R
  • Fitzpatrick, John L
  • Franklin, Natasha
  • Bucking, Carol
  • Smith, Scott
  • Wood, Chris M

publication date

  • April 2009