Aquatic toxicology (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Impact of an urban multi-metal contamination gradient: metal bioaccumulation and tolerance of river biofilms collected in different seasons.

PMID 25576823


The aim of this study was to investigate the repeatability and seasonal variability of the biological response of river biofilms chronically exposed to a multi-metal pressure in an urban contamination gradient. Biofilms were grown on immersed plastic membranes at three sites on the Seine river upstream (site 1) and downstream (sites 2 and 3) from Paris (France). They were collected in four different seasons (autumn, spring, summer and winter). Biofilm tolerance to Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn was measured using a PICT (Pollution-Induced Community Tolerance) approach with a previously developed short-term toxicity test based on β-glucosidase (heterotrophic) activity. Metal concentrations in the river and also in the biofilm samples (total and non-exchangeable bioaccumulated metals) were also monitored. Biofilm-accumulated metal concentrations reflected the increase of the multi-metal exposure along the urban gradient. These concentrations were strongly correlated with dissolved and particulate organic carbon and with the total metal fraction in the river water, which recalls the significant influence of the environmental parameters on metal uptake processes in river biofilms. Overall, natural biofilms allow monitoring water quality by integrating the variations of a diffuse metal contamination overtime. Tolerance levels globally increased from site 1 to site 3 reflecting the metal pollution gradient measured in the river water collected at the three sites. Cu tolerance tended to increase during warm seasons but no clear seasonal tendency could be found for Ni, Pb and Zn. Furthermore, principal component analysis clearly discriminated samples collected upstream (site 1) from samples collected downstream (sites 2 and 3) along the first principal component which was correlated to the metal gradient. Samples collected in winter were also separated from the others along the second principal component correlated to parameters like water temperature and Total Suspended Solids concentration. This study shows that chronic in situ exposure to environmental metal concentrations has a significant impact on natural biofilms. Biofilm tolerance to metals and biofilm metal bioaccumulation both reflect metal exposure levels although they remain low when compared to Environmental Quality Standards from the European Water Framework Directive. Yet temperature appears as an important environmental variable shaping community structure and response to toxic exposure which shows that the sampling date is an important parameter to consider when using natural river biofilms to assess the impacts of urban pressure.