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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Valve teratologies and Chl c in the freshwater diatom Tabellaria flocculosa as biomarkers for metal contamination

Goncalves, Sara; Almeida, Salome F. P.; Figueira, Etelvina; Kahlert, Maria


Freshwater benthic diatoms, routinely used for bioassessment, are potential metal indicators because of their known capacity to reflect changes in water chemistry. Nevertheless, the effect of metals on benthic freshwater diatoms is still poorly understood. Metals, such as Zn and Cu, are not only essential as micronutrients, but also one of the main anthropogenic pressures in aquatic ecosystems. However, metal stress cannot be detected with the current European standard methods using bioindicators for environmental assessment, so new tools need to be developed. We studied the effects of Zn and Cu on the freshwater diatom Tabellaria flocculosa. This diatom isolated from a Zn and Cu contaminated stream, was exposed to different concentrations of Zn and Cu, and the metal effects were assessed by measuring physiological ((growth, fluorescence, pigments' content (Chl a, c, carotenoids)) and morphological parameters (teratological forms). We found that at environmental concentrations occurring in European streams, Zn and Cu showed toxic effects on T. flocculosa. Toxic effects induced by Zn were only observed at high concentrations (500 and 1000 mu g/L), resulting in fluorescence changes, an increase of Chl c cellular content and an increase of teratological forms (with an increase of more heavily deformed valves with increasing metal concentrations). Increasing Cu exposure induced several changes, such as increasing the cellular content of Chl a and c, while carotenoids' cellular content decreased. Cu also increased the number of T. flocculosa frustule deformations. Cu did not affect the cellular fluorescence. Our results thus show that the frequency of diatom teratologies could potentially be used to assess metal stress for the studied metals Zn and Cu. Additionally, the analysis of algal pigments could potentially separate the effects of different metals.


Zinc; Copper; Physiological indicators; Pigments; Valve teratologies

Published in

Ecological Indicators
2019, volume: 101, pages: 476-485

Authors' information

Goncalves, Sara
University of Aveiro
Goncalves, Sara
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Almeida, Salomé F.P.
University of Aveiro
Figueira, Etelvina
University of Aveiro
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences

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