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Humic acids (HA) and fulvic acids (FA) are common forms of organic matter in marine sediments, and are routinely ingested by deposit- and suspension-feeding animals. These compounds may be a sink for metals, implying that once metals are bound to humic substances they are no longer available to food webs. A series of experiments was conducted to quantitatively examine this premise using 2 estuarine bivalves from San Francisco Bay, USA: the suspension feeder Potarnocorbula arnurensis and the facultative deposit feeder Macoma balthica. HA and FA, isolated from marine sediments, were bound as organic coatings to either hydrous ferric oxides (HFO) or silica particles. Cd and Cr(III) were adsorbed to the organic coatings or directly to uncoated HFO and silica particles. Pulse-chase laboratory feeding experiments using 109Cd and 51Cr(III) were then conducted to determine absorption efficiencies of Cd and Cr for individual specimens using each of the particle types. The results demonstrated that: (1) absorption of Cr(III) from all types of non-living particles was consistently low (< 11%). Ingested Cd showed greater bioavailability than Cr(III), perhaps due to differences in metal chemistry. (2) Bivalves absorbed Cd bound to uncoated HFO or silica particles (i.e. with no HA or FA present). (3) The presence of organic coatings on particles reduced Cd bioavailability compared with uncoated particles. (4) Both geochemical and biological conditions affected the food chain transfer of Cd. The data suggest that in marine systems inorganic and organic-coated particles are predominantly a sink for Cr in sediments. In the transfer of Cd to consumer animals, inorganic particles and humic substances can act as a link (although not a highly efficient one) under oxidized conditions.


Decho, A. W., & Luoma, S. N. (1994). Humic and fulvic acids: Sink or source in the availability of metals to the marine bivalves Macoma balthica and Potamocorbula amurensis? Marine Ecology Progress Series, 108, 133-145.

© Marine Ecology Progress Series, 1994, Inter Research

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