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Bacterial extracellular substances (also known as exopolysaccharides, or EPS) may serve as vectors for trophic transfer of metals in benthic systems because these ubiquitous sediment coatings can sorb high concentrations of toxic metals, and because many benthic invertebrates assimilate EPS sediment coatings upon ingestion. We conducted 3 sets of experiments to determine the assimilative bioavailability of EPS-associated Cd to the benthic amphipod Leptocheirus plumulosus as a function of Cd concentration and salinity. Bioavailability was measured as L. plumulosus Cd assimilation efficiency (AE) from EPS-coated silica (EPS●Si) and from uncoated silica (NC●Si) using modified pulse-chase methods with the gamma-emitting radioisotope 109Cd. Cd AE was significantly greater from NC●Si than from EPS●Si at 7.5%, but not at 2.5 or 25%. Overall, Cd AE from EPS●Si was between 15.1 and 21.5%. Because EPS●Si sorbed more Cd than NC●Si, EPS coatings magnified the amount of Cd amphipods accumulated at each salinity by up to a factor of 10. Salinity did not directly affect Cd AE from EPS●Si, but because Cd●EPS partitioning increased with decreasing salinity, amphipods accumulated more Cd from EPS at the lowest Cd●EPS incubation salinity (2.5%) than at higher salinities (7.5 and 25%). Finally, Cd concentration in EPS exhibited an inverse relationship with Cd AE at 2.5%, but not at 25%. Specifically, Cd AE was 12 times greater at 1 compared with 10µg Cd µg-1 EPS. Together, these results show that estuarine benthos can accumulate Cd from EPS sediment coatings, but that the degree to which this phenomenon occurs is dependent upon seawater salinity and Cd concentration in EPS.

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