Accumulation of heavy metals by intestinal helminths in fish: an overview and perspective.
Intestinal helminths of fish are of increasing interest as potential bioindicators for heavy metal contamination in aquatic habitats. Among these parasites cestodes and acanthocephalans in particular have an enormous heavy metal accumulation capacity exceeding that of established free living sentinels. Metal concentrations several thousand times higher in acanthocephalans than in host tissues were described from field and laboratory studies. Whereas larval stages inside their intermediate hosts are not able to take up high quantities of metals, young worms begin to take up metals immediately after infection of the final host. After four to five weeks of exposure, the parasites reach a steady-state concentration orders of magnitude higher than the ambient water level. Thus, acanthocephalans are not only very effective in taking up metals, but they can also respond very rapidly to changes in environmental exposure. The mechanism which enable acanthocephalans to take up metals from the intestinal lumen of the host appears to be based on the presence of bile acids, which form organo-metallic complexes that are easily absorbed by the worms due to their lipophilicity. Investigations of the environmental conditions affecting metal uptake have shown that the parasites are more consistent and reliable indicators for metal pollution than the host tissues as metal levels of the latter are much more dependent on the water chemistry. Thus, after some years of research on the uptake of metals by acanthocephalans and on the factors affecting metal accumulation in intestinal parasites it should be asked if acanthocephalans meet the criteria commonly accepted for sentinels. If parasites can be considered as promising sentinels, we need reasons for the establishment of ‘new’ indicators. Therefore, this review summarises the present knowledge about parasites as bioindicators and compares the accumulation properties of parasites and established free living indicators. Finally, this review presents possible answers to the question why it could be advantageous to have new and even more sensitive indicators for environmental monitoring purposes.
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