The influence of salinity on copper accumulation and its toxic effects in estuarine animals with differing osmoregulatory strategies

Jacqueline A. Lee, Islay D. Marsden, Chris N. Glover

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Copper is an important ionoregulatory toxicant in freshwater, but its effects in marine and brackish water systems are less well characterised. The effect of salinity on short-term copper accumulation and sublethal toxicity in two estuarine animals was investigated. The osmoregulating crab Hemigrapsus crenulatus accumulated copper in a concentration-dependent, but salinity-independent manner. Branchial copper accumulation correlated positively with branchial sodium accumulation. Sublethal effects of copper were most prevalent in 125% seawater, with a significant increase in haemolymph chloride noted after 96h at exposure levels of 510μg Cu(II) L-1. The osmoconforming gastropod, Scutus breviculus, was highly sensitive to copper exposure, a characteristic recognised previously in related species. Toxicity, as determined by a behavioural index, was present at all salinities and was positively correlated with branchial copper accumulation. At 100% seawater, increased branchial sodium accumulation, decreased haemolymph chloride and decreased haemolymph osmolarity were observed after 48h exposure to 221μg Cu(II) L-1, suggesting a mechanism of toxicity related to ionoregulation. However, these effects were likely secondary to a general effect on gill barrier function, and possibly mediated by mucus secretion. Significant impacts of copper on haemocyanin were also noted in both animals, highlighting a potentially novel mechanism of copper toxicity to animals utilising this respiratory pigment. Overall these findings indicate that physiology, as opposed to water chemistry, exerts the greatest influence over copper toxicity. An understanding of the physiological limits of marine and estuarine organisms may be critical for calibration of predictive models of metal toxicity in waters of high and fluctuating salinities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-72
Number of pages8
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug. 2010


  • Abalone
  • Accumulation
  • Biotic ligand model
  • Copper
  • Haemocyanin
  • Osmoregulation


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