Bioaccumulation of polonium-210 in marine copepods

Stewart, Gillian M., Nicholas S. Fisher

Limnol. Oceanogr., 48(5), 2003, 2011-2019 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2003.48.5.2011

ABSTRACT: 210Po, a naturally occurring radioisotope that is ubiquitous in seawater, is especially enriched in proteinaceous tissues of marine organisms and may therefore be useful as a tracer of organic carbon flux in marine systems. Due in part to its biomagnification in marine food chains, 210Po provides the largest radiation dose to any organism under natural conditions. To better understand the extent to which zooplankton can influence the fluxes of 210Po and serve as a conduit between phytoplankton, which concentrate it greatly from ambient water and higher trophic levels, we conducted a series of laboratory experiments with the calanoid copepod Acartia tonsa. A. tonsa was presented with either dissolved 210Po or with one of eight different phytoplankton species and sterile glass beads, all labeled with 210Po. Assimilation efficiencies (AEs) of ingested 210Po in copepods ranged from 19% to 55% among the phytoplankton diets, and correlated directly with 210Po’s cytoplasmic distributions in the algal cells. The AE of 210Po from ingested glass beads was 0%. The high AE and low efflux rates (mean of 3% d-1) of 210Po in copepods can explain its biomagnification in marine food chains. Uptake and loss parameters of 210Po in copepods measured in these experiments were used in a model to quantify the relative sources of 210Po for copepods. Under all realistic scenarios, >90% of 210Po in copepods appears to be taken up through diet. Model-predicted 210Po concentrations in copepods in different ocean regions closely matched independent measurements, suggesting that we understand the processes governing this element’s enrichment in zooplankton and thus can make quantitative predictions of its bioconcentration on a site-specific basis.

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