MEPS 402:123-136 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08457

Individual and combined effects of heavy metals on estuarine infaunal communities

Atsuko Fukunaga1,*, Marti J. Anderson2, Jenny G. Webster-Brown3, Richard B. Ford4

1Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, PO Box 349, Warkworth, New Zealand
2Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences, Massey University, Albany Campus, Private Bag 102-904, North Shore Mail Centre, Auckland, New Zealand
3Department of Chemistry, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
4Ministry of Fisheries, ASB House, 101 The Terrace, Wellington, New Zealand

ABSTRACT: Heavy metals are anthropogenically introduced into estuaries and cause lethal and sublethal effects on estuarine organisms. Copper (Cu), lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) are primary sediment contaminants of concern in Auckland, New Zealand. Their concentrations in estuarine sediments tend to correlate with one another spatially across the region, and concentrations of Cu and Zn are predicted to increase over time. A field experiment was done in Orewa estuary, Auckland, to assess the potential effects of Cu, Pb and Zn, individually and in a mixture, on estuarine communities. Surface sediments were replaced with defaunated sediment discs spiked with either Cu (110 µg g–1), Pb (85 µg g–1) or Zn (500 µg g–1), or a mixture of these 3 metals. Infaunal recolonisation was examined after 10 and 20 d. The control, having non-spiked sediments, and the Pb treatment had significantly higher average infaunal abundances and species richness than the Cu, Zn or mixed treatments. The structure of infaunal assemblages in the control and the Pb treatment differed significantly from those in the Cu or Zn treatments, which had lower abundances of polychaetes and the bivalve Macomona liliana. Differential sensitivities of different taxa to the 3 different metals resulted in greater overall impacts on community structure for the mixed treatment than for the treatments spiked with individual metals alone. This experiment clearly showed adverse effects of Cu and Zn on estuarine infauna in the field, indicating that potential increases in metal concentrations in New Zealand’s estuaries through time should be treated as a serious environmental concern.


KEY WORDS:Heavy metal · Manipulative experiment · Infauna · Community structure · Estuary · New Zealand


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Cite this article as: Fukunaga A, Anderson MJ, Webster-Brown JG, Ford RB (2010) Individual and combined effects of heavy metals on estuarine infaunal communities. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 402:123-136. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08457

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