The objectives of this field project were to test relationships between the physiological and population status of indigenous fish and (a) ecological factors (habitat quality, food resources), (b) toxicological factors (ambient and tissue metal concentrations), and (c) metal detoxification factors (metallothionein induction and subcellular metal partitioning). The sentinel species, yellow perch (YP: Perca flavescens), was collected from lakes with contrasting metal levels located on the Canadian Precambrian Shield, downwind and downstream from metal smelters. In lakes at the high end of our exposure gradient, metals (Cu, Ni, and especially Cd) accumulate in YP to concentrations well above background tissue values; increases in tissue Zn concentrations were much more modest, despite the existence of a very marked gradient in ambient [Zn]. Metal accumulation in YP is accompanied by metallothionein induction, but all evidence to date suggests that metal detoxification by metallothionein is incomplete. Indeed, direct effects of metal toxicity are detected at multiple levels of biological organization, from effects at the cellular level, to effects in organs and tissues, to individuals and populations, in a pattern linked to accumulated metal concentrations (i.e., along the contamination gradient). In addition to direct or physiological effects, we also documented indirect, food-web-mediated effects of metals on YP in the most contaminated lakes. The most common indication of such indirect effects on YP is severely stunted growth coupled with a high degree of zooplankton dependence throughout their life.
- Food web
- Yellow perch