Trace element trophic transfer in aquatic organisms: A critique of the kinetic model approach

J. R. Reinfelder, N. S. Fisher, S. N. Luoma, J. W. Nichols, W. X. Wang

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The bioaccumulation of trace elements in aquatic organisms can be described with a kinetic model that includes linear expressions for uptake and elimination from dissolved and dietary sources. Within this model, trace element trophic transfer is described by four parameters: the weight-specific ingestion rate (IR); the assimilation efficiency (AE); the physiological loss rate constant (k(e)); and the weight-specific growth rate (g). These four parameters define the trace element trophic transfer potential (TTP=IR.AE/[k(e)+g]) which is equal to the ratio of the steady-state trace element concentration in a consumer due to trophic accumulation to that in its prey. Recent work devoted to the quantification of AE and k(e) for a variety of trace elements in aquatic invertebrates has provided the data needed for comparative studies of trace element trophic transfer among different species and trophic levels and, in at least one group of aquatic consumers (marine bivalves), sensitivity analyses and field tests of kinetic bioaccumulation models. Analysis of the trophic transfer potentials of trace elements for which data are available in zooplankton, bivalves, and fish, suggests that slight variations in assimilation efficiency or elimination rate constant may determine whether or not some trace elements (Cd, Se, and Zn) are biomagnified. A linear, single-compartment model may not be appropriate for fish which, unlike many aquatic invertebrates, have a large mass of tissue in which the concentrations of most trace elements are subject to feedback regulation. Copyright (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-135
Number of pages19
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Aug 28 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank EPRI, the Wisconsin DNR, and Carl Watras for organizing the workshop that led to the writing of this paper and two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments. This effort was supported in part by a Grant from NSF (OCE-9617675) (to N. Fisher).


  • Aquatic
  • Bioaccumulation
  • Biomagnification
  • Metal
  • Model
  • Trace element


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