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A review of the effects of heavy metals on freshwater mussels

Naimo, T. J., 1995, A review of the effects of heavy metals on freshwater mussels: Ecotoxicology, v. 4, no. 6, p. 341-362.


The widespread recent decline in the species diversity and population density of freshwater mussels in North America may be partly related to chronic, low-level exposure to toxic metals. As benthic filter-feeding organisms, freshwater mussels are exposed to metals that are dissolved in water, associated with suspended particles and deposited in bottom sediments. Thus, freshwater mussels can bioaccumulate certain metals to concentrations that greatly exceed those dissolved in water. In adult mussels, the most common site of metal uptake is the gill, followed by the mantle and the kidney. The toxic effects of metals on freshwater mussels have been examined in a few acute toxicity tests, but the sublethal effects of long-term exposure to low environmental concentrations are little understood. Sublethal exposure to metals can alter growth, filtration efficiency, enzyme activity and behaviour. Sublethal effects are frequently observed at concentrations that are only half the lethal concentrations. However, few toxicity tests have used environmentally realistic exposure concentrations. Total concentrations of Cd, Cu, Hg and Zn in many toxic surface waters are in the ng/l range, yet many toxicity studies have exposed mussels to concentrations in the mu g/l or even the mg/l range. An understanding of the processes by which metals affect freshwater mussels would provide insights on the ecotoxicological significance of metal contamination to natural mussel populations and aid in the development of water-quality criteria that adequately protect mussels.

Keywords: reviews, heavy-metals, Unionidae, Mollusca, freshwater-organisms, North-America, rare-species, freshwater-mollusks, pollution-effects, mortality-causes, bioaccumulation, sublethal-effects, toxicology, exposure-tolerance, population-structure

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