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Ecotoxicology of aluminum to fish and wildlife

June 9, 2009

The toxicity of aluminum has been studied extensively in fish, less so in invertebrates, amphibians, and birds, and not at all in reptiles and free-ranging mammals. For aquatic organisms, Al bioavailability and toxicity are intimately related to ambient pH; changes in ambient acidity may affect Al solubility, dissolved Al speciation, and organism sensitivity to Al. At moderate acidity (pH 5.5 to 7.0), fish and invertebrates may be stressed due to Al adsorption onto gill surfaces and subsequent asphyxiation. At pH 4.5 to 5.5, Al can impair ion regulation and augment the toxicity of H+. At lower pH, elevated Al can temporarily ameliorate the toxic effects of acidity by competing for binding sites with H+. Aluminum toxicity in aquatic environments is further affected by the concentration of ligands such as dissolved organic matter, fluoride, or sulfate, and of other cations such as Ca and Mg which compete for cellular binding sites. Although risk of Al toxicity is often based on a model of free-ion (Al3+) activity, recent evidence suggests that factors determining Al toxicity may be more complex. In general, aquatic invertebrates are less sensitive to Al toxicity and acidity than fish; thus acidified, Al-rich waters may actually reduce predation pressure. Fish may be affected by asphyxiation at moderate acidic conditions or electrolyte imbalances at lower pH. In amphibians, embryos and young larvae are typically more sensitive than older larvae. Early breeding amphibians, which lay eggs in ephemeral ponds and streams subject to spring runoff, are most at risk from Al and acidification; those that breed later in the year in lakes or rivers are least vulnerable. Birds and mammals are most likely exposed through dietary ingestion of soil or Al-contaminated foods. Concentrations > 1000 mg.kg-1 in food may be toxic to young birds and mammals. Clinical signs in these animals are consistent with rickets because Al precipitates with P in the gut. Suggestions for additional research on the ecotoxicology of Al to wild animals are provided.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1997
Title Ecotoxicology of aluminum to fish and wildlife
DOI
Authors D.W. Sparling, T.P. Lowe, P.G.C. Campbell
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 5210862
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center