, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 68-78

Zinc, among a ‘cocktail’ of metal pollutants, is responsible for the absence of the terrestrial isopod Porcellio scaber from the vicinity of a primary smelting works

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Porcellio scaber Latreille (Crustacea: Isopoda) of one month in age were reared for a year on leaf litter of field maple (Acer campestre) contaminated in the laboratory with a range of concentrations of cadmium, copper, lead or zinc. The metals were applied topically to the leaves as nitrates. Growth and survival, numbers of live offspring produced by females that matured, and concentrations of metals in adult isopods at the end of the experiment were measured.

‘Critical concentrations’ of metals in food at which all the isopods died before producing offspring were 100 μg Cd g−1, 100 μg Cu g−1, 2000 μg Pb g−1 and 1000 μg Zn g−1 (on a dry weight basis). The relative toxicities of the four metals in the laboratory were compared with concentrations of cadmium, copper, lead and zinc in surface leaf litter in the vicinity of a primary smelting works at Avonmouth, South West England. The results support the hypothesis that the absence of Porcellio scaber from sites in the immediate vicinity of the factory is due to zinc poisoning. Although cadmium is approximately ten times more toxic to isopods than zinc in the laboratory, zinc is most likely to be killing isopods in the field because its concentration is always at least 30 times higher than cadmium in Avonmouth leaf litter, and more than 100 times higher at most sites.

Populations of Porcellio scaber survive in field sites where surface leaf litter contains up to 5000 μg Zn g−1. This is at least five times higher than the ‘critical concentration’ in laboratory experiments. Thus, the methodology for assessing metal toxicity described in this paper, exaggerates the potential effects of metals to isopods in the field. Such differences between laboratory and field toxicities of metals should be taken into account when environmental protection levels for metals are being proposed for soil invertebrates based on ecotoxicological tests conducted in the laboratory.