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Contaminated food and uptake of heavy metals by fish: a review and a proposal for further research


1. The uptake of heavy metals via the alimentary tract can be an important factor for the metal budget of fish. 2. Concepts such as biomagnification, bioaccumulation, biotransference, or concentration factors, convey little information about the real threat originating from heavy metals in an aquatic food chain. 3. In polluted aquatic ecosystems the transfer of metals through food chains can be high enough to bring about harmful concentrations in the tissues of fish. This relationship is called the food chain effect. 4. Two kinds of ecological factors influence the food chain effect: firstly, high levels of contamination of the food, and, secondly, the reduction of species diversity. When susceptible species are eliminated, metal-tolerant food organisms may become dominant. Their tolerance may be based either on their ability to accumulate excessive amounts of metals or to exclude heavy metals from the tissues. These two strategies represent feedback mechanisms which may enhance or weaken the food chain effect. 5. It is concluded that future investigations on transference of heavy metals to fish must take into more careful consideration the specific ecological situation of a given environment.

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Dallinger, R., Prosi, F., Segner, H. et al. Contaminated food and uptake of heavy metals by fish: a review and a proposal for further research. Oecologia 73, 91–98 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00376982

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Key words

  • Fish
  • Food
  • Heavy metal
  • Food chain effect