Bioaccumulation and Dispersion of Uranium by Freshwater Organisms

  • Melissa BergmannEmail author
  • Manuel A. S. Graça


Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element on Earth. Uranium mining may result in ground and surface water contamination with potential bioaccumulation and dispersion by aquatic invertebrates with aerial stages. We investigated the effects of uranium contamination at community level in terms of abundance, richness, the composition of invertebrate communities, and functional traits. We also investigated uranium mobility across aquatic food webs and its transfer to land via the emergence of aquatic insects. We sampled water, sediment, biofilm, macrophytes, aquatic invertebrates, adult insects, and spiders in the riparian zone across sites with a gradient of uranium concentrations in stream water (from 2.1 to 4.7 µg L−1) and sediments (from 10.4 to 41.8 µg g−1). Macroinvertebrate assemblages differed between sites with a higher diversity and predominance of Nemouridae and Baetidae at the reference site and low diversity and predominance of Chironomidae in sites with the highest uranium concentration. Uranium concentrations in producers and consumers increased linearly with uranium concentration in stream water and sediment (p < 0.05). The highest accumulation was found in litter (83.76 ± 5.42 µg g−1) and macrophytes (47.58 ± 6.93 µg g−1) in the most contaminated site. Uranium was highest in scrapers (14.30 ± 0.98 µg g−1), followed by shredders (12.96 ± 0.81 µg g−1) and engulfer predators (7.01 ± 1.3 µg g−1). Uranium in adults of aquatic insects in the riparian zone in all sites ranged from 0.25 to 2.90 µg g−1, whereas in spiders it ranged from 0.96 to 1.73 µg g−1, with no differences between sites (p > 0.05). There was a negative relationship between δ15N and uranium, suggesting there is no biomagnification along food webs. We concluded that uranium is accumulated by producers and consumers but not biomagnified nor dispersed to land with the emergence of aquatic insects.



The authors thank Olimpia Sobral for field assistance and Luis Crespo for spider identification. This study was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) through the strategic Project UID/MAR/04292/2013 granted to MARE. Melissa Bergmann was supported by the National Council for Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq) (GDE 206450/2014-1).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MARE – Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, Department of Life SciencesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal

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