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The role of fish helminth parasites in monitoring metal pollution in aquatic ecosystems: a case study in the world’s most productive platinum mining region

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Due to the increasing consumption of platinum (Pt), especially in automobile exhaust catalysts, environmental concentrations of Pt are of emerging concern worldwide. Limited information exists on environmental concentrations, particularly in Pt mining regions, while South Africa is the world’s main supplier of Pt. Moreover, other metals are also released as by-products of Pt mining, which might also cause environmental concern. Certain fish parasite taxa have the ability to accumulate metals orders of magnitude higher than their hosts and can be used to reliably detect metals with naturally low abundance. Studies on Pt accumulation in parasite-host systems are limited. Therefore, the aims of the present study were (1) to determine the accumulation of a variety of metals (cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), platinum (Pt), and zinc (Zn)) in helminth fish parasites compared with their hosts from a reference site and an impoundment impacted by Pt mining activities; (2) to assess whether there is a difference between bioaccumulation of metals in infected and uninfected hosts, as well as between hosts with different infection intensities; and (3) to compare the biomarker responses (acetylcholine esterase activity (AChE), metallothionein content (MT), catalase activity (CAT), reduced glutathione content (GSH), malondialdehyde content (MDA), protein carbonyls induction (PC), superoxide dismutase activity (SOD), and cellular energy allocation (CEA)) between infected and uninfected hosts. The cestode Atractolytocestus huronensis accumulated significantly higher concentrations of Cr, Ni, and Pt than their host Cyprinus carpio, while the nematode Contracaecum sp. accumulated significantly higher concentrations of Pt and Zn than their host Clarias gariepinus. Infected fish showed lower metal concentrations compared to uninfected fish, while the parasites had no significant effects on their hosts’ biomarker responses. The parasites demonstrated the bioavailability of metals derived from Pt mining activities and their ability to resist its toxic effects. Thus, these parasites are promising sensitive accumulation indicators for Cr, Ni, Pb, and Pt contaminations from Pt mining activities.

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Opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations expressed in this publication are that of the authors and the NRF and BMBF/PT-DLR accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard. This is contribution number 431 of the North-West University (NWU) Water Research Group. Mrs. Anja Erasmus, NWU-Water Research Group, is thanked for the creation of the study area map. Dr. Bjoern Schaeffner, Mr. Hanro Pearson, Miss Marelize Labuschagne and Dr. Ruan Gerber, NWU-Water Research Group, as well as Dr. Roman Kuchta, the Czech Academy of Sciences, are thanked for their assistance in the field.


This work is based on the research and researchers supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa (NRF Project GERM160623173784; grant 105875; NJ Smit, PI) and BMBF/PT-DLR (Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany, grant 01DG17022; B Sures, PI).

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Correspondence to Johannes H. Erasmus.

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Erasmus, J.H., Wepener, V., Nachev, M. et al. The role of fish helminth parasites in monitoring metal pollution in aquatic ecosystems: a case study in the world’s most productive platinum mining region. Parasitol Res 119, 2783–2798 (2020).

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