, Volume 579, Issue 1, pp 95–113 | Cite as

Photooxidation of wetland and riverine dissolved organic matter: altered copper complexation and organic composition

  • Marjorie L. BrooksEmail author
  • Joseph S. Meyer
  • Diane M. McKnight
Primary Research Paper


In natural waters, the uptake of transition metals such as copper (Cu) by aquatic biota depends on the activity of the free cupric ion ({Cu2+}) rather than on total Cu concentration. Thus, an important ecological function of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in aquatic ecosystems is Cu–DOM complexation, which greatly decreases the {Cu2+}. However, Cu bioavailability is greatly modified by source and environmental history of DOM because DOM affinity for Cu varies by orders of magnitude among DOM sources; moreover, DOM is photochemically unstable. During 72-h irradiation experiments at intensities approximating sunlight with DOM from a palustrine wetland and a third-order river, we investigated photooxidative effects on DOM complexation of Cu as well as spectral and chemical changes in DOM that might explain altered Cu complexation. Irradiation decreased Cu complexation by riverine DOM, but unexpectedly increased Cu complexation by wetland DOM, resulting in 150% greater {Cu2+} in riverine DOM at the same dissolved organic carbon concentrations. The specific ultraviolet absorption (SUVa) and humic substances tracked photochemical changes in the conditional stability constants of Cu–DOM complexes, suggesting that the aromaticity of DOM influences its affinity for Cu. Carbonyl concentration in 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectra (13C-NMR) covaried directly with Cu binding-site densities in DOM. However, no aspect of Cu–DOM complexation consistently covaried with fluorophores (i.e., the fluorescence index) or low molecular weight organic acids. Our results suggest that global increases in UV radiation will affect Cu–DOM complexation and subsequent Cu toxicity depending on light regime as well as DOM source.


Dissolved organic matter DOC Cu Bioavailability Photooxidation Biotic ligand model 



This work was funded by the University of Wyoming National Science Foundation EPSCoR program and a United States Environmental Protection Agency STAR Fellowship awarded to MLB. We thank Megin Rux, Maura Rux, and Dr. Richard Shoemaker for field and technical assistance. JSM was funded by USEPA through a subcontract for the University of Delaware’s Center for the Study of Metals in the Environment to the University of Wyoming.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marjorie L. Brooks
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Joseph S. Meyer
    • 1
  • Diane M. McKnight
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and PhysiologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.National Center for Ecological Analysis and SynthesisUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Artic and Alpine ResearchUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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