Trace metal concentrations in the tropical sponge Spheciospongia vagabunda at a sewage outfall: synchrotron X-ray imaging reveals the micron-scale distribution of accumulated metals

Abstract

Major and trace elements were measured in sponges, seawater and sediment in Darwin Harbour (Australia) to test the hypothesis that metals are elevated in sponges closer to a sewage outfall compared with unimpacted sites. Seawater and sediment at the sewage discharge site contained high, but localised, concentrations of phosphorus (P), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As) and lead (Pb) compared with background sites. Metal concentrations in the sponge Spheciospongia vagabunda were highly elevated compared with other sponges and, although site specific, high metal concentrations were unrelated to the presence of sewage effluent. X-ray fluorescence microprobe imaging was used to investigate the metal distribution pattern in S. vagabunda. High Fe, Ni and Zn concentrations were either localised in circular patches (100–200 μm size) near water canals or in the pinacoderm, or scattered in spots (approximately 10 μm) throughout the tissue. This supports a microflora-mediated metal bioaccumulation hypothesis. In contrast, Co and Mn were highly dispersed and probably associated with aluminium- and iron-oxide rich sediment inclusions. Although the lack of association between sewage effluent and metal accumulation precludes the use of S. vagabunda as a biomonitor, the apparent differential mechanisms of metal accumulation warrants further investigation.

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Acknowledgments

A Postdoctoral Fellowship funded by Charles Darwin University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science supported this research. We thank Constanza Buccella (CDU) for assisting with sample collection and laboratory processing, Ellie Hayward (CDU) for preparing tissue sections for XFM analysis, and Francoise Foti and the EACU team at CDU for ICP-MS analyses. We acknowledge the Australian Synchrotron XFM beam line staff David Paterson, Martin de Jonge and Daryl Howard for technical support, and the Australian Synchrotron for approving XFM beam time and travel funds.

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Correspondence to Anna Padovan.

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Guest editors: M. Maldonado, X. Turon, M. A. Becerro & M. J. Uriz / Ancient animals, new challenges: developments in sponge research

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Padovan, A., Munksgaard, N., Alvarez, B. et al. Trace metal concentrations in the tropical sponge Spheciospongia vagabunda at a sewage outfall: synchrotron X-ray imaging reveals the micron-scale distribution of accumulated metals. Hydrobiologia 687, 275–288 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-011-0916-9

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Keywords

  • Sponge
  • Metals
  • Biomonitoring
  • Bioconcentration
  • Spheciospongia vagabunda
  • X-ray imaging