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Environmental variations mediate duckweed (Lemna minor L.) sensitivity to copper exposure through phenotypic plasticity


Environmentally mediated sensitivity of Lemna minor to copper (Cu) was evaluated for the first time in three experiments: the effects of two levels of nutrient concentration, light irradiance or Cu pre-exposure were tested. Various Cu concentrations (ranging from 0.05 to 0.25 mg/L) were used to assess the sensitivity of L. minor to this metal, using one common strain previously acclimatized to two different levels of light intensity, nutrient enrichment and Cu pre-exposure. Our results showed a phenotypic plastic response of the relative growth rates based on frond number and fresh mass production, and maximum quantum yield of photosystem II (Fv/Fm). Growth was affected by the three environmental conditions both prior and during Cu exposure, whereas Fv/Fm was mostly affected during Cu exposure. Copper significantly influenced all the parameters measured in the three experiments. Environmental conditions significantly modified L. minor sensitivity to Cu in all experiments, with up to twofold difference depending on the treatment. Growth rate was the parameter that was most impacted. Our study revealed for the first time the existence of phenotypic plasticity in L. minor sensitivity to chemical contamination, and implies that environmental context needs to be taken into account for a relevant risk assessment.

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We thank David Baqué (R&D Engineer in ICP-OES and ICP-MS analysis techniques) for his support for ICP-OES metal analyses and Olivier Berseille for technical assistance during preliminary experiments.


This research was funded by the EC2CO program from the National Institute of Sciences of the Universe (CNRS/INSU), granted to the VIRMA project, and by the French Ministry of research and higher education through a Doctoral Fellowship awarded to ER.

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Correspondence to Eva Roubeau Dumont.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Roubeau Dumont, E., Larue, C., Pujol, B. et al. Environmental variations mediate duckweed (Lemna minor L.) sensitivity to copper exposure through phenotypic plasticity. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 14106–14115 (2019).

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  • Aquatic macrophyte
  • Lemna minor
  • Risk assessment
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Environmental fluctuations
  • Abiotic factors