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Metallothionein Induction as Indicator of Low Level Metal Exposure to Aquatic Macroinvertebrates from a Relatively Unimpacted River System in South Africa


The Marico River is relatively unaffected by anthropogenic activities. However, metal concentrations—mainly from natural sources—occasionally exceed environmental quality guidelines. Macroinvertebrates are capable to react to these metals through processes such as the induction of metallothioneins (MTs). The aims of this study were to determine whether the induction of MTs can be used as indicator of natural metal exposure in not anthropogenically impacted systems and whether there are relationships between metal concentrations in water, sediment and macroinvertebrates and concomitant MT levels. Positive correlations were found between metals in sediment and macroinvertebrates, while there were no correlations between metal concentrations in water and macroinvertebrates. Even in a not anthropogenically impacted system, a positive correlation existed between trace metal bioaccumulation (e.g. Ni, Pb, Zn) in macroinvertebrates and the induction of MTs. There were, however, no correlations between MTs and bioaccumulation of earth metals (e.g. Al, Fe, Mn, Ti).

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We are indebted to the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa for financial support and infrastructure. This is contribution number 205 from the NWU-WRG group.

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Correspondence to M. Kemp.

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Kemp, M., Wepener, V., de Kock, K.N. et al. Metallothionein Induction as Indicator of Low Level Metal Exposure to Aquatic Macroinvertebrates from a Relatively Unimpacted River System in South Africa. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 99, 662–667 (2017).

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  • Biomarkers
  • Metal exposure
  • Metal bioaccumulation
  • Marico River