Occurrence, sources and effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the Tunis lagoon, Tunisia: an integrated approach using multi-level biological responses in Ruditapes decussatus

  • Houssem ChalghmiEmail author
  • Jean-Paul Bourdineaud
  • Ikram Chbani
  • Zohra Haouas
  • Saida Bouzid
  • Hassan Er-Raioui
  • Dalila Saidane-Mosbahi
Multi-Stressors in Freshwater and Transitional Environments: from Legacy Pollutants to Emerging Ones


Coastal lagoons are critical ecosystems presenting a strategic economic importance, but they are subjected to potential anthropogenic impact. As part of the Tunis lagoon (Tunisia) biomonitoring study, levels, composition pattern and sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in surface sediments along with their bioavailability in clam Ruditapes decussatus were investigated in polluted (S2–S4) and reference (S1) sites. In order to investigate the contamination effects at different biological levels in clams, a wide set of biomarkers, including gene expression changes, enzymatic activities disruption and histopathological alterations, was analysed. Biomarkers were integrated in a biomarker index (IBR index) to allow a global assessment of the biological response. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used for chemical and biological data integration to rank the sampling sites according to their global environmental quality. Sediment PAHs levels ranged between 144.5 and 3887.0 ng g−1 dw in the Tunis lagoon sites versus 92.6 ng g−1 dw in the reference site. The high PAH concentrations are due to anthropogenic activities around the lagoon. PAH composition profiles and diagnostic isomer ratios analysis indicated that PAHs were of both pyrolitic and petrogenic origins. Clams sampled from S2 and S3 exhibited the highest PAH contents with 2192.6 ng g−1 dw and 2371.4 ng g−1 dw, respectively. Elevated levels of tissue PAHs were associated to an increase in biotransformation and antioxidant activities, and lipid peroxidation levels along with an overexpression of different genes encoding for general stress response, mitochondrial metabolism and antioxidant defence, in addition to the emergence of severe and diverse histopathological alterations in the clams’ digestive glands. IBR index was suitable for sampling sites ranking (S1 = 0 < S4 = 0.4 < S3 = 1.15 < S2 = 1.27) based on the level of PAH-induced stress in clams. PCA approach produced two components (PC1, 83.8% and PC2, 12.2%) that describe 96% of the variance in the data and thus highlighted the importance of integrating contaminants in sediments, their bioaccumulation and a battery of biomarkers of different dimensions for the assessment of global health status of coastal and lagoon areas.


Tunis lagoon Biomonitoring Ruditapes decussatus Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons Multivariate analysis Multi-level approach Integrated biomarker response 



This study was supported by the University of Bordeaux, France, the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technology, the University of Monastir, Tunisia, and the French Institute of Tunisia.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11356_2019_4220_MOESM1_ESM.docx (4.6 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 4677 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UMR CNRS 5805 EPOCUniversity of BordeauxArcachonFrance
  2. 2.Laboratory of Analysis Treatment and Valorization of Environmental Pollutants and Products, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of MonastirMonastirTunisia
  3. 3.Laboratory of Environment, Oceanology and Natural Resources, Faculty of Sciences and TechnologyUniversity of Abdelmalek EssaâdiTangierMorocco
  4. 4.Laboratory of Histology Cytology and Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, University of MonastirMonastirTunisia

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