Accumulated Metal Speciation in Earthworm Populations with Multigenerational Exposure to Metalliferous Soils: Cell Fractionation and High-Energy Synchrotron Analyses

Jane Andre, John Charnock, Stephen A. Stuerzenbaum, Peter Kille, A. John Morgan, Mark E. Hodson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predicting metal bioaccumulation and toxicity in soil organisms is complicated by site-specific biotic and abiotic parameters. In this study we exploited tissue fractionation and digestion techniques, combined with X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), to investigate the whole-body and subcellular distributions, ligand affinities, and coordination chemistry of accumulated Pb and Zn in field populations of the epigeic earthworm Lumbricus rubellus inhabiting three contrasting metalliferous and two unpolluted soils. Our main findings were (i) earthworms were resident in soils with concentrations of Pb and Zn ranging from 1200 to 27 000 mg kg(-1) and 200 to 34 000 mg kg(-1), respectively; (ii) Pb and Zn primarily accumulated in the posterior alimentary canal in nonsoluble subcellular fractions of earthworms; (iii) site-specific differences in the tissue and subcellular partitioning profiles of populations were observed, with earthworms from a calcareous site partitioning proportionally more Pb to their anterior body segments and Zn to the chloragosome-rich subcellular fraction than their acidic-soil inhabiting counterparts; (iv) XAS indicated that the interpopulation differences in metal partitioning between organs were not accompanied by qualitative differences in ligand-binding speciation, because crystalline phosphate-containing pyromorphite was a predominant chemical species in the whole-worm tissues of all mine soil residents. Differences in metal (Pb, Zn) partitioning at both organ and cellular levels displayed by field populations with protracted histories of metal exposures may reflect their innate ecophysiological responses to essential edaphic variables, such as Ca2+ status. These observations are highly significant in the challenging exercise of interpreting holistic biomarker data delivered by "omic" technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6822-6829
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental science & technology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2009

Cite this