Food-chain transfer of cadmium and zinc from contaminated Urtica dioica to Helix aspersa and Lumbricus terrestris

Danielle E. Sinnett, Mark E. Hodson, Tony R. Hutchings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study examines the potential of Urtica dioica as an ecologically relevant species for use in ecotoxicological testing. It is prevalent in degraded ecosystems and is a food source for invertebrates. Urtica dioica grown in hydroponic solutions containing from less than 0.003 to 5.7 mg Cd/L or from 0.02 to 41.9 mg Zn/L accumulated metals resulting in leaf tissue concentrations in the range of 0.10 to 24.9 mg Cd/kg or 22.5 to 2,772.0 mg Zn/kg. No toxicological effects were apparent except at the highest concentrations tested, suggesting that this species may be an important pathway for transfer of metals to primary plant consumers. Helix aspersa and Lumbricus terrestris were fed the Cd- and Zn-rich leaves of U. dioica for six and four weeks, respectively. Cadmium and Zn body load increased with increasing metal concentration in the leaves (p < 0.001). Ratios of invertebrate metal concentration to leaf metal concentration were in the range of 1:0.03 to 1:1.4 for Cd and 1:0.2 to 1:2.8 for Zn in H. aspersa and 1:0.002 to 1:3.9 for Cd and 1:0.2 to 1:8.8 for Zn in L. terrestris. Helix aspersa Cd and Zn tissue concentrations (15.5 and 1,220.2 mg/kg, respectively) were approximately threefold those in L. terrestris when both species were fed nettle leaves with concentrations of approximately 23 mg Cd/ kg and 3,400 mg Zn/kg. Models demonstrate that L. terrestris Cd tissue concentrations (r(2) = 0.74, p < 0.001) and H. aspersa Zn tissue concentrations (r(2) = 0.69, p < 0.001) can be estimated from concentrations of Cd and Zn within the leaves of U. dioica and suggest that reasonably reproducible results can be obtained using these species for ecotoxicological testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1756-1766
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009

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