Pollutant dehalogenation capability may depend on the trophic evolutionary history of the organism: PBDEs in freshwater food webs

PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e41829. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041829. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

Abstract

Organohalogen compounds are some of the most notorious persistent pollutants disturbing the Earth biosphere. Although human-made, these chemicals are not completely alien to living systems. A large number of natural organohalogens, part of the secondary metabolism, are involved in chemical trophic interactions. Surprisingly, the relationship between organisms' trophic position and synthetic organohalogen biotransformation capability has not been investigated. We studied the case for polybromodiphenyl ethers (PBDE), a group of flame-retardants of widespread use in the recent years, in aquatic food webs from remote mountain lakes. These relatively simple ecosystems only receive pollution by atmospheric transport. A large predominance of the PBDE congener currently in use in Europe, BDE-209, largely dominated the PBDE composition of the basal resources of the food web. In contrast, primary consumers (herbivores and detritivores) showed a low proportion of BDE-209, and dominance of several less brominated congeners (e.g. BDE-100, BDE47). Secondary consumers (predators) showed large biomagnification of BDE-209 compare to other congeners. Finally, top predator fish characterized by low total PBDE concentrations. Examination of the bromine stable isotopic composition indicates that primary consumers showed higher PBDE biotransformation capability than secondary consumers. We suggest that the evolutionary response of primary consumers to feeding deterrents would have pre-adapted them for PBDE biotransformation. The observed few exceptions, some insect taxa, can be interpreted in the light of the trophic history of the evolutionary lineage of the organisms. Bromine isotopic composition in fish indicates that low PBDE values are due to not only biotransformation but also to some other process likely related to transport. Our finding illustrates that organohalogen compounds may strongly disturb ecosystems even at low concentrations, since the species lacking or having scarce biotransformation capability may be selectively more exposed to these halogenated hydrophobic semi-volatile organic pollutants due to their high bioaccumulation potential.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Food Chain*
  • Fresh Water*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / metabolism*
  • Halogenation*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*

Substances

  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • pentabromodiphenyl ether
  • decabromobiphenyl ether

Grant support

This work was funded by the EU project Euro-limpacs (GOCE-CT-2003-505540) and the Spanish government projects Trazas (CGL2004-0289) and Graccie (CSD2007-00067). M.B. has a postdoc fellowship from the Spanish Government. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.