Metal stable isotopes in transplanted oysters as a new tool for monitoring anthropogenic metal bioaccumulation in marine environments: The case for copper

Environ Pollut. 2021 Dec 1;290:118012. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118012. Epub 2021 Aug 28.


Metal release into the environment from anthropogenic activities may endanger ecosystems and human health. However, identifying and quantifying anthropogenic metal bioaccumulation in organisms remain a challenging task. In this work, we assess Cu isotopes in Pacific oysters (C. gigas) as a new tool for monitoring anthropogenic Cu bioaccumulation into marine environments. Arcachon Bay was taken as a natural laboratory due to its increasing contamination by Cu, and its relevance as a prominent shellfish production area. Here, we transplanted 18-month old oysters reared in an oceanic neighbor area into two Arcachon Bay mariculture sites under different exposure levels to continental Cu inputs. At the end of their 12-month long transplantation period, the oysters' Cu body burdens had increased, and was shifted toward more positive δ65Cu values. The gradient of Cu isotope compositions observed for oysters sampling stations was consistent with relative geographic distance and exposure intensities to unknown continental Cu sources. A binary isotope mixing model based on experimental data allowed to estimate the Cu continental fraction bioaccumulated in the transplanted oysters. The positive δ65Cu values and high bioaccumulated levels of Cu in transplanted oysters support that continental emissions are dominantly anthropogenic. However, identifying specific pollutant coastal source remained unelucidated mostly due to their broader and overlapping isotope signatures and potential post-depositional Cu isotope fractionation processes. Further investigations on isotope fractionation of Cu-based compounds in an aqueous medium may improve Cu source discrimination. Thus, using Cu as an example, this work combines for the first time a well-known caged bivalve approach with metal stable isotope techniques for monitoring and quantifying the bioaccumulation of anthropogenic metal into marine environments. Also, it states the main challenges to pinpoint specific coastal anthropogenic sources utilizing this approach and provides the perspectives for further studies to overcome them.

Keywords: Arcachon bay; Bivalve mollusk; MC-ICP-MS; Metal bioaccumulation; Non-traditional isotopes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bioaccumulation
  • Copper / analysis
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Isotopes
  • Ostreidae*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Isotopes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Copper