Marine metal pollution and effects on seaweed species

Heavy metals are significant pollutants continuously released into the biosphere, both naturally and anthropogenically. Conceptually, metal speciation, bioavailability, and associated toxicity in marine organisms depend on a wide array of abiotic and biotic factors. Among these, pH variation is one of the most important environmental factors influencing metal speciation and toxicity. Due to this, ocean acidification is expected to modify metal speciation, altering the effects these nondegradable contaminants have on marine organisms, such as seaweeds. One clear effect of heavy metals on seaweeds is the rapid formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The production of ROS beyond the physiological tolerance threshold causes an oxidative stress condition that, if not attenuated, can irreversibly damage cellular constituents such as DNA/RNA, proteins, and lipids. To cope with heavy metal excess, several mechanisms exist in tolerant seaweed species, including the activation of an efficient ROS-scavenging system constituted by metal-binding compounds, antioxidant enzymes, and oxygenated polyunsaturated fatty acids, among others. Another adaptive mechanism involves the participation of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter proteins in translocating a wide variety of compounds across cell membranes, including heavy metals. In contrast, an excessive heavy metal presence can inhibit photosynthesis, reduce pigment concentration and growth, induce cation losses, and disrupt gametophyte development in non-tolerant seaweed species. In a scenario of lowered ocean pH and increased heavy metal toxicity, the important roles played by non-tolerant seaweed species in structuring communities could be severely compromised, with unknown consequences for associated organisms. Therefore, in the upcoming decades, marine pollution could majorly shift and rearrange community compositions and the distributional ranges of species.

Contreras-Porcia L., Meynard A., López-Cristoffanini C., Latorre N., & Kumar M., in press. Effects of ocean acidification and UV radiation on marine photosynthetic carbon fixation. In: Kumar M. & Ralph P. (Eds), Systems biology of marine ecosystems, pp 235-250. Springer, Cham. Chapter (subscription required).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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