Exacerbation of copper pollution toxicity from ocean acidification: a comparative analysis of two bivalve species with distinct sensitivities


  • OA aggravates the toxicity of Cu in both clams and scallops.
  • Scallops were more sensitive to the toxicity of Cu and/or OA than clams.
  • OA and Cu lead to increased protein turnover, disturbed cytoskeleton.
  • OA and Cu lead to apoptosis and suppressed energy metabolism pathway.


In estuarine ecosystems, bivalves experience large pH fluctuations caused by the anthropogenic elevation of atmospheric CO2 and Cu pollution. This study investigates whether Cu toxicity increases indiscriminately in two bivalve species from different estuarine habitats as a result of elevated Cu bioaccumulation in acidified seawater. This was carried out by evaluating the effects of Cu exposure on two bivalve species (clams and scallops) for 28 d, at a series of gradient pH levels (pH 8.1, 7.8, and 7.6). The results demonstrated an increase in the Cu content in the soft tissues of clams and scallops in acidified seawater. Cu toxicity increased under acidified seawater by affecting the molecular pathways, physiological function, biochemical responses, and health status of clams and scallops. An iTRAQ-based quantitative proteomic analysis showed increased protein turnover, disturbed cytoskeleton and signal transduction pathways, apoptosis, and suppressed energy metabolism pathways in the clams and scallops under joint exposure to ocean acidification and Cu. The integrated biomarker response results suggested that scallops were more sensitive to Cu toxicity and/or ocean acidification than clams. The proteomic results suggested that the increased energy metabolism and suppressed protein turnover rates may contribute to a higher resistivity to ocean acidification in clams than scallops. Overall, this study provides molecular insights into the distinct sensitivities between two bivalve species from different habitats under exposure to ocean acidification and/or Cu. The findings emphasize the aggravating impact of ocean acidification on Cu toxicity in clams and scallops. The results show that ocean acidification and copper pollution may reduce the long-term viability of clams and scallops, and lead to the degradation of estuarine ecosystems.

Cao R., Zhang Y., Ju Y., Wang W., Xi C., Liu W. & Liu K., 2021. Exacerbation of copper pollution toxicity from ocean acidification: a comparative analysis of two bivalve species with distinct sensitivities. Environmental Pollution: 118525. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118525. Article (subscription required).

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