Shell growth of large benthic foraminifera under heavy metals pollution: Implications for geochemical monitoring of coastal environments

Nir Ben-Eliahu, Barak Herut, Eyal Rahav, Sigal Abramovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study was promoted by the recent efforts using larger benthic foraminiferal (LBF) shells geochemistry for the monitoring of heavy metals (HMs) pollution in the marine environment. The shell itself acts as a recorder of the ambient water chemistry in low to extreme HMs-polluted environments, allowing the monitoring of recent-past pollution events. This concept, known as sclerochronology, requires the addition of new parts (i.e., new shell) even in extreme pollution events. We evaluated the physiological resilience of three LBF species with different shell types and symbionts to enriched concentrations of Cd, Cu, and Pb at levels several folds higher than the ecological criteria maximum concentration (CMC) (165–166, 33–43, 1001–1206 µg L−1, respectively), which is derived from aquatic organisms’ toxicity tests. The physiological response of the holobiont was expressed by growth rates quantified by the addition of new chambers (new shell parts), and by the chlorophyll a of the algal symbionts. The growth rate decrease varied between 0% and 30% compared to the unamended control for all HMs tested, whereas the algal symbionts exhibited a general non-fatal but significant response to Pb and Cu. Our results highlight that shell growth inhibition of LBF is predicted in extreme concentrations of 57 × CMC of Cu and 523 × CMC of Cd, providing a proof of concept for shell geochemistry monitoring, which is currently not used in the regulatory sectors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3741
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number10
StatePublished - 25 May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Coastal monitoring
  • Heavy metals
  • Larger benthic foraminifera
  • Marine ecology
  • Physiological resilience
  • Pollution
  • Sclerochronology
  • Symbionts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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