The use of fish metabolic, pathological and parasitological indices in pollution monitoring I. North Sea

K. Broeg, S. Zander, A. Diamant, W. Körting, G. Krüner, I. Paperna, H. V. Westernhagen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An integrated biological effect monitoring concept has been tested in flounder (Platichthys flesus L.) from four locations with different anthropogenic impact in the German Bight. During 3 years of sampling, biomarkers at all levels of biological organisation from the molecular to the ecosystem level were applied and tested on 742 individual fish of body lengths between 18 and 25 cm. At the ecosystem level, the fish were taken as a habitat for the parasite assemblage. The hypothesis was that changes in the environment might lead to changes in the species diversity of parasites and in the infection intensity of single species, as well as between heteroxenic and monoxenic parasite species (H/M ratio). At the molecular level, activity of the CYP1A-dependent monooxygenase ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase (EROD) was used as a biomarker of exposure. At the subcellular level, the integrity of lysosomal membranes in hepatocytes was taken as an indicator of non-specific acute and chronic toxic effects. Both biomarkers are recommended by the ICES Advisory Committee on the Marine Environment for the application in biological effects monitoring programmes. In addition, neutral lipid content in the liver was used as a marker for pathologically induced fat accumulation. In the same individual fish, a new method for the measurement of macrophage aggregate activity in the liver was tested for its application and reliability in reflecting immunosuppression. Tests were accompanied by chemical analysis of standard organochlorine and heavy metal residues in flounder tissue. A total of 33 parasite species were found. As an indicator species, the mean abundance of Trichodina sp. reflected best the pollution gradient observed with highest infection intensity at the most polluted location. Species diversity was significantly higher in fish caught near the reference site and significantly lower in fish from the polluted Elbe estuary. The use of the heteroxenous/monoxenous species ratio as a marker was not useful at the locations investigated because of the dominance of heteroxenous species at all habitats. Since EROD activity and macrophage aggregate activity were dependent on sex and maturity of female flounder, only male fish were taken into consideration for the integrated evaluation of data. All biochemical and histochemical tests were able to reflect accurately the site-specific differences, as well as an observed pollution event at the end of 1995 as determined by chemical analyses. The correlation analysis revealed a connection not only between the single parasitological and biochemical parameters but also within these groups. The non-specific immune response and Trichodina infection intensity were correlated with all other parameters, leading to the assumption that these may serve as links between the lowest and the highest levels of biological organisation. The simultaneous use of metabolic and parasitological results facilitated the interpretation of the observed variations of the data and the distinction between natural variation and pollution-mediated effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-194
Number of pages24
JournalHelgoland Marine Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Integrated biological effect monitoring
  • Metabolic, pathological and parasitological biomarkers
  • North Sea
  • Platichthys flesus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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