Ecophysiological effects of mercury bioaccumulation and biochemical stress in the deep-water mesopredator Etmopterus spinax (Elasmobranchii; Etmopteridae)

Abstract Mercury (Hg) is a non-essential metal that can have toxic effects on the fitness of organisms and tends to bioaccumulate with age and to biomagnify in higher trophic levels. Few studies have assessed oxidative stress and neurotoxicity in deep-water sharks. This study evaluated early ontogenetic changes and physiological effects (antioxidant defences, oxidative damage, aerobic metabolism and neurotransmission functions) of Hg accumulation in the white muscle and brain tissues of the velvet belly lantern shark Etmopterus spinax from the southern Iberian coast (NE Atlantic). Results suggested that the low mercury concentrations observed may induce acute effects in E. spinax before they reach sexual maturity. We found different Hg concentrations in E. spinax: [Hg] males > [Hg] females; [Hg] muscle > [Hg] brain. Females appeared to have higher redox capability translated into higher activities and levels of antioxidant defences than males. However, higher levels of oxidative damage were also observed in females. Whilst the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unknown, these results suggest differences in mercury accumulation between tissues and sex, and potentially deleterious effects on oxidative stress status and neurophysiology of E. spinax, potentially impairing swimming performance and reproduction, which could subsequently impact on the health of both individuals and population.
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