Ecotoxicology of aluminum to fish and wildlife

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Edited by:
Robert A. Yokel and Mari S. Golub


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The toxicity of aluminum has been studied extensively in fish, less so in invertebrates, amphibians, and birds, and not at all in reptiles and free-ranging mammals. For aquatic organisms, Al bioavailability and toxicity are intimately related to ambient pH; changes in ambient acidity may affect Al solubility, dissolved Al speciation, and organism sensitivity to Al. At moderate acidity (pH 5.5 to 7.0), fish and invertebrates may be stressed due to Al adsorption onto gill surfaces and subsequent asphyxiation. At pH 4.5 to 5.5, Al can impair ion regulation and augment the toxicity of H+. At lower pH, elevated Al can temporarily ameliorate the toxic effects of acidity by competing for binding sites with H+. Aluminum toxicity in aquatic environments is further affected by the concentration of ligands such as dissolved organic matter, fluoride, or sulfate, and of other cations such as Ca and Mg which compete for cellular binding sites. Although risk of Al toxicity is often based on a model of free-ion (Al3+) activity, recent evidence suggests that factors determining Al toxicity may be more complex. In general, aquatic invertebrates are less sensitive to Al toxicity and acidity than fish; thus acidified, Al-rich waters may actually reduce predation pressure. Fish may be affected by asphyxiation at moderate acidic conditions or electrolyte imbalances at lower pH. In amphibians, embryos and young larvae are typically more sensitive than older larvae. Early breeding amphibians, which lay eggs in ephemeral ponds and streams subject to spring runoff, are most at risk from Al and acidification; those that breed later in the year in lakes or rivers are least vulnerable. Birds and mammals are most likely exposed through dietary ingestion of soil or Al-contaminated foods. Concentrations > 1000 in food may be toxic to young birds and mammals. Clinical signs in these animals are consistent with rickets because Al precipitates with P in the gut. Suggestions for additional research on the ecotoxicology of Al to wild animals are provided.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Book chapter
Publication Subtype:
Book Chapter
Ecotoxicology of aluminum to fish and wildlife
Year Published:
Taylor & Francis
Publisher location:
Washington, DC
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
xi, 256
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
Research Issues in Aluminum Toxicity
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