The bioavailability to clams (Potamocorbula amurensis and Macoma balthica) of Cd, Cr, and Zn from suspended particulate material (SPM) collected during a phytoplankton bloom was compared to bioavailability from SPM dominated by resuspended sediments. Bioavailability was also compared among mudflat sediments amended with different levels of living benthic microalgae. Bioavailability was defined by absorption efficiencies determined using pulse-chase protocols, modified for studying natural particle assemblages. The partitioning of Cd and Zn to particles (K(d)) increased as the microalgae biomass (Chl a) increased in the particle assemblages; partitioning of Cr was less affected by the algal biomass. The clams fed particle assemblages enriched with microalgae absorbed Cd and Zn with significantly greater efficiency than did the clams fed algae-poor particles. This was partially explained by the greater occurrence of Cd and Zn in the cytosolic fraction of the particle assemblages that were microalgae enriched, as well as by the efficient absorption of cytosolic material by the clams. Among metals, Zn was most efficiently absorbed by both clams, and Cr the least. M. balthica absorbed Zn more efficiently from all types of food particles (39-82%) than did P. amurensis (13-50%). P. amurensis absorbed Cd with greater efficiency from the bloom SPM (44-48%) than did M. balthica (13-21%), but the two clams absorbed Cd similarly from benthic microalgae (26-51%). The addition of microalgae to complex natural particle assemblages clearly affected the bioavailability of associated metals, so studies using sediments (or suspended particulate material) that do not include a realistic living food component could underestimate metal bioavailability from particle ingestion.