Food-chain length determines the level of phenanthrene bioaccumulation in corals.

Ananya Ashok, Lone Høj, Diane L Brinkman, Andrew P Negri, Susana Agusti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Exposure from the dissolved-phase and through food-chains contributes to bioaccumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in organisms such as fishes and copepods. However, very few studies have investigated the accumulation of PAHs in corals. Information on dietary uptake contribution to PAHs accumulation in corals is especially limited. Here, we used Cavity-Ring-Down Spectroscopy (CRDS) to investigate the uptake rates and accumulation of a 13C-labeled PAH, phenanthrene, in Acropora millepora corals over 14 days. Our experiment involved three treatments representing exposure levels of increasing food-chain length. In Level W, corals were exposed to 13C-phenanthrene directly dissolved in seawater. In Level 1 representing herbivory, Dunaliella salina microalgal culture pre-exposed to 13C-phenanthrene for 48 h was added to the coral treatment jars. In Level 2 representing predation, corals were provided a diet of copepod (Parvocalanus crassirostris) nauplii fed on D. salina pre-exposed to 13C-phenanthrene. Bioconcentration factors (BCF) and bioaccumulation factors (BAF) were calculated as appropriate for all organisms, and biomagnification factors (BMF) were calculated for A. millepora. We found that while phenanthrene uptake rates were not significantly different for the treatments, the accumulated concentration in corals was significantly higher in Level W (33.5 ± 2.83 mg kg−1) than in Level 1 (27.55 ± 2.77 mg kg−1) and Level 2 (29.36 ± 3.84 mg kg−1). Coral log BAF values increased with food-chain length; Level 2 log BAF (6.45) was higher than Level W log BCF (4.18) and Level 1 log BAF (4.5). Coral BMF was also higher for Level 2 than for Level 1. Exposure to dissolved or diet-bound phenanthrene had no significant effect on the coral symbionts’ photosynthetic efficiency (Fv/Fm) as monitored by pulse-amplitude-modulation (PAM) fluorometry, indicating the PAH can be accumulated without toxic effects to their Photosystem II. Our study highlights the critical role of dietary exposure for pollutant accumulation in corals.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)118789
JournalEnvironmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987)
StatePublished - Jan 6 2022

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2022-01-18
Acknowledgements: This research was funded by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) through baseline funding to S. Agustí and a center partnership project between the Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). We thank Florita Flores, Philip Mercurio, Tom Barker and Thomas Armstrong from AIMS and Malak Abdallah, Vijayalaxmi Dasari, Mongi Ennasri from KAUST for their valuable help and assistance with the experiments and samples analysis.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Toxicology


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