Toxic thresholds of cadmium and lead to oceanic phytoplankton: Cell size and ocean basin-dependent effects

P. Echeveste*, S. Agustí, A. Tovar-Sánchez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Thresholds of cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb) toxic to oceanic phytoplankton were examined in natural communities from the Mediterranean and Black Seas and the North East Atlantic Ocean. At concentrations of added Cd and Pb greater than 0.11μgL-1, cell abundances and growth rates decreased with increasing addition of Cd and Pb, for all phytoplankton populations. The lethal concentrations at which populations decreased by half (LC50s), ranged from 0.23 to 498.7μgL-1 Cd for Atlantic Prochlorococcus and Black Sea picoeukaryotes, respectively, and from 20 to 465.2μgL-1 Pb for Mediterranean Synechococcus and Black Sea nanoplankton, respectively. These lethal concentrations were significantly lower than those previously reported for phytoplankton cultures. The LC50s were strongly related to population cell size, increasing as cell size increased, indicating that oceanic picocyanobacteria Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus populations were the most sensitive, and the largest phytoplankton cells the most resistant. Based on this relationship, differences in sensitivity to Cd across systems were detected, with Black Sea phytoplankton communities being more resistant (up to 100 times) than similar sized phytoplankton of the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1887-1894
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cadmium
  • Cell size
  • LC50
  • Lead
  • Phytoplankton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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