EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Effects of heavy metals (Pb, Cu, Zn) on algal food uptake by Elphidium excavatum (Foraminifera) 

Michael Lintner1, Bianca Lintner1, Wolfgang Wanek2, Nina Keul3, Frank von der Kammer4, Thilo Hofmann4, and Petra Heinz1
Michael Lintner et al.
  • 1University of Vienna, Department of Palaentology, Vienna, Austria (
  • 2University of Vienna, Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science, Division of Terrestrial Ecosystem Research, Vienna, Austria
  • 3Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Department of Marine Climate research, Kiel
  • 4University of Vienna, Department of Environmental Geosciences, Vienna, Austria

Foraminifera are unicellular organisms which are important for marine C and N processing. Feeding experiments showed that the food uptake and thus the turnover of organic matter are influenced by changes of physical parameters (e.g., temperature, salinity). Since many areas of the Baltic Sea are strongly affected by anthropogenic activity and therefore contaminated by heavy metals from shipping in the past, this study examined the effect of heavy metal pollution on the food uptake of the most common foraminiferal species of the Baltic Sea, Elphidium excavatum. In 2019, we collected water and sediment containing living E. excavatum in the Kiel Fjord. In laboratory experiments, Baltic Sea seawater was enriched with metals at various levels above normal seawater: Zn (9.2-, 144- and 1044-fold), Pb (2.4-, 48.5- and 557-fold) and Cu (5.6- and 24.3-fold), and the foraminiferal uptake of 13C- and 15N-labelled phytodetritus was measured by isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Significant differences in food uptake were observable at different types and levels of heavy metals in sea water. An increase in the Pb concentration did not affect food uptake, whereas strong negative effects were found for high levels of Zn and especially for Cu. Interestingly, experiments with short incubation periods (1 and 5 days) showed greater differences in food uptake from undisturbed conditions than those of longer incubation times (10 and 15 days). In summary, an increase in the heavy metal pollution in the Kiel Fjord will likely lead to a significant reduction in the turnover of organic matter by foraminifera such as E. excavatum.

How to cite: Lintner, M., Lintner, B., Wanek, W., Keul, N., von der Kammer, F., Hofmann, T., and Heinz, P.: Effects of heavy metals (Pb, Cu, Zn) on algal food uptake by Elphidium excavatum (Foraminifera) , EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-12402,, 2021.

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