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Biotransport of Algal Toxins to Riparian Food Webs

Moy, Nicholas J., Dodson, Jenna, Tassone, Spencer J., Bukaveckas, Paul A., Bulluck, Lesley P.
Environmental Science & Technology 2016 v.50 no.18 pp. 10007-10014
Hexagenia, Passeriformes, Tetragnathidae, algae, algal blooms, aquatic environment, aquatic food webs, aquatic insects, body condition, diet, estuaries, feces, fish, human health, liver, microcystins, nestlings, phycotoxins, rivers, shellfish
The occurrence of harmful algal blooms has resulted in growing worldwide concern about threats to aquatic life and human health. Microcystin (MC), a cyanotoxin, is the most widely reported algal toxin in freshwaters. Prior studies have documented its presence in aquatic food webs including commercially important fish and shellfish. In this paper we present the first evidence that algal toxins propagate into riparian food webs. We show that MC is present in emerging aquatic insects (Hexagenia mayflies) from the James River Estuary and their consumers (Tetragnathidae spiders and Prothonotary Warblers, Protonotaria citrea). MC levels in Prothonotary Warblers varied by age class, with nestlings having the highest levels. At the site where nestlings received a higher proportion of aquatic prey (i.e., mayflies) in their diet, we observed higher MC concentrations in liver tissue and fecal matter. Warbler body condition and growth rate were not related to liver MC levels, suggesting that aquatic prey may provide dietary benefits that offset potential deleterious effects of the toxin. This study provides evidence that threats posed by algal toxins extend beyond the aquatic environments in which blooms occur.