Experimental evaluation of the contribution of acidic pH and Fe concentration to the structure, function and tolerance to metals (Cu and Zn) exposure in fluvial biofilms

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An indoor channel system was colonised with fluvial biofilms to study the chronic effects of high Fe and SO4 2- concentrations and acidic pH, the water chemistry in the surrounding streams of Aljustrel mining area (Alentejo, Portugal), and their contribution to community (in)tolerance to metal toxicity by short-term experiments with Cu and Zn. Biofilms were subjected to four different treatments during 8 weeks: high Fe and SO4 2- concentrations (1 mg Fe l-1+ 700 mg SO 4 2- l-1) and acidic pH, high Fe and SO4 2- at alkaline pH; lower Fe and SO4 2- at acidic pH: and lower Fe and SO4 2- concentrations at alkaline pH as negative control. During chronic exposure, acidic pH affected growth negatively, based on low values of algal biomass and the autotrophic index, high values of the antioxidant enzyme activities and low diversity diatom communities, dominated by acidophilic species (Pinnularia aljustrelica) in acidic treatments, being the effects more marked with high Fe and SO4 2-. Co-tolerance to metals (Cu and Zn) was also shown in biofilms from the acidic treatments, contrasting with the higher sensitivity observed in the alkaline treatments. We can conclude that the Aljustrel mining area acidic environment limits algal growth and exerts a strong selection pressure on the community composition which is in turn, more tolerant to metal exposure ​
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