Short-term arsenic exposure reduces diatom cell size in biofilm communities

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Arsenic (As) pollution in water has important impacts for human and ecosystem health. In freshwaters, arsenate (AsV) can be taken up by microalgae due to its similarity with phosphate molecules, its toxicity being aggravated under phosphate depletion. An experiment combining ecological and ecotoxicological descriptors was conducted to investigate the effects of AsV (130 μg L−1 over 13 days) on the structure and function of fluvial biofilm under phosphate-limiting conditions. We further incorporated fish (Gambusia holbrooki) into our experimental system, expecting fish to provide more available phosphate for algae and, consequently, protecting algae against As toxicity. However, this protection role was not fully achieved. Arsenic inhibited algal growth and productivity but not bacteria. The diatom community was clearly affected showing a strong reduction in cell biovolume; selection for tolerant species, in particular Achnanthidium minutissimum; and a reduction in species richness. Our results have important implications for risk assessment, as the experimental As concentration used was lower than acute toxicity criteria established by the USEPA ​
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