The uptake and distribution of selected heavy metals in the freshwater crab, Potamonautes perlatus (Milne Edwards), in the Eerste River, Western Cape

Snyman, Reinette Georgenie (1996-12)

Thesis (MScAgric (Zoology))--University of Stellenbosch, 1996.


A number of studies on the general physico-chemical character of the Eerste River, Western Cape, had previously been done, but the problem of heavy metal pollution had, by 1993, not been addressed. A study was therefore undertaken from 1993-1995 in order to investigate these aspects. Since several researchers have shown that freshwater crabs accumulate certain heavy metals in their bodies and may therefore be used as monitors of environmental heavy metal pollution, the present study concentrated mainly on metal concentrations (Mn, Zn, Cu, Pb and Cd) in the local freshwater crab species, Potamonautes perlatus, and its possible use as biomonitor in the Eerste River. Two localities in the Eerste River were chosen,. in order to make comparisons, namely a relatively uncontaminated site in the Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, Jonkershoek, and a visibly polluted site downstream from Stellenbosch, behind Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery (SFW). Crabs, water and sediment samples were collected seasonally at both localities, and metal concentrations thereof determined by atomic absorption spectrophotometry. The results showed that the Eerste River down to the SFW locality is still relatively unpolluted in terms of heavy metals. It was, however, clear that runoff from the Stellenbosch municipal, industrial and agricultural areas do have an influence on other physico-chemical features of the river. The concentrations of heavy metals in whole crabs, tissues and carapace showed that Zn concentration was well regulated in P. perlatus from both localities, Mn and Cu were accumulated in individuals from SFW, and Pb and Cd accumulated in both populations. Compartmentalization of heavy metals was shown to occur in P. perlatus: the carapace was found to be the most important storage site for Mn, Zn and Pb, the carapace and gonads equally important for Cd storage, and the digestive gland the most important site for Cu storage. Whereas gender was shown, generally, to be of little importance in heavy metal uptake in P. perlatus, crab body size and seasonality were both shown to influence heavy metal uptake to some extent. However, only summer peaks in whole crab, carapace and tissue manganese concentrations were shown to correlate with peaks in environmental Mn concentrations. It was concluded that P. perlatus would possibly only be a Suitable monitor of environmental Mn, Pb and Cd pollution, although there is no guarantee that the crab body would accurately reflect environmental concentrations. It was also ascertained that, since a study of the sperm ultrastructure of P. perlatus showed a significantly larger number of abnormal spermatozoa in male crabs from ,SFW, and since these observed differences could possibly be related to heavy metal exposure, the sperm of this species might be a more reliable indicator of heavy metal pollution. It was finally concluded that more intensive research need to be undertaken on various aspects, especially the use of the spermatozoon as indicator of environmental heavy metal pollution, and that the results of the present study could serve as a basis for future studies.

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