Macroalgae metal-biomonitoring in Antarctica: Addressing the consequences of human presence in the white continent

Céline Lavergne, Paula S.M. Celis-Plá, Audran Chenu, Fernanda Rodríguez-Rojas, Fabiola Moenne, María José Díaz, María Jesús Abello-Flores, Patricia Díaz, Ignacio Garrido, Paulina Bruning, Marcelo Verdugo, M. Gabriela Lobos, Claudio A. Sáez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Marine ecosystems in the Arctic and Antarctica were once thought pristine and away from important human influence. Today, it is known that global processes as atmospheric transport, local activities related with scientific research bases, military and touristic maritime traffic, among others, are a potential source of pollutants. Macroalgae have been recognized as reliable metal-biomonitoring organisms due to their accumulation capacity and physiological responses. Metal accumulation (Al, Cd, Cu, Fe, Pb, Zn, Se, and Hg) and photosynthetic parameters (associated with in vivo chlorophyll a fluorescence) were assessed in 77 samples from 13 different macroalgal species (Phaeophyta; Chlorophyta; Rhodophyta) from areas with high human influence, nearby research and sometimes military bases and a control area, King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Most metals in macroalgae followed a pattern influenced by rather algal lineage than site, with green seaweeds displaying trends of higher levels of metals as Al, Cu, Cr and Fe. Photosynthesis was also not affected by site, showing healthy organisms, especially in brown macroalgae, likely due to their great dimensions and morphological complexity. Finally, data did not demonstrate a relationship between metal accumulation and photosynthetic performance, evidencing low anthropogenic-derived impacts associated with metal excess in the area. Green macroalgae, especially Monostroma hariotti, are highlighted as reliable for further metal biomonitoring assessments. In the most ambitious to date seaweed biomonitoring effort conducted towards the Austral pole, this study improved by 91% the overall knowledge on metal accumulation in macroalgae from Antarctica, being the first report in species as Sarcopeltis antarctica and Plocamium cartilagineum. These findings may suggest that human short- and long-range metal influence on Antarctic coastal ecosystems still remains under control.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118365
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Anthropocene
  • Contamination
  • Ecophysiology
  • Intertidal
  • Subtidal


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