The role of fish helminth parasites in monitoring metal pollution in aquatic ecosystems: a case study in the world's most productive platinum mining region

31 July 2020

Due to the increasing consumption of platinum (Pt), especially in automobile exhaust catalysts, environmental concentrations of Pt are of emerging concern worldwide. Limited information exists on environmental concentrations, particularly in Pt mining regions, while South Africa is the world’s main supplier of Pt. Moreover, other metals are also released as by-products of Pt mining, which might also cause environmental concern. Certain fish parasite taxa have the ability to accumulate metals orders of magnitude higher than their hosts and can be used to reliably detect metals with naturally low abundance. Studies on Pt accumulation in parasite-host systems are limited. Therefore, the aims of the present study were (1) to determine the accumulation of a variety of metals (cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), platinum (Pt), and zinc (Zn)) in helminth fish parasites compared with their hosts from a reference site and an impoundment impacted by Pt mining activities; (2) to assess whether there is a difference between bioaccumulation of metals in infected and uninfected hosts, as well as between hosts with different infection intensities; and (3) to compare the biomarker responses (acetylcholine esterase activity (AChE), metallothionein content (MT), catalase activity (CAT), reduced glutathione content (GSH), malondialdehyde content (MDA), protein carbonyls induction (PC), superoxide dismutase activity (SOD), and cellular energy allocation (CEA)) between infected and uninfected hosts. The cestode Atractolytocestus huronensis accumulated significantly higher concentrations of Cr, Ni, and Pt than their host Cyprinus carpio, while the nematode Contracaecum sp. accumulated significantly higher concentrations of Pt and Zn than their host Clarias gariepinus. Infected fish showed lower metal concentrations compared to uninfected fish, while the parasites had no significant effects on their hosts’ biomarker responses. The parasites demonstrated the bioavailability of metals derived from Pt mining activities and their ability to resist its toxic effects. Thus, these parasites are promising sensitive accumulation indicators for Cr, Ni, Pb, and Pt contaminations from Pt mining activities