Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Research Article

Tolerance and accumulation of the trace metals zinc, copper and cadmium in three populations of the polychaete Nereis diversicolor

Qixing  Zhou a1a2, P.S.  Rainbow a1c1 and B.D.  Smith a1
a1 Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD
a2 Key Laboratory of Terrestrial Ecological Processes, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110015, China


The comparative tolerance and accumulation of the trace metals zinc, copper and cadmium in populations of the littoral polychaete worm Nereis diversicolor from three sites: (a) heavily metal-contaminated Dulas Bay in Anglesey, north Wales, (b) the Blackwater estuary, Essex, as a control site, and (c) West Thurrock, the Thames estuary as a site of intermediate metal contamination, were investigated. Worms from Dulas Bay did not show increased tolerance to any metal, but worms from West Thurrock showed significantly increased copper sensitivity compared to the worms from Dulas Bay and the Blackwater. Worms accumulated zinc and copper from sediments with raised zinc and copper concentrations, and all three metals from solution in proportion to dissolved concentration. Accumulated metal was not excreted in 21 days and field concentrations of zinc and copper in the worms differed between sites. There was no evidence for inter-populational differences in accumulation rates of zinc and cadmium from solution, but worms from Dulas Bay accumulated copper from solution at a significantly higher rate than did worms from the other two sites. Nereis diversicolor takes up and accumulates zinc and cadmium from solution at similar rates per unit molar exposure, but cadmium is taken up at a greater rate per unit free metal ion molar exposure. Although N. diversicolor from Dulas Bay is exposed to very high availabilities of zinc and copper, accumulation and detoxification mechanisms are sufficient to cope with the extra metal influx (accentuated for dissolved copper) without selection for a metal-tolerant population.

(Received March 12 2002)
(Accepted December 2 2002)

c1 Corresponding author, e-mail: