Effect of ecological and physiological factors on heavy metal uptake mechanisms in key estuarine species

Supervisor team may include:
Catriona Macleod

Understanding trophic transfer mechanisms in marine species/ communities is an important precursor to clarifying contamination pathways, improving our understanding of the ecosystem and developing effective management and remediation strategies. This project aims to identify the main ecological and physiological factors associated with heavy metal uptake in key invertebrate and vertebrate species. Are they what they eat? How does environmental loading and metal speciation influence uptake potential? This information is important if we are to understand metal accumulation & toxicity, or to identify species with the potential to act as indicators of remediation and is essential for evaluating environmental impacts & developing risk/ management responses.

The project will use a combination of field based and experimental studies (potentially including both traditional dietary analysis techniques and stable isotope analysis) to clarify the relevant responses for key species. There is flexibility within the project to change the project emphasis to suit specific student interests/ capabilities; for instance the project can be focussed on comparison of uptake rates and mechanisms between different functional types within a location, within a species/ type, between locations or even to look at specific uptake pathways.

This project can be tailored to suit students with an interest and ability in either ecological or physiological processes.

There are six key research areas that have been identified as priorities in 2016:
Project 1 - How is metal accumulation rate in Flathead from the Derwent Estuary affected by growth conditions?
Project 2 – Heavy metal uptake in recreationally fished species from the Derwent estuary: Focussing on mechanisms of bioaccumulation & bioavailability.
Project 3 – What can 20 years of oyster sampling tell us about bio-monitoring?
Project 4 – Assessing the relationship between infaunal body burden and mercury load in contamination hotspots.
Project 5 – What is the proportional representation of mercury species in sediments?
Project 6 – What factors can increase mercury accumulation risk in methylation hotspots?

From these projects you may gain skills in: experimental design (field and laboratory), field sampling, conducting laboratory based experiments, statistical analysis, stakeholder interactions and publication of results.

Suitable for February or July start date.

Contact Catriona Macleod ( for more details.

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
October 7, 2019