Benthic foraminifera for heavy metal pollution monitoring: A case study from the central Adriatic Sea coast of Italy
Review articleOpen access

AbstractBenthic foraminifera are increasingly used as environmental bio-indicators of pollution in coastal and marginal marine settings. Their community structure provides information on the general characteristics of the environment and some species are sensitive to specific environmental parameters. Among various criteria, the occurrence of test abnormalities may represent a useful bioindicator for monitoring environmental impacts in coastal regions. A study of living benthic foraminifera was carried out in 42 sediment samples collected from the central Adriatic coast of Italy. Benthic foraminiferal assemblages from this area are rich, well preserved, and dominated by Ammonia parkinsoniana, and subordinately by Ammonia tepida, Aubignyna perlucida, Eggerella scabra, and Nonionella turgida. Heavy metal concentrations have been analysed which indicate low polluted environmental conditions. Foraminiferal species and heavy metal concentrations were investigated both with bivariate (correlation matrix) and multivariate techniques of principal component analysis (PCA) and cluster analysis. Statistical analysis shows a possible control of these pollutants both on the taxonomic composition of the benthic foraminiferal assemblages and the development of test malformations. Increasing heavy metal contents lead to an increase in relative abundance of A. tepida A. perlucida, N. turgida and E. scabra, and a relative concurrent decrease in relative abundance of A. parkinsoniana and higher percentages of deformed specimens (FAI) and species (FMI). Our results confirm that A. parkinsoniana prefers clean to low polluted environments and show that it is a very sensitive and un-tolerant species to heavy metal pollution being deeply affected by heavy metal content even at low concentrations. Our findings also confirm the capacity of the A. tepida to tolerate increasing heavy metal concentrations, and highlights that A. perlucida, N. turgida and E. scabra can be considered as tolerant species at least in low polluted environments. Following this, A. parkinsoniana and A. tepida can be reciprocally considered good bioindicator of heavy metal pollution over the surveyed area. The development of test abnormalities with a variety of malformations is a noticeable feature over the study area where the living deformed assemblages are largely dominated by a few species. The low percentages of deformed specimens (Foraminiferal Abnormality Index up to 4.7, with 2 on average) match well with the low concentrations of heavy metals that lead to low polluted environmental conditions. This study confirms and supports the suitability of studying benthic foraminifera as a technique for the in situ continuous bio-monitoring of heavy metal pollution of coastal marine sediments.

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