This study critically evaluated the native pygmy mussel (Xenostrobus securis) as a biomonitor of the key metal contaminants in the highly urbanised Sydney Estuary, south-eastern Australia. Five metals (Cd, Cr, Cu, Pb and Zn) were identified as key contaminants, based on their enrichment factors (EFs) in the whole soft tissue of X. securis at 24 sampling sites, relative to baseline values from near-pristine reference sites in the adjacent Hawkesbury Estuary. Inverse relationships established between mussel size (dry tissue weight) and tissue concentrations of each metal were used to reduce variance (by 4-fold) among individuals; gender and reproductive status had no significant (p > 0.05) effect on tissue metal concentrations in X. securis. Metal concentrations in three environmental matrices – filtered (<0.2 μm) surface water (operationally defined as the dissolved/colloidal phase), suspended particulate matter (SPM; >0.2 μm) and surface sediment (<2 mm particle size), which are most relevant to a suspension-feeding estuarine bivalve, were also determined at each sampling site. For each of the five metals, highly significant (p < 0.01) positive linear regressions were established between metal EFs for mussel tissue and each environmental matrix. Metals in surface sediment and SPM explained 80–91% and 81–90%, respectively, of the variability in metal concentrations in mussel tissue, with filtered surface water explaining 74–86%. Cumulative mussel tissue EFs of all five metals, when regressed against each environmental matrix, showed that surface sediment concentrations explained 93% of their variability between sites, SPM 94% and filtered surface water 87–90%. Hence, X. securis very closely reflects the metal concentrations in its aquatic environment. The study provides a quality-assured benchmark of key metal contamination in the Sydney Estuary, and an appropriate methodology that may be used to discern any changes in metal contaminant status using X. securis.
- Enrichment factor
- Body size