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Examination of the exposure pathways and effects of metal mining mixtures in Fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas)



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The overall objective of the work described in this thesis was to examine the effects of both waterborne and dietary routes of exposure to fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) when exposed to complex metal mining mixtures. This was conducted using a 21-day, multi-trophic, short-term fathead minnow (FHM) reproductive bioassay. The endpoints that were measured were used to assess the effects on multiple levels of biological organization (sub-organismal to population endpoints). The first phase of this research was conducted in situ using environmentally realistic concentrations of 3 separate metal mining effluents [20% surface water effluent (SWE), 30% mine water effluent (MWE), 45% process water effluent (PWE)] from Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Metals were analyzed in several media (water, sediments) and tissues (biofilm, Chironomus dilutus, female fathead minnow carcass, ovaries, liver and gills). The incorporation of the biofilm (primary producers) into the bioassay also added another level of organization that was novel to this study. Significant increases in metal concentrations were observed in the water and biofilm tissues in all treatments [SWE, MWE, PWE], compared to reference. Cobalt and nickel increased significantly in C. dilutus tissues in SWE (1.4-fold and 1.5-fold respectively), and copper and selenium in PWE (5.2-fold and 3.3-fold respectively), however no significant increases occurred in MWE compared to reference. There were no significant increases in metal concentrations in female FHM tissues (carcass, liver, gonads, gills) in any of the treatments, suggesting that metal bioavailability was reduced. Cumulative number of eggs per female per day increased significantly (+127%) after exposure to SWE and decreased significantly (-33%) after exposure to PWE when compared to the reference fish. Mean total number of days to hatch was also reduced in PWE compared to reference. In order to gain a better understanding of the routes of exposure causing toxicity in FHM, the second phase of this research examined the effects of exposure through diet, through water or through both using a fully factorial food exposure design in a laboratory setting. In this experiment we pre-exposed C. dilutus to both 45% PWE and laboratory control water until they reached the 3rd-4th instar stage of development (approximately 21 days) where they were collected and frozen until the start of the FHM reproductive bioassay. We further examined the role of food quality on fish toxicity by assessing differences between multi trophic (where fish were fed both a live and frozen diet of C. dilutus) in the laboratory. This research was conducted at the Toxicology Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The results showed that significant effects were observed when fish were fed a live diet versus a frozen diet. Condition factor and body weight increased, although inconsistent effects were observed for liver somatic index (LSI) in fathead minnows in both experiments when exposed to one or both routes of exposure. Cumulative total egg production and cumulative spawning events were both significantly affected by both waterborne and dietborne exposures with the greatest effects seen in the multi-trophic streams and particularly when fish were fed a live diet. This significance of this research has demonstrated the importance of including both routes of exposure when assessing effects of mine effluent. This research also shows that the artificial stream technology is a useful tool in isolating the effects of a particular point source input (metal mining mixtures) when a system is highly confounded. The results suggest that under environmentally relevant exposure conditions, trophic transfer and live diet may lead to greater reproductive effects and increased fish toxicity. This also suggests that trophic transfer is an important route of exposure that is virtually impossible to attain using typical laboratory bioassay techniques (food-borne study using artificial diets or waterborne exposures only).



Waterborne, Dietborne, Fish bioassay, Multi-trophic, Mine effluent, Metal mine mixtures, Fathead minnow



Master of Science (M.Sc.)






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