Critical body residues (CBRs) for ecotoxicological soil quality assessment: copper in earthworms

W.C. Ma

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50 Citations (Scopus)


The term `critical body residue` (CBR) was defined as the lowest observed total body concentration of a contaminant in an organism, which is associated with the occurrence of adverse toxic effects in either individuals or populations of a defined age or stage of development. In this study, internal toxicity thresholds were determined for copper in the clitellated adult stage of earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus and Aporrectodea caliginosa). The objective was to assess the applicability of CBRs as a practical tool in soil quality assessment of contaminated sites and as a means of a sustainable protection of earthworm fauna. Laboratory studies showed that body concentrations of Cu were generally in agreement with the chemically available CaCl2-extractable fraction in soil, but that there was also some evidence of internal pH-related homeostatic regulation. Toxicological correlates of body Cu concentrations with adverse effects on cocoon production (fecundity) suggested an approximate sublethal internal threshold of about 40 mg kg-1, with mortality occurring at about 60 mg kg-1. Adult L. rubellus sampled from areas with a wide range of metal pollution showed body Cu concentrations with a minimum of 8 mg kg-1 and a maximum of 60 mg kg-1. Beyond this apparent physiological tolerance range, environmental management directed at optimal earthworm population survival may not be sustainable in contaminated fields. Studies of L. rubellus colonizing a metal-contaminated experimental sludge-treated field showed that a reduced rate of colonization can already be associated with an average body Cu concentration of 25 mg kg-1. However, in this particular field situation mixture effects of other metals that were also present in the soil and the occurrence of avoidance behaviour during colonization may have contributed to this low internal toxicity threshold. It is concluded that the CBR approach seems to be a feasible option for use as a tool in a bioavailability-based soil quality assessment, even for essential trace metals like copper, but that further insight may be needed to establish the uncertainty and reliability of the application in environmental quality assessment and decision making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-568
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • aporrectodea-caliginosa oligochaeta
  • lumbricus-rubellus
  • heavy-metals
  • reproduction
  • toxicity
  • cadmium
  • growth
  • contamination
  • accumulation
  • biomarker

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