Edaphic factors affecting the toxicity and accumulation of arsenate in the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris

Andrew A. Meharg*, Richard F. Shore, Kirsten Broadgate

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The toxicity and accumulation of arsenate was determined in the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris in soil from different layers of a forest profile. Toxicity increased fourfold between 2 and 10 d. Edaphic factors (pH, soil organic matter, and depth in soil profile) also affected toxicity with a three fold decrease in the concentration that causes 50% mortality with increasing depth in soil (from 0-70 mm to 500-700 mm). In a 4-d exposure study, there was no evidence of arsenic bioconcentration in earthworm tissue, although bioaccumulation was occurring. There was a considerable difference in tissue residues between living and dead earthworms, with dead worms having higher concentrations. This difference was dependent on both soil arsenate concentration and on soil type. Over a wide range of soil arsenate concentrations, earthworm arsenic residues are homeostatically maintained in living worms, but this homeostasis breaks down during death. Alternatively, equilibration with soil residues may occur via accumulation after death. In long-term accumulation studies in soils dosed with a sublethal arsenate concentration (40 μg/g dry weight), bioconcentration of arsenate did not occur until day 12, after which earthworm concentrations rose steadily above the soil concentration, with residues in worms three fold higher than soil concentrations by the termination of the study (23 d). This bioconcentration only occurred in depurated worms over the time period of the study. Initially, depurated worms had lower arsenic concentrations than undepurated until tissue concentrations were equivalent to the soil concentration. Once tissue concentration was greater than soil concentration, depurated worms had higher arsenic residues than undepurated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1124-1131
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental toxicology and chemistry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Arsenate
  • Earthworm
  • Lumbricus terrestris
  • Toxicity testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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