Indicator Name: Aquatic macrophytes water pollution biomonitoring (AQMWB)

Key message: Increase in heavy metals concentration in aquatic ecosystems

Assessment: The aquatic macrophytes were investigated in the period 1996-2018. Research results show a general trend in increasing the concentration of investigated metals in aquatic ecosystems. The monitoring of accumulation of 8 metals (Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, Ni, Pb, Cd, Cr) in aquatic macrophytes covered the period 1996-2018. On the basis of literature data and research, data from 11 years were used (1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2018). Samples of water plants were taken from the sites with the greatest multitude and cover on several locations in different parts of Serbia; up to 200 – 1,000 g of fresh aquatic species in each subsample.

On the base of published papers, the results of metals accumulation monitoring in water macrophytes are presented. Results of metal accumulation for 31 species of aquatic macrophytes at 65 sites throughout the Republic of Serbia were presented. The obtained results for the water macrophytes application show a tendency of increasing concentrations of tested metals in examined examples.

Figure 1: Concentration of Fe and Mn in water bodies in Serbia.
Figure 2: Concentration of heavy metals in water bodies in Serbia.

Indicator Name: „Aquatic macrophytes water pollution biomonitoring” (AQMWB)

Institution/Author: Institute of biology and ecology, Faculty of Science, Kragujevac/ dr Snežana Branković

Use and interpretation: Different plant species of aquatic macrophytes can be used as biomonitors for water pollution and for the assessment of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) or organic and inorganic pollutants in water.

Key question(s) which indicator helps to answer: „What is the level of water pollution? What is concentration of metal in water?

Use of indicator: Different plant species of aquatic macrophytes can be used as biomonitors for water pollution and for the assessment of potentially toxic elements (PTEs) or pollutants in water

Scale of appropriate use: in all aquatic ecosystems, liquid and standing waters, in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and seas, from local to regional and world scale

Potential for aggregation: The aquatic macrophytes were investigated (in the central part of Serbia) in the period 2003-2018. Concentrations of Fe, Pb, Cd, Cu, Mn, Hg and As were measured in water, sediment and aquatic plant in triplicate in several reservoirs in central part of Serbia. During the selection of plant species, dominant taxa in the populations were selected in order to create real representative sample. By reason of data comparing, the same plant species from different localities were sampled, when it was possible. Research results show a general trend in increasing the concentration of metals in aquatic ecosystems.

Meaning of upward or downward trends („good or bad“): The aquatic macrophytes were investigated (in the  central part of Serbia) in the period 2003-2018. Research results show a general trend in increasing the concentration of metals in aquatic ecosystems.

Possible reasons for upward or downward trends: In Serbia for many years, the trend of greater application of different agro-technical measures in agriculture, the increase in industrial and other waste, the increase in traffic volume, as well as the increase in air, soil and water pollution has been registered. As a consequence of all of this, the content of various pollutants (metals) also increasing in water and aquatic plants.

Implications for biodiversity management of change in the indicator: protected and rarely spread aquatic plant species cannot be used for biomonitoring purpose.

Water macrophytes populating water ecosystems represent reflection of ecological conditions, and they have important role in their formation, maintaining and function, in making and structuring of vegetation, in productive and trophic relations of water ecosystems. Due to the fact that aquatic macrophytes have big capacity for nutrient accumulation, bioconcentration and high tolerance toward heavy metals, they are more and more used, except for bioindication, for the cleaning of water, soil and shore in different technologies of the phytoremediation.

Continued monitoring of chemical parameters of water and monitoring of distribution and number of aquatic plant species are important parameters in planning and defining of different cleaning and maintenance programmes, as well as in sustainable development of aquatic ecosystems.

Studies have been done on the capabilities of some macrophytes in removing different concentrations of heavy metals; being viewed as biomonitors of environmental metal levels and on their function as biological filters of the aquatic environment. Aquatic plants are therefore used in water quality studies to monitor heavy metals and other pollutants of water and submerged soil. Selective absorption of certain ions of aquatic plants, combined with their sedentary nature makes such plants suitable as biological monitors.

Units in which it is expressed: Element concentrations in aquatic plants samples usually expressed as mg kg-1 (dry weight). Whole aquatic plants or separate parts (root, stem, leaf) can be used for biomonitoring of elements in water.

 Description of source data: The field work was conducted from 2003-2018. Samples of water plants are taken from the sites with the greatest multitude on several locations in the central part of Serbia; sampling every 5 years, up to 6 subsamples per 100 × 100 m2; up to 200 g of fresh aquatic species in each subsample; scientists and support staff should collect the aquatic macrophytes

Calculation procedure: Different aquatic species (Myriophyllum spicatum (whole plant), Ceratophyllum demersum (whole plant), Potamogeton lucens (whole plant), Lemna minor (whole plant), Lemna minor and Riccia fluitans (sampled together), Lemna minor and Lemna gibba (sampled together), Polygonum amphibium (stem, leaf), Thypha angustifolia (rhizome, stem, leaf), Thypha latifolia (rhizome, stem, leaf), Phragmites australis (stem, leaf), Lycopus europaeus (stem, leaf), Bidens tripartitus (stem, leaf), Rorippa amphibia (stem, leaf), Alisma plantago-aquatica (leaf), Mentha aquatica (whole plant) and Butomus umbellatus (whole plant) should be used for biomonitoring survey; the disadvantage is the presence of different species of aquatic macrophytes in aquatic ecosystems for the comparison of results.

Most effective forms of presentation: Maps based on data about PTE concentrations in investigated aquatic plants sampled across investigated localities while graphs are convenient way of presenting the concentration of elements at particular sampling sites. Narratives are appropriate when describing general methodology and requirement of moss sampling/analyses, and for the conclusion remarks

Limits to usefulness and accuracy: One of the limiting factors is specific equipment for reading metal concentration in water and plant sampling. Also, the limitation is non-harmonized methodology of work as well as a lack of pollutant target values in aquatic macrophytes bio-monitor prescribed by regulations. In addition, the pollutant values in aquatic macrophytes can be compared with the values in known background areas/regions (e.g., India, China).

Updating the indicator: Whole or separated aquatic plant (root, stem, leaf) is taken for analyses; thus, the surveys can be performed in 1-years intervals or in four seasons. Different, acrophytes species have been tested for biomonitoring purpose, and recommendations have been done. The goal is to highlight species with wide ecological valence and great distribution (cosmopolitan species).

Closely related indicators: Closely related indicators habitat conditions such as wet or occasionally floating areas, without landscaping activities (building, asphalting, agriculture)

Additional information and comments: Biomonitoring offers an appealing tool for the assessment of metal pollution in aquatic ecosystem. The bioindicators including algae, macrophyte, zooplankton, insect, bivalve molluscs, gastropod, fish, amphibian and others are enumerated and compared for their advantages and disadvantages in practical biomonitoring of aquatic metal pollution.

„Bioindicators are organisms or communities of organisms, which react to pollution by alterations of their life functions and/or accumulate the noxious substance”.

Bioindicators, including aquatic macrophytes, can be used in three ways for the assessment of environmental factors and environmental impacts. Indicator plants may be individual species, groups of species or communities, which provide information on the status of an ecosystem. Accumulation indicators accumulate toxic substances from the environment: passive monitors are collected from their natural habitat; active monitors are placed in the respective environment under investigation.

Aquatic plants (hydrophytes, macrophytes) are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments. A macrophyte is an aquatic plant that grows in or near water and is either emergent, submergent, or floating, and includes helophytes (a plant that grows in marsh, partly submerged in water, so that it regrows from buds below the water surface). Heavy metals cause environmental problems in water ecosystems. Heavy elements enter the environment as a result of industrial and agricultural activities as well as urban wastewater and they accumulate in the bodies of aquatic plants.  Due to capability of aquatic plants to absorb heavy metals, they can show the relative increase of these elements in water or in the sediment of ecosystems.


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Branković, S., Glišić, R., Topuzović, M., Đekić, V., Marin, M. (2018). The bioaccumulation and translocation potential of some aquatic plants. Water Research and Management, 8 (2): 17-23.

Table: Aquatic macrophytes water pollution biomonitoring (AQMWB)