How does pollution relate to biological magnification?

1 Answer
Jul 4, 2015


Biological magnification is the tendency of pollutants to become concentrated in successive trophic levels.


Biomagnification occurs when organisms at the bottom of the food chain concentrate the material above its concentration in the surrounding soil or water.

Producers take in inorganic nutrients from their surroundings. Since a lack of these nutrients can limit the growth of the producer, producers will go to great lengths to obtain the nutrients. They will spend considerable energy to pump them into their bodies. They will even take up more than they need immediately and store it, since they can't be "sure" of when the nutrient will be available again (of course, plants don't think about such things, but, as it turns out, those plants, which, for whatever reason, tended to concentrate inorganic nutrients have done better over the years).

The problem comes up when a pollutant, such as DDT or mercury, is present in the environment. Chemically, these pollutants resemble essential inorganic nutrients and are brought into the producer's body and stored "by mistake". This is the first step in biomagnification; the pollutant is at a higher concentration inside the producer than it is in the environment.

The second stage of biomagnification occurs when the producer is eaten. A consumer (of any level in pyramid biomass) has to consume a lot of biomass from the lower trophic level. If that biomass contains the pollutant, the pollutant will be taken up in large quantities by the consumer.

Pollutants that biomagnify have another characteristic. Not only are they taken up by the producers, but they are absorbed and stored in the bodies of the consumers. This often occurs with pollutants soluble in fat such as DDT or PCB's. These materials are digested from the producer and move into the fat of the consumer. If the consumer is caught and eaten, its fat is digested and the pollutant moves to the fat of the new consumer. In this way, the pollutant builds up in the fatty tissues of the consumers.