Metal pollution is pervasive across terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems owing to anthropogenic activities. Sediments can accrue high concentrations of metals and act as secondary sources, and thus may be valuable indicators of metal contamination across spatiotemporal scales. In aquatic systems, the extent of metal pollution may be further mediated by transference among sediments and living organisms, with plant metal contaminants potentially predictive of underlying sediment concentrations. The present study thus quantifies the extent of metal pollutants (Na, K, Ca, Mg, Cu, Zn, Mn, B, Fe) across multiple study sites and seasons (cool-dry, hot-wet, hot-dry) in a subtropical river system. Furthermore, uptake by a key macrophyte species, Phragmites australis
, was examined and correlated with sediment pollution levels among different plant parts. Overall, sediment pollution load indices differed seasonally, being significantly highest during the cool-dry season irrespective of sampling location, suggesting that periods with reduced water flows can exacerbate metal pollution levels in riverine sediments. Also, metal concentrations were highest in upstream wetland sites, indicating a capacity for metal sink effects in these areas. Overall, macrophytes contained high concentrations of select metals, however composition and concentrations differed across plant parts, with roots containing particularly high concentrations of Fe and B. Correlations between sediment and macrophyte concentrations were mostly non-significant, whilst stem Mn and Fe concentrations correlated significantly negatively and positively to sediment concentrations, respectively. The present study identifies key spatiotemporal differences in multiple metal contaminants in an understudied subtropical aquatic system that align with hydrological regime differences. Whilst macrophytes were not found to be major accumulators, or predictors, of metal contaminants in this study, they may collectively play a central role in concentration regulation in aquatic systems.
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