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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances



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Biomagnification Figure
A hypothetical example of the biomagnification of mercury in water up through the food chain and into a wading bird's eggs. Figure Source: Is Mercury the Achilles Heel of the Restoration Effort?, South Florida Restoration Science Forum


Biomagnification - "Biomagnification is the sequence of processes in an ecosystem by which higher concentrations of a particular chemical, such as the pesticide DDT, are reached in organisms higher up the food chain, generally through a series of prey-predator relationships." - Oxford University, 2008

Biomagnification – “Result of the process of bioaccumulation and biotransfer by which tissue concentrations of chemicals in organisms at one trophic level exceed tissue concentrations in organisms at the next lower trophic level in a food chain.” - Environmental Protection Agency, 2010

Biomagnification – “Biomagnification is the process whereby the tissue concentrations of a contaminant increase as it passes up the food chain through two or more trophic levels.” - Nowell and others, 1999

Biomagnification – “Biomagnification begins with ingestion by a predator of a lower trophic level organism whose tissues contain contaminant residues….The available evidence suggests that biomagnification may occur under conditions of low water concentration for compounds of high lipophilicity, high persistence, and low water solubility (Biddinger and Gloss, 1984).” - Nowell and others, 1999

Biomagnification – “Bioaccumulation of a pesticide through an ecological food chain by transfer of residues from the diet into body tissues. The tissue concentration increases at each trophic level in the food web when there is efficient uptake and slow elimination (Rand and Petrocelli, 1983).” - International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), 1996

Related Definitions

Biomagnification Factor (BMF) - "The term biomagnification factor (BMF) is refer to the ratio of contaminant concentration in biota to that in the surrounding water when the biota was exposed via contaminated food." - Nowell and others, 1999

Trophic Level - "Group of organisms united by obtaining their energy from the same part of the food web of a biological community." - Orlans, 1995



Food Web

USGS Information on Biomagnification

Related Science Feature Articles

Other Information on Biomagnification


Biddinger, G.R., and Gloss, S.P., 1984, The importance of trophic transfer in the bioaccumulation of chemical contaminants in aquatic ecosystems: Residue Rev., v. 91, p. 103-145.

International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, 1996, Glossary of terms relating to pesticides: Pure and Applied Chemistry, v. 68, no. 5, p. 1167-1193.

Nowell, L.H., Capel, P.D., and Dileanis, P.D., 1999, Pesticides in stream sediment and aquatic biota--Distribution, trends, and governing factors: Boca Raton, Fla., Lewis Publishers, 1001 p.

Orians, G.H., 1995, Ecology, aggregate variables, in Neiremberg, W.A., ed., Encyclopedia of Environmental Biology: San Diego Calif., Academic Press, v. 1, p. 581-588.

Oxford University, 2008, The physical and theorhetical chemistry laboratory: Oxford University, access date June 2, 2010.

Rand, G.M., and Petrocelli, S.R., 1985, Fundamentals of aquatic toxicology: Washington, D.C., Hemisphere.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010, Solid waste and emergency response glossary--Biomagnification: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, access date June 2, 2010.


Disclaimer: The definitions on this page are provided for information purposes only, and do not indicate endorment by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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