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Biomagnification refers to the accumulation of toxins through the trophic levels of a food chain. It results in an increased concentration of the toxin in the higher organisms of the food chain. Biomagnification occurs with toxins that are stored long term in the organism (bioaccumulative) and are not metabolized and excreted quickly (#Campbell 2002).

A common example of biomagnification is red tide, caused by harmful algal blooms.  The algae Karenia brevis under certain conditions grows rapidly, and their xanthophyll pigment creates a redish hue in the water.  K. brevis produces brevetoxin, a neurotoxin lethal to both fish and humans.  Shellfish feeding on the algae accumulate the toxin in their tissue and if consumed by humans, can lead to poisoning.  Symptoms can include numbess and tingling in fingers and toes as well as gastrointestinal distress (#Campbell 2002, #CDC 2004).

Also see Bioaccumulation.


Such biomagnifying chemicals include Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), PCBs and dioxins


Campbell, Neil A. and Jane B Reece. Biology. 6th ed. San Fransico: Pearson Education, Inc. 2002.

Center for Disease Control. 2004. "Harmful Algal Blooms" [Accessed 05-17-11]

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