Assimilation efficiencies of contaminants from ingested food are critical for understanding chemical accumulation and trophic transfer in aquatic invertebrates. Assimilation efficiency is a first-order physiological parameter that can be used to systematically compare the bioavailability of different contaminants from different foods. The various techniques used to measure contaminant assimilation efficiencies are reviewed. Pulse-chase feeding techniques and the application of gamma-emitting radiotracers have been invaluable in measuring metal assimilation efficiencies in aquatic animals. Uniform radiolabeling of food is required to measure assimilation, but this can be difficult when sediments are the food source. Biological factors that influence contaminant assimilation include food quantity and quality, partitioning of contaminants in the food particles, and digestive physiology of the animals. Other factors influencing assimilation include the behavior of the chemical within the animal's gut and its associations with different geochemical fractions in food particles. Assimilation efficiency is a critical parameter to determine (and to make predictions of) bioaccumulation of chemicals from dietary exposure. Robust estimates of assimilation efficiency coupled with estimates of aqueous uptake can be used to determine the relative importance of aqueous and dietary exposures. For bioaccumulation of metals from sediments, additional studies are required to test whether metals bound to the acid-volatile sulfide fraction of sediments can be available to benthic deposit-feeding invertebrates. Most assimilation efficiency studies have focused on chemical transfer in organisms at the bottom of the food chain; additional studies are required to examine chemical transfer at higher trophic levels.
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