Copper exposure reduces production of red carotenoids in a marine copepod

Ryan J. Weaver*, Geoffrey E. Hill, Pou Long Kuan, Yung Che Tseng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Sub-lethal exposure to copper has been shown to modulate both mitochondrial function and antioxidant gene expression in zooplankton. To date, however, researchers have not identified a quantifiable phenotypic trait that reliably indicates such physiological responses to copper exposure. Red ketocarotenoids are abundant in marine zooplankton serving both physiological and coloration roles, and their production is sensitive to environmental stress. In this study the expression of mitochondrial gene cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) and antioxidant gene glutathione reductase (GR), and the production of red ketocarotenoid, astaxanthin, was measured in response to sub-lethal copper exposure. We found that mRNA of COI and GR was more abundant in copper-exposed copepods than controls, suggesting there was a physiological response to copper exposure. At the same time, copper-exposed copepods produced less astaxanthin than controls. We suggest that ketocarotenoid content of zooplankton has the potential to be a sensitive bioindicator of marine environmental pollution. Understanding how cellular responses to environmental stressors manifest in the phenotypes of marine animals will greatly increase our capacity to monitor marine ecosystem health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-400
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Nov 1


  • Astaxanthin
  • Carotenoids
  • Heavy metals
  • ROS
  • Tigriopus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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