Bioaccumulation is the buildup of certain substances (usually in the context of harmful substances) where the organism either cannot breakdown/process the substance, or the organism intakes the substance at a greater rate than it can dispel the substance. One example of this is pesticides. Say for instance a creature feeds on plants which are covered in pesticides. While not initially or apparently harmful, the creature may continue this habit over time and eventually the pesticide bioaccumulates to levels of toxicity. At this point the concentration pesticides in the animal cause harm to its health and may probably affect other animals that prey on it as well.
This is also “bad” because if you think about it, anything in the following food chain that cannot breakdown that substance will inevitably consume the harmful substance. This is bad news for anything at the top of the food chain…including us!
Bioaccumulation is related to trophic levels. Photosynthetic organisms get their energy from the sun, and since this is a more direct and efficient source of energy, plants contain more energy than other organisms. Everytime an herbivore eats a plant, they don’t quite get all the energy stored in the plant, so they have to eat many plants. This continues up different trophic (plants are producers, herbivores are primary consumers, carnivores are secondary consumers, etc.) levels. Bioaccumulation occurs when a chemical or substance enters a food web and increasingly builds up in higher trophic levels. If a plant has an herbicide and rabbits eat a lot of plants, there will be more of the chemical in the primary consumer trophic level (rabbit) and even more in the secondary consumer level when a hawk eats many rabbits.
DDT was a chemical that bioaccumulated and almost wiped about the American Bald Eagle. Bioaccumulation can destroy food webs from the top down.
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