/ ˌbaɪəʊəˈkjuːmʊˌleɪt /


  1. (of substances, esp toxins) to build up within the tissues of organisms

Discover More

Derived Forms

  • ˌbioacˌcumuˈlation, noun


Discover More

More About Bioaccumulate

What does bioaccumulate mean?

To bioaccumulate is to undergo bioaccumulation (or biological accumulation)—the process by which foreign substances, such as pesticides or toxic chemicals, build up within an organism.

Bioaccumulation refers to the buildup of such substances within a single organism. When this happens, these substances are said to bioaccumulate. This poses problems for individual organisms, but it’s also a problem for entire ecosystems. When the bioaccumulation in each organism is compounded (added together, or magnified), this is called biological magnification (or biomagnification). Biomagnification means that bioaccumulation can get worse for animals higher up in the food chain: the amount of toxic substances (such as mercury or pesticides) is greater in the bodies of organisms (including humans) that consume other organisms. At each stage of the food chain, the toxic buildup increases—it biomagnifies. Substances bioaccumulate in individual organisms before they biomagnify.

These terms are especially used in discussions of marine biology because aquatic life is particularly vulnerable to contamination from pesticides like DDT and toxins, such as mercury (when these things get into the water, they inevitably get into the animals and other organisms that live in the water).

Example: The dangers of allowing toxins to be released into the environment is that they tend to bioaccumulate and then biomagnify, resulting in unwanted effects to organisms and food chains. 

Where does bioaccumulate come from?

The first records of the word bioaccumulate come from around the 1970s. Bioaccumulation is first recorded slightly early, in the 1950s. The prefix bio- means “life” and is used in terms that involve living organisms.

Terms like biomagnify, biomagnification, bioaccumulate, and bioaccumulation are helpful in highlighting the importance of keeping toxins out of the environment. All of them are relatively recent, and that’s because serious study of the effects of bioaccumulation and biomagnification only began in the last quarter of the 1900s. Today, they are especially used in the context of the study of ecosystems, food chains, and the sometimes unseen environmental impact of pollution and pesticides.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to bioaccumulate?

What are some words that share a root or word element with bioaccumulate

What are some words that often get used in discussing bioaccumulate?

How is bioaccumulate used in real life?

Bioaccumulate is most commonly used in the context of the environment and ecosystems.



Try using bioaccumulate!

True or False? 

Bioaccumulate means the same thing as biomagnify.

Word of the Day


[ak-suh-lot-l ]

Meaning and examples

Start each day with the Word of the Day in your inbox!

By clicking "Sign Up", you are accepting Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies.