Whole tissue trace metal concentrations of ten metals in eight common coastal Australian polychaete species collected from uncontaminated locations were measured. The mean concentration range for each trace metal was: Mn: 2.6-13 microg g(-1); Co: 0.8-4.6 microg g(-1); Cu: 3.4-26 microg g(-1); Zn: 47-225 microg g(-1); As: 18-101 microg g(-1); Se: 2.2-20.4 microg g(-1); Ag: 0.03-2.5 microg g(-1); Cd: 0.07-17 microg g(-1); Hg: 0.08-0.88 microg g(-1) and Pb: 0.09-3.2 microg g(-1)dry mass. Principal components analysis of trace metal signatures revealed that the habitat, i.e. exposed coast sand or rock, estuarine sand or estuarine mud substrate in which a polychaete species was found, had a significant influence on the bioaccumulation of six trace metals (Mn, Cu, Zn, Ag, Cd and Pb). However, there is no clear relationship between trace metal concentrations in substrates and polychaetes. The results of the current study contribute to a reference dataset of polychaete species-specific natural background trace metal concentrations for use in determining the extent of trace metal contamination by urban and industrial sources.