Linking ecological impact to metal concentrations and speciation: A microcosm experiment using a salt marsh meiofaunal community



Microcosm experiments addressed the impact of a mixture of Cu, Cr, Cd, Pb, and Hg at three concentrations after 36 h, 12 d, and 30 d on a meiofauna-dominated salt marsh community. In addition to analyzing effects on meiofaunal abundances, the study quantified the sediment metal concentrations of all five metals and pore-water concentrations, speciation, and ligand complexation of Cu. Abundances of deposit feeders such as the polychaete Streblospio benedicti, gastropods, and bivalves were impacted at lower metal concentrations than the mainly algal-feeding copepods, ostracods, and nematodes. We suggest that this might be due to bulk ingestion of metal-contaminated sediments resulting in relatively higher metal exposure in the deposit feeders than in the other, nondeposit feeding taxa. Copepod and ostracod abundances decreased only in the highest metal treatment, where levels of inorganic Cu ([Cu′]) in pore waters were similar to levels associated with both acute and subacute toxicity in published in vivo toxicity studies of marine copepods. The higher metal treatments yielded disproportionately higher pore-water [Cu] compared with sediment [Cu], suggesting saturation of sediment-associated ligands with increased additions of Cu. Similarly, the higher metal treatments appeared to reach saturation of the organic Cu ligands, with the excess pore-water [Cu] present in the more toxic, inorganic species of Cu. Acid-volatile sulfide (AVS) concentrations at sediment horizons inhabited by meiofauna were low and AVS was not considered a significant metal ligand at these depths. Since meiofauna are predominantly associated with oxic surface sediments, it is doubtful that AVS is a major factor controlling availability of free metal for exposure to these taxa.