Field sensitivity distribution of macroinvertebrates for phosphorus in inland waters



The magnitude of ecological damage caused by elevated phosphorus concentrations (CP) in Dutch inland waters is expressed as the fraction of disappeared macroinvertebrate genera. We used field observations of species occurrence from 1980 to 2005 that were stored in the Limnodata Neerlandica to derive the presence of 867 aquatic macroinvertebrate genera in the water column of freshwater bodies with total phosphorus (Ptot) concentrations ranging from 0.001 to 40 mg/L. At concentrations > 0.3 mg/L, which is considered to cause nutrient enrichment of freshwater bodies, the disappeared fraction (DF) of macroinvertebrate genera can be described as a logistic function of the CP: DF = 1/(1 + 4.07/Cmath image). The logistic function suggests that half of the macroinvertebrate genera that potentially occur in the freshwater column in the Netherlands would disappear at a CP = 3.5 mg/L. This field-based effect expression resembles the cumulative sensitivity distribution function for a toxic substance based on the species sensitivity distribution (SSD) concept and exposure data. Whereas an SSD for a toxic chemical is derived from laboratory sensitivity data for a small number of species, our DF is derived from field observations of many macroinvertebrate genera at numerous CP levels. By applying this damage function to measured phosphorus in the rivers Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt, we found that the observed CP values in 1975 imply diversity losses of 15% for the Rhine and Meuse, and 20% for the Scheldt. For 2000, the calculated diversity losses are 3% (Rhine), 6% (Meuse), and 9% (Scheldt). The cumulative genera sensitivity distribution function for phosphorus from national freshwater monitoring data can be applied in various environmental screening systems, such as multistress impact assessment of surface waters, and in life cycle impact assessment of products. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2011;7:280–286. © 2010 SETAC