Get access

The use of in situ and stream microcosm experiments to assess population- and community-level responses to metals

Authors

  • Jeffrey L. Clark,

    1. Department of Fishery and Wildlife Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • William H. Clements

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Fishery and Wildlife Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. 4th SETAC World Congress, Portland, OR, USA, November 14-18, 2004
    • Department of Fishery and Wildlife Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

We conducted field and stream microcosm experiments to assess population-level (density, size distribution) and community-level (species richness metrics, multivariate analysis of community composition) responses of macroinvertebrates to heavy metals in the Arkansas River, a mining-polluted stream in Colorado, USA. Experiments were conducted in spring and summer to coincide with early and late developmental stages (i.e., instars) of the mayfly Rhithrogena hageni. Results of field experiments showed significant mortality at metal-contaminated sites during summer when mayfly populations were dominated by small, early instars (mean dry wt = 0.13 mg). In contrast, no significant mortality was observed in spring when organisms were larger (mean dry wt = 1.78 mg). Multivariate analyses based on abundance of dominant taxa clearly separated reference and metal-impacted stations in summer experiments but showed little separation in spring. We observed no significant effects of metals on species richness, number of mayfly species, or EPT (species richness of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera) in either field experiment. Using stream microcosms, we established concentration-response relationships between heavy metals and R. hageni density, species richness, mayfly richness, and EPT. Density of R. hageni was generally more sensitive to metals than measures of species richness, and summer populations of R. hageni were more sensitive to metals than spring populations. Because the presence of large, relatively tolerant individuals in spring coincided with periods of higher metal concentrations, R. hageni was protected from toxic effects in this system. We conclude that phenology and developmental stage are important factors influencing responses of some aquatic macroinvertebrates to metals. Thus, timing bioassessments to coincide with the presence of these sensitive life stages can improve our ability to detect subtle contaminant effects.

Ancillary