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Ecol Appl. 2006 Apr;16(2):645-55.

Community response patterns: evaluating benthic invertebrate composition in metal-polluted streams.

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  • 1National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. 20460, USA.


Human activities are modifying the condition and character of ecosystems at a rapid rate. Because of these rapid changes, questions concerning how ecosystems and their assemblages respond to anthropogenic stressors have been of general interest. Accurate prediction of assemblage composition in ecosystems with anthropogenic degradation requires that we assess both how assemblages respond to stressors and the generality of the responses. We ask whether assemblage composition among stream sites becomes more similar after exposure to a common stressor. Using data from biological monitoring programs in the southern Rocky Mountain ecoregion of Colorado and in West Virginia, we compare benthic invertebrate similarity and assemblage composition among sites having different levels (background, low, medium, and high) of heavy-metal pollution. Invertebrate assemblages were most similar within the background metal category, and similarity was progressively lower in low, medium, and high metal categories. An analysis of the frequency of occurrence of genera within metal categories reveals taxonomic shifts that conform to expectations based on metal tolerance of benthic invertebrates. However, different metal-tolerant genera were found at different metal-impacted sites, suggesting that local abiotic and biotic processes may influence the identity of the metal-tolerant genera that become established in polluted sites. Low community similarity in the medium and high-metal categories suggests that accurate prediction of assemblage composition at impacted sites may be challenging.

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