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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2004 Jul;23(7):1786-95.

Relationships among exceedences of metals criteria, the results of ambient bioassays, and community metrics in mining-impacted streams.

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National Center for Environmental Assessment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 26 W. Martin Luther King Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268, USA.


If bioassessments are to help diagnose the specific environmental stressors affecting streams, a better understanding is needed of the relationships between community metrics and ambient criteria or ambient bioassays. However, this relationship is not simple, because metrics assess responses at the community level of biological organization, while ambient criteria and ambient bioassays assess or are based on responses at the individual level. For metals, the relationship is further complicated by the influence of other chemical variables, such as hardness, on their bioavailability and toxicity. In 1993 and 1994, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) conducted a Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (REMAP) survey on wadeable streams in Colorado's (USA) Southern Rockies Ecoregion. In this ecoregion, mining over the past century has resulted in metals contamination of streams. The surveys collected data on fish and macroinvertebrate assemblages, physical habitat, and sediment and water chemistry and toxicity. These data provide a framework for assessing diagnostic community metrics for specific environmental stressors. We characterized streams as metals-affected based on exceedence of hardness-adjusted criteria for cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc in water; on water toxicity tests (48-h Pimephales promelas and Ceriodaphnia dubia survival); on exceedence of sediment threshold effect levels (TELs); or on sediment toxicity tests (7-d Hyalella azteca survival and growth). Macroinvertebrate and fish metrics were compared among affected and unaffected sites to identify metrics sensitive to metals. Several macroinvertebrate metrics, particularly richness metrics, were less in affected streams, while other metrics were not. This is a function of the sensitivity of the individual metrics to metals effects. Fish metrics were less sensitive to metals because of the low diversity of fish in these streams.

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