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Structural and functional responses of periphyton and macroinvertebrate communities to ferric Fe, Cu, and Zn in stream mesocosms

Cadmus, Pete, Guasch, Helena, Herdrich, Adam T., Bonet, Berta, Urrea, Gemma, Clements, William H.
Environmental toxicology and chemistry 2018 v.37 no.5 pp. 1320-1329
Chironomidae, Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera, United States Environmental Protection Agency, algae, benthic organisms, copper, ecosystems, iron, iron oxides, macroinvertebrates, metabolism, oxides, periphyton, protective effect, protein content, streams, toxicity, zinc
Two mesocosm experiments were conducted to examine effects of ferric iron (Fe) and mixtures of ferric Fe with aqueous metals (Cu, Zn) on stream benthic communities. Naturally colonized benthic communities were exposed to a gradient of ferric Fe (0, 0.4, 1.0, 2.5, 6.2, and 15.6 mg/L) that bracketed the current US Environmental Protection Agency water quality criterion value (1.0 mg/L). After 10 d of exposure to ferric Fe, total macroinvertebrate abundance, number of taxa, and abundance of all major macroinvertebrate groups (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera, and Diptera) were significantly reduced. Heptageniid mayflies and chironomids were especially sensitive to Fe oxide deposition and were significantly reduced at 0.4 and 1.0 mg/L total Fe, respectively. In a second mesocosm experiment, periphyton and macroinvertebrate communities were exposed to ferric Fe (0.60 mg/L) with or without aqueous Cu and Zn at 2 treatment levels: low (0.01 mg/L Cu + 0.1 mg/L Zn) and high (0.05 mg/L Cu + 0.5 mg/L Zn). In contrast to previous research, we observed no evidence of a protective effect of Fe on toxicity of metals. Growth rates and protein content of periphyton were significantly reduced by both ferric Fe and aqueous metals, whereas abundance of heptageniid mayflies (Cinygmula) and whole community metabolism were significantly reduced by ferric Fe alone. We hypothesize that Fe oxides inhibited algal growth and enhanced metal accumulation, leading to a reduction in the quantity and quality of food resources for grazers. Mesocosm experiments conducted using natural benthic communities provide a unique opportunity to quantify the relative importance of indirect physical effects and to develop a better understanding of the relationship between basal food resources and consumers in natural stream ecosystems. Environ Toxicol Chem 2018;37:1320–1329. © 2017 SETAC