, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 233-242

Acute Toxicity of Nitrate and Nitrite to Sensitive Freshwater Insects, Mollusks, and a Crustacean

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Abstract

Both point- and nonpoint-sources of pollution have contributed to increased inorganic nitrogen concentrations in freshwater ecosystems. Although numerous studies have investigated the toxic effects of ammonia on freshwater species, relatively little work has been performed to characterize the acute toxicity of the other two common inorganic nitrogen species: nitrate and nitrite. In particular, to our knowledge, no published data exist on the toxicity of nitrate and nitrite to North American freshwater bivalves (Mollusca) or stoneflies (Insecta, Plecoptera). We conducted acute (96-h) nitrate and nitrite toxicity tests with two stonefly species (Allocapnia vivipara and Amphinemura delosa), an amphipod (Hyalella azteca), two freshwater unionid mussels (Lampsilis siliquoidea and Megalonaias nervosa), a fingernail clam (Sphaerium simile), and a pond snail (Lymnaea stagnalis). Overall, we did not observe a particularly wide degree of variation in sensitivity to nitrate, with median lethal concentrations ranging from 357 to 937 mg NO3-N/l; furthermore, no particular taxonomic group appeared to be more sensitive to nitrate than any other. In our nitrite tests, the two stoneflies tested were by far the most sensitive, and the three mollusks tested were the least sensitive. In contrast to what was observed in the nitrate tests, variation among species in sensitivity to nitrite spanned two orders of magnitude. Examination of the updated nitrite database, including previously published data, clearly showed that insects tended to be more sensitive than crustaceans, which were in turn more sensitive than mollusks. Although the toxic mechanism of nitrite is generally thought to be the conversion of oxygen-carrying pigments into forms that cannot carry oxygen, our observed trend in sensitivity of broad taxonomic groups, along with information on respiratory pigments in those groups, suggests that some other yet unknown mechanism may be even more important.