, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 595-606
Date: 02 Mar 2011

Phylogenetic signals and ecotoxicological responses: potential implications for aquatic biomonitoring

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Macroinvertebrates can be successfully used as biomonitors of pollutants and environmental health because some groups are sensitive whereas, others are relatively tolerant to pollutants. An issue of ongoing debate is what constitutes an appropriate group for biomonitoring; should the group represent species, genera or higher taxonomic levels? A phylogenetic framework can provide new insights into this issue. By developing phylogenies for chironomids and mayflies, this investigation shows that there is strong phylogenetic signal for pollution responses, and that phylogenetic nodes are common to tolerant and sensitive groups of species. A phylogenetic analysis of biotic indices developed for mayflies based on their response to organic pollution shows that mayfly families varied in pollution tolerance. In contrast, based on sediment zinc concentrations as an indicator of pollution tolerance, Australian chironomids tend to vary in tolerance at lower taxonomic levels. Published data on North American chironomids shows much of the signal for pollution responses is contained within genera rather than sub-families. Tools are now available to distinguish whether this signal reflects historical evolutionary constraints or environmental effects leading to common evolved responses. This suggests that ideally higher taxonomic levels should be used for biomonitoring when there are strong phylogenetic constraints at higher levels. Evolutionary considerations can therefore help to guide the development of macroinvertebrate biomonitors and provide insights into processes that produce sensitive and tolerant taxa.