, Volume 87, Issue 3, pp 229–245 | Cite as

Modification of benthic insect communities in polluted streams: combined effects of sedimentation and nutrient enrichment

  • A. Dennis Lemly


Responses of the benthic insect community of a southern Appalachian trout stream to inorganic sedimentation and nutrient enrichment were monitored over a period of eight months. Entry of pollutants from point sources established differentially polluted zones, allowing an assessment of impacts due to sedimentation alone and in association with elevated nutrient levels. Input of sediment resulted in a significant increase in bed load and decrease of pH at the substrate-water interface (P < 0.05). The zone receiving nutrient runoff from livestock pasture exhibited elevated levels of nitrate and phosphate, but available data indicated such concentrations to be quite low. Species richness, diversity, and total biomass of filter feeding Trichoptera and Diptera, predaceous Plecoptera, and certain Ephemeroptera were significantly reduced in the polluted zones. Inorganic sedimentation, operating indirectly through disruption of feeding and filling of interstitial spaces, was considered to be the primary factor affecting filter feeding taxa. Decomposition of compounds associated with materials in the bed load may depress pH and eliminate acid sensitive species of Plecoptera and Ephemeroptera. Such processes of acidification may be particularly important to Appalachian streams since the pH of regional surface waters is characteristically acidic prior to sedimentation. Accumulation of particles on body surfaces and respiratory structures, perhaps as a function of wax and mucous secretion or surface electrical properties, appears to be the major direct effect of inorganic sedimentation on stream insects. Growths of the filamentous bacterium Sphaerotilus natans were also frequently associated with silted individuals in the zone receiving nutrient addition. Distribution of the bacterium suggested that silted substrates, perhaps as related to the presence of iron compounds, are required for colonization in dilute nutrient solutions. The primary effect of Sphaerotilus colonies appears to be augmentation of particle accumulation through net formation by bacterial filaments. Data indicate that inorganic sedimentation and nutrient addition operate synergistically, eliminating a significantly greater number of taxa than exposure to one pollutant alone.


stream pollution inorganic sedimentation nutrient enrichment benthic insects filamentous bacteria surface adhesion acidification filter feeders 


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Copyright information

© Dr W. Junk Publishers 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Dennis Lemly
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyWake Forest UniversityWinston-SalemU.S.A.

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