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In situ toxicity tests of fishes in acid waters

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Toxicity of waters within the North Branch of the Moose River to various life stages of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus), and blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus) were examined in situ. Study sites were selected that were expected to range from toxic to favourable water quality. For example, pH varied from 4.25 to 7.17, inorganic monomeric Al ranged from ND (< 0.01 mg/l) to 0.40 mg/l, and Ca, from 0.41 to 4.27 mg/l.

Toxicity tests were conducted at times when the life stages would naturally occur in these waters and were continued until a range of mortality was observed at the various sites. These experiments suggested that the extent of the drainage system that is toxic to fish increases during snowmelt and major runoff events. Summer base flow water quality was generally the least toxic.

Critical life stages were upon hatching and as early feeding fry. In general, young of the year fish were the most tolerant life stage tested. Yearling and adult fish, however, were very sensitive. Blacknose dace were the most sensitive fish of the four species tested, and brook trout were the most tolerant.

Hydrogen ion (H+) concentration was the most toxic variable in the majority of tests. Inorganic monomeric Al was the most toxic in several, and the combination of H+ and Al seemed to cause increased toxicity in many instances. A three-variable model employing hours of exposure, H+ concentration, and inorganic monomeric Al predicted mortality quite well. A simple two-variable model using H+ and color was nearly as good (R2 from 0.49 to 0.94).

Documented differences in toxicity among sites and species agreed with observed patterns of fish distribution. These in situ results indicated that laboratory estimates of safe levels of pH and concentrations of Al can result in mortality of fishes in surface waters subject to acidification.

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Johnson, D.W., Simonin, H.A., Colquhoun, J.R. et al. In situ toxicity tests of fishes in acid waters. Biogeochemistry 3, 181–208 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02185192

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Key words

  • acidification
  • Adirondacks
  • aluminum
  • aquatic toxicology
  • In Situ toxicity tests
  • water quality
  • brook trout
  • lake trout
  • creek club
  • blacknose dace