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Sensitivity of Warm-Water Fishes and Rainbow Trout to Selected Contaminants


Guidelines for developing water quality standards allow U.S. states to exclude toxicity data for the family Salmonidae (trout and salmon) when deriving guidelines for warm-water habitats. This practice reflects the belief that standards based on salmonid data may be overprotective of toxic effects on other fish taxa. In acute tests with six chemicals and eight fish species, the salmonid, Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), was the most sensitive species tested with copper, zinc, and sulfate, but warm-water species were most sensitive to nickel, chloride, and ammonia. Overall, warm-water fishes, including sculpins (Cottidae) and sturgeons (Acipenseridae), were about as sensitive as salmonids in acute tests and in limited chronic testing with Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) and Mottled Sculpin (Cottus bairdi). In rankings of published acute values, invertebrate taxa were most sensitive for all six chemicals tested and there was no trend for greater sensitivity of salmonids compared to warm-water fish.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

Data and metadata for this manuscript is available online in a USGS data release (Dormann et al. 2020;


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Funding for this study was provided in part by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has not formally reviewed this publication and the views expressed here may not reflect the views of USEPA. We thank Ed Hammer and Candace Bauer of USEPA Region 5 for many helpful discussions. Nathan Eckert of US Fish and Wildlife Service provided fish species for testing. USGS personnel provided technical assistance with fish culture (James Candrl, Ryan Warbritton, Dave Whites); toxicity testing (Eric Brunson, Doug Hardesty, Brittany King, James Kunz, Ben Stalschmidt); and analyses of metals and anions (Vanessa Melton, Mike Walther). This manuscript was reviewed and approved in accordance with USGS policy. Peer reviews were provided by Dr. Bethany Kunz and two anonymous reviewers. This research was conducted in accordance with the USGS-CERC Animal Welfare Plan. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. All data produced by this federally-funded project has been made available to the public as a USGS data release (Dorman et al. 2020).

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Correspondence to John M. Besser.

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Besser, J.M., Dorman, R., Ivey, C.D. et al. Sensitivity of Warm-Water Fishes and Rainbow Trout to Selected Contaminants. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 104, 321–326 (2020).

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  • Water quality criteria
  • Salmonidae
  • Warm-water fish
  • Species sensitivity distribution