, Volume 779, Issue 1, pp 147–159 | Cite as

Combined effects of nutrients and trace metals on chironomid composition and morphology in a heavily polluted lake in central China since the early 20th century

  • Yanmin Cao
  • Enlou ZhangEmail author
  • Hongqu TangEmail author
  • Peter Langdon
  • Dongliang Ning
  • Wenxiu Zheng
Primary Research Paper


Eutrophication and trace metal pollution seriously threaten the health of lake ecosystems; however, little is known about the response of zoobenthos to their combined impacts. In order to detect their effects on the biotic community of a lake, subfossil chironomids were analyzed in a sediment core from Sanliqi Lake, a hypereutrophic and severely metal-polluted lake located in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River in central China. The sediment core provides a record of environmental changes since the 1930s. Increases in pollutant concentrations began before the 1990s, and increases in total P and Pb began from the 1950s. Significant increases in nutrient and metal concentrations in the 1990s document the acceleration of eutrophication and metals pollution. As a consequence, macrophyte-related chironomid taxa (e.g., Cricotopus sylvestris-type and Dicrotendipes sp.) which dominated the subfossil assemblages prior to the 1990s were replaced by pollution-tolerant species (i.e., Tanypus chinensis-type and Procladius choreus-type) thereafter. Chironomid diversity gradually decreased from the 1950s with an abrupt change occurring in 1995. Multivariate statistical analyses reveal that subfossil chironomid assemblages are significantly correlated with total N, Pb, and Cd, highlighting the combined impact of nutrients and trace metals on the chironomid communities. In addition, the relative abundance of Procladius choreus-type with mouthpart deformities increased over time and is significantly positively correlated with trace metals and nutrients. Nevertheless, further laboratory studies to assess the linkage between sediment contamination and mouthpart deformities are needed in order to enhance the utility of the latter as an indicator of environmental health.


Morphological deformity Chironomid assemblages Eutrophication Trace metal Yangtze floodplain 



Ablabesmyia sp.


Corynoneura edwardsi-type


Cricotopus sylvestris-type


Dicrotendipes nervosus-type


Microchironomus tener-type


Microchironomus tabarui-type


Paratanytarsus undiff


Paratanytarsus penicillatus-type


Polypedilum nubeculosum-type


Procladius choreus-type


Tanypus chinensis-type


Tanytarsus undiff


Tanytarsus mendax-type


Tanytarsus pallidicornis-type



We thank Dr. Xu Chen from China University of Geosciences for providing sediment samples and suggestions during the preparation of the manuscript. We also thank Dr. Jan Bloemendal for improving the English text and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant no. 41402307, 41530753, 31100389), the National Fundamental Research Project for Science and Technology of China (Grant no. 2014FY110400), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Grant CZQ14019).


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Engineering Research Center for Protection and Utilization of Bioresource in Ethnic Area of Southern ChinaSouth-Central University for NationalitiesWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and EnvironmentNanjing Institute of Geography & Limnology, Chinese Academy of SciencesNanjingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Research Centre of HydrobiologyJinan UniversityGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Geography and EnvironmentUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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