Impacts and Pathways of Mine Contaminants to Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus) in an Idaho Watershed

Abstract

Metals contamination from mining activities is a persistent problem affecting aquatic ecosystems throughout mining districts in the western USA. The Gold Creek drainage in northern Idaho has a history of mining within its headwaters and contains elevated sediment concentrations of As, Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn. To determine system-wide impacts of increased metals, we measured concentrations of metals in water, sediment, and benthic macroinvertebrate tissues and related them to whole-body fish tissues and histopathological alterations in native salmonids. Water concentrations were higher than those in reference areas, but were below water quality criteria for protection of aquatic biota for most of the study area. Sediment and benthic macroinvertebrate tissue concentrations for all metals were significantly higher at all sites compared with the reference site. Fish tissues were significantly higher for all metals below mine sites compared with the reference site, but only Cd and Pb were higher in fish tissues in the furthest downstream reach in the Gold Creek Delta. Metals concentrations in benthic macroinvertebrate tissues and fish tissues were strongly correlated, suggesting a transfer of metals through a dietary pathway. The concentrations within sediments and biota were similar to those reported in other studies in which adverse effects to salmonids occurred. We observed histopathological changes in livers of bull trout, including inflammation, necrosis, and pleomorphism. Our study is consistent with other work in which sediment-driven exposure can transfer up the food chain and may cause adverse impacts to higher organisms.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Environmental Contaminants Program and the Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Unit at the University of Idaho. We would like to thank Roy Brazzle, Toni Davidson, Scott Deeds, Kate Healy, and Jon Lipke for their help with data collection. We thank Beth MacConnell at the Bozeman Fish Health Center for histopathological analysis and guidance on interpretation. Lastly, we thank Greg Möller and Brian Spears for their reviews and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Tim Kiser.

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Kiser, T., Hansen, J. & Kennedy, B. Impacts and Pathways of Mine Contaminants to Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus) in an Idaho Watershed. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 59, 301–311 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-009-9457-x

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Keywords

  • Reference Site
  • Mine Site
  • Fish Tissue
  • Benthic Macroinvertebrates
  • Histopathological Alteration