Medium- and Long-Term Effects of Estrogenic Contaminants on the Middle River Po Fish Community as Reconstructed from a Sediment Core

Abstract

Recent studies showed that endocrine active compounds (EDs) capable to induce fish gonadal histopathologies, plasma vitellogenin and thyroid disruption, are transported by the River Lambro to the River Po, potentially affecting the fish community of the main Italian river. To assess whether fish relative abundance, composition and health were impaired by the River Lambro, a 3-year survey was undertaken in the main river. Results showed that the tributary supports in the River Po a denser fish community (+43 %), with a higher total biomass (+35 %). The survey also showed niche- and sensitivity-dependent effects, so that three benthopelagic species (bleak, topmouth gudgeon, and bitterling) were, for example, more abundant downstream from the tributary (up to 3.4×), but their sizes were significantly smaller. The present fish community was then compared with that described 30 years before in the same area of the Po River. This comparison highlighted that some fish species have disappeared and many have severely declined. To better evaluate this contrast, a sediment core of the Lambro tributary was analysed for the time trends of natural estrogens (E1, E2, E3), bisphenol A and alkylphenols. The results showed that during the last 50 years the River Lambro has been exposed to high estrogenic activities (16.1 ± 9.3 ng E2 equivalents/g), which inevitably affected also the River Po. In addition, at the time of the previous survey, six species of the main river had skewed sex ratios toward all-female populations, providing evidence that EDs and particularly (xeno)estrogens were already affecting the long-term viability of fish populations. Estrogens thus can be ascribed among the causal factors of fish qualitative and quantitative decline of the River Po, although long-term effects have been likely mitigated by nonconfinement of fish populations and nutrient enrichment.

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Acknowledgments

This study was financially supported by the European Union within the EASYRING Project (Contract No. QLK4-2002-02286) and by the Regione Lombardia within the Sedimenti Lambro Project. The authors wish to thank D. Mastroianni (IRSA, Rome) and V. Locaputo (IRSA, Bari) for part of sediment core characterization.

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Correspondence to Luigi Viganò.

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Viganò, L., Loizeau, JL., Mandich, A. et al. Medium- and Long-Term Effects of Estrogenic Contaminants on the Middle River Po Fish Community as Reconstructed from a Sediment Core. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 71, 454–472 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-016-0315-3

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Keywords

  • Sediment Core
  • Fish Community
  • Common Carp
  • Crucian Carp
  • Pressurise Liquid Extraction