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Multiple stressors influence benthic macroinvertebrate communities in central Appalachian coalfield streams

Abstract

Headwater streams impacted by surface coal mining in the central Appalachian region of the eastern USA have characteristics not shared by reference-quality streams. These include elevated salinity, often measured using specific conductance (SC) and cited as a primary stressor of benthic macroinvertebrate communities. The study objective was to assess influence by mining-origin stressors on benthic macroinvertebrate community structure in headwater streams. Stream habitat characteristics were measured and benthic macroinvertebrates were sampled from 12 central Appalachian streams, 9 of which were influenced by mining. Multiple benthic macroinvertebrate community metrics, including Ephemeroptera density, richness, and composition were correlated negatively with watershed mining extent and with SC. Predator density and scraper richness were correlated negatively with watershed mining, stream-water selenium, and SC. Clinger richness was correlated positively with stream substrate characteristics including large cobble-to-fines ratios and relative bed stability, and was correlated negatively with watershed mining and SC. Relationships of predator density and scraper richness with selenium concentrations, and relationships of clinger richness with stream substrate characteristics, are consistent with stress mechanisms revealed by prior studies. Improved understanding of how habitat features are altered by mining and influence community structure in headwater streams can inform water resource management in mining areas.

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Data availability

Data are posted for public access at VTechData: D. Drover, Multiple stressors influence benthic macroinvertebrate communities in central Appalachian coalfield streams. https://doi.org/10.7294/4aq8-0955.

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Acknowledgements

This research was sponsored by the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science (ARIES). We thank Megan Underwood, Beth Boehme, Liz Sharp, Kyle Dost, Lindsey Nolan, Sam Hays, and Janelle Salapich for field and laboratory assistance. We also thank Tony Timpano who scouted the streams, installed the conductivity loggers, and provided advice throughout the project; and Patricia Donovan for GIS work that determined extent of mined areas within study-stream watersheds.

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Correspondence to Damion R. Drover.

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 83 kb). Supplementary data tables describing major-ion water chemistry and containing the complete lists of candidate stressor variables and benthic macroinvertebrate metrics are available in a separate file

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Drover, D.R., Schoenholtz, S.H., Soucek, D.J. et al. Multiple stressors influence benthic macroinvertebrate communities in central Appalachian coalfield streams. Hydrobiologia 847, 191–205 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-019-04081-4

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Keywords

  • Salinity
  • Fine sediment
  • Selenium
  • Quantitative sampling
  • Habitat
  • Mining