Journal of Aquatic Ecosystem Stress and Recovery

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 159–184 | Cite as

Stream ecosystem response to, and recovery from, experimental exposure to selenium

  • Michael C. Swift


The effects of selenium on streamecosystems were studied in outdoor,experimental stream mesocosms during a dosingperiod in which sodium selenite was added atnominal concentrations of 30 µg/L,10 µg/L, and 2.5 µg/L. The durationof the high, medium, and low treatments were573 d, 972 d, and 311 d, respectively. Apost-dosing period of three years (hightreatment) and two years (medium, lowtreatments) also was studied. Seleniumconcentrations in water, sediment, plants, andmacroinvertebrates were measured throughoutthe dosing and recovery periods. Fatheadminnows and bluegill sunfish were periodicallyheld in the streams to measure seleniumaccumulation and its effects on fish survivaland reproduction. Quantitative samples ofmacroinvertebrates were collected to assessselenium effects on macroinvertebratecommunities.

Mean selenium concentration inwater was quite close to the nominalconcentration. Selenium accumulated in thesediment in all three treated streams, but notin the control streams. Sediment seleniumdecreased slowly after dosing ceased, but wasstill significantly higher than in controlstreams three years (high treatment) and twoyears (medium treatment) later.

Macrophytetissue selenium concentrations weresignificantly greater in all three treatmentsthan those in the control streams duringdosing. Macrophyte selenium bioaccumulationfactors (BAFs) ranged from about 300 to 1900. Tissue selenium decreased rapidly in all threetreatments after dosing ended.

During dosing,selenium concentrations in animals from allthree treatments were significantly higherthan in those from control streams. The BAFsfor macroinvertebrates ranged from 1100 to2000. Isopods accumulated more, and amphipodsless, selenium than other invertebrates. Therewere no significant effects of selenium onmacroinvertebrate abundance, richness ordiversity. Several macroinvertebrates werenot affected by exposure to selenium, butisopod and Tubifex populations weredramatically reduced in the high and mediumtreatments. After dosing, mean seleniumconcentration in macroinvertebrates decreasedslowly.

Bluegill sunfish accumulated seleniumduring dosing and after selenium additionsceased. Tissue selenium was highest in theliver, followed by the gonads, skeletalmuscle, and whole body. Tissue seleniumconcentrations one (high, medium) and two(high) years after dosing were lower thanduring dosing, but whole body, skeletal muscleand liver concentrations were high enough tobe considered potentially toxic.

Recovery ofselenium contaminated streams includes bothreduction of tissue selenium concentration tonon-toxic levels in fish and their foodorganisms and recovery of populations of taxadeleteriously affected by selenium exposure. Our results suggest that when selenium iseliminated from the water in streams, seleniumconcentrations in sediment, plants,macroinvertebrates, and fishes will decreaseto levels that approach concentrationsconsidered to be non-toxic to fish andwildlife and that affected populations willrecover within several years. Based onselenium accumulation in the food chain andthe presence of real, but not statisticallysignificant, effects on fish mortality andreproduction in the low treatment streams, wesupport a selenium water quality criterion forthe protection of fishes and sensitiveinvertebrates of 2 µg/L or less.

experimental streams selenium selenium bioaccumulation selenium depuration selenium toxicity to stream organisms stream ecosystem recovery from selenium 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, W. J. & H. E. Johnson, 1977. Survey of the selenium content in the aquatic biota of Western Lake Erie. J. Great Lakes Res. 3: 10–14.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, K. N., 1991. Seasonal variation of selenium in outdoor experimental stream-wetland systems. J. Environ. Qual. 20: 865–868.Google Scholar
  3. APHA. American Public Health Association, American Water Works Association, Water Pollution Control Federation, 1980. Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, 15th edn. APHA, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  4. Arizona (State of Arizona), 1992. Water quality boundaries and standards, Supplement 92–4. In: Arizona Administrative Code, Title 18, Environmental Quality, Chap. 11. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Phoenix, AZ.Google Scholar
  5. Babich, H., D. L. Lewis & J. Trauberman, 1981. Environmental quality criteria: some considerations. Environ. Manage. 5: 191–205.Google Scholar
  6. Barnhart, R. A., 1957. Chemical factors affecting the survival of game fish in a western Colorado reservoir. M.S. Thesis. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, 114 pp.Google Scholar
  7. Baumann, P. C. & R. B. Gillespie, 1986. Selenium bioaccumulation in gonads of largemouth bass and bluegill from three power plant cooling reservoirs. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 5: 695–701.Google Scholar
  8. Bertram, P. E. & A. S. Brooks, 1986. Kinetics of accumulation of selenium from food and water by fathead minnows. Water Res. 20: 877–884.Google Scholar
  9. Besser, J. M., T. C. Canfield & T. W. LaPoint, 1993. Bioaccumulation of organic and inorganic selenium in a laboratory food chain. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 12: 57–72.Google Scholar
  10. Birkner, J. H., 1978. Selenium in aquatic organisms from seleniferous habitats. Ph.D. Dissertation, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, 121 pp.Google Scholar
  11. Brinkhurst, R. O., 1986. Guide to the freshwater aquatic microdrile oligochaetes of North America. Can. Spec. Publ. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 84: 259 pp.Google Scholar
  12. Brumbaugh, W. G. & M. J. Walther, 1989. Determination of arsenic and selenium in whole fish by continuous-flow hydride generation atomic absorption spectrophotometry. J. Assn. Offic. Agric. Chem. 72: 484–486.Google Scholar
  13. Cairns, J., Jr., 1983. Are single species toxicity tests alone adequate for estimating environmental hazard? Hydrobiologia 100: 47–57.Google Scholar
  14. Canton, S. P. & W. D. Van Derveer, 1997. Selenium toxicity to aquatic life: an argument for sediment-based water quality criteria. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 16: 1255–1259.Google Scholar
  15. CCREM. Canadian Council of Resource and Environmental Ministers, 1987. Canadian Water Quality Guidelines. Environmental Quality Guidelines Division, Water Quality Branch, Inland Waters Directorate. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  16. CEPA. California Environmental Protection Agency, 1992. Technical Report: Derivation of Site-specific Water Quality Criteria for Selenium in San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Environmental Protection Agency, Oakland, CA.Google Scholar
  17. Cherry, D. S. & R. K. Guthrie, 1977. Toxic metals in surface waters from coal ash. Water Res. Bull. 13: 1227–1236.Google Scholar
  18. Cleveland, L., E. E. Little, D. R. Buckler & R. H. Wiedmeyer, 1993. Toxicity and bioaccumulation of waterborne and dietary selenium in juvenile bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). Aquat. Toxicol. 27: 265–280.Google Scholar
  19. Cooke, T. C. & K. W. Bruland, 1987. Aquatic chemistry of selenium: evidence of biomethylation. Environ. Sci. Technol. 21: 1214–1219.Google Scholar
  20. Cooper, W., 1965. Dynamics and production of a natural population of a fresh-water amphipod, Hyalella azteca. Ecol. Monogr. 35: 377–394.Google Scholar
  21. Coyle, J. J., D. R. Buckler, C. G. Ingersoll, J. F. Fairchild & T. W. May, 1993. Effect of dietary selenium on the reproductive success of bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus). Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 12: 551–565.Google Scholar
  22. Crane, M., T. Flower, D. Holmes & S. Watson, 1992. The toxicity of selenium in experimental freshwater ponds. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 23: 440–452.Google Scholar
  23. Cumbie, P. M. & S. L. Van Horn, 1978. Selenium accumulation associated with fish mortality and reproductive failure. Proc. Ann. Conf. Southeast Assn. Fish and Wildl. Agen. 32: 612–624.Google Scholar
  24. Eisler, R., 1985. Selenium hazards to fish, wildlife, and invertebrates: a synoptic review. U.S. Fish and Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rpt. 85 (1.5), 57 pp.Google Scholar
  25. Finley, K. A., 1985. Observations of bluegills fed selenium contaminated Hexagenia nymphs collected from Belews Lake. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 35: 816–825.Google Scholar
  26. Frankenberger, W. T., Jr. & U. Karlson, 1989. Environmental factors affecting microbial production of dimethylselenide in a selenium-contaminated sediment. J. Soil Sci. Soc. Amer. 53: 1435–1442.Google Scholar
  27. Furr, A. K., T. F. Parkinson, W. D. Youngs, C. O. Berg, W. H. Gutenmann, I. S. Pakkala & D. J. Lisk, 1979. Elemental content of aquatic organisms inhabiting a pond contaminated with coal fly ash. New York Fish Game J. 26: 154–161.Google Scholar
  28. Gillespie, R. B. & P. C. Baumann, 1986. Effects of high tissue concentrations of selenium on reproduction by bluegills. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 11: 208–213.Google Scholar
  29. Gillespie, R. B., P. C. Baumann & T. C. Singley, 1988. Dietary exposure of bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus) to (75) Se: uptake and distribution in organs and tissues. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 40: 771–778.Google Scholar
  30. Hamilton, S. J. & A. D. Lemly, 1999. Water-sediment controversy in setting environmental standards for selenium. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 44: 227–235.Google Scholar
  31. Hermanutz, R. O., 1992. Malformation of the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) in an ecosystem with elevated selenium concentrations. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 49: 490–494.Google Scholar
  32. Hermanutz, R. O., K. N. Allen, T. H. Roush & S. F. Hedtke, 1992. Effects of elevated selenium concentrations on bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus) in outdoor experimental streams. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 11: 217–224.Google Scholar
  33. Huang, Z. Z. & L. Wu, 1991. Species richness and selenium accumulation of plants in soils with elevated concentration of selenium and salinity. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 22: 251–266.Google Scholar
  34. Karlson, U. & W. T. Frankenberger, Jr., 1990. Volatilization of selenium from agricultural evaporation pond sediments. Sci. Tot. Environ. 92: 41–54.Google Scholar
  35. Kennedy, C. J., L. E. McDonald, R. Loveridge & M. M. Strosher, 2000. The effect of bioaccumulated selenium on mortalities and deformities in the eggs, larvae, and fry of a wild population of cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi). Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 39: 46–52.Google Scholar
  36. Lemly, A. D., 1985a. Toxicology of selenium in a freshwater reservoir: implications for environmental hazard evaluation and safety. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 10: 314–318.Google Scholar
  37. Lemly, A. D., 1985b. Ecological basis for regulating aquatic emissions from the power industry: the case with selenium. Reg. Toxicol. Pharmacol. 5: 465–486.Google Scholar
  38. Lemly, A. D., 1993a. Teratogenic effects of selenium in natural populations of freshwater fish. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 26: 181–204.Google Scholar
  39. Lemly, A. D., 1993b. Guidelines for evaluating selenium data from aquatic monitoring and assessment studies. Environ. Monitor. Assess. 28: 83–100.Google Scholar
  40. Lemly, A. D., 1993c. Metabolic stress during winter increases the toxicity of selenium to fish. Aquat. Toxicol. 27: 133–158.Google Scholar
  41. Lemly, A. D., 1995. A protocol for aquatic hazard assessment of selenium. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 32: 280–288.Google Scholar
  42. Lemly, A. D., 1996. Evaluation of the hazard quotient method for risk assessment of selenium. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 35: 156–162.Google Scholar
  43. Lemly, A. D., 1997. Ecosystem recovery following selenium contamination in a freshwater reservoir. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 36: 275–281.Google Scholar
  44. Lemly, A. D., 1998. A position paper on selenium toxicology: a procedure for deriving site-specific water quality criteria. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 39: 1–9.Google Scholar
  45. Maier, K. J. & A. W. Knight, 1994. Ecotoxicology of selenium in freshwater systems. Rev. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 134: 31–48.Google Scholar
  46. Maier, K. J., C. R. Nelson, F. C. Bailey, S. J. Klaine & A.W. Knight, 1998. Accumulation of selenium by the aquatic biota of a watershed treated with seleniferous fertilizer. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 60: 409–416.Google Scholar
  47. Martin, T. D., J. F. Kopp & R. D. Ediger, 1975. Determining selenium in water, wastewater, sediment and sludge by flameless atomic absorption spectroscopy. Atom. Absorp. News. 14: 109–116.Google Scholar
  48. Merritt, R. W. & K. W. Cummins (eds), 1984. An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America, 2nd edn. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, Iowa, USA.Google Scholar
  49. Nemec, A. F. L. & R. O. Brinkhurst, 1988a. Using the bootstrap to assess statistical significance in the cluster analysis of species abundance data. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 45: 965–970.Google Scholar
  50. Nemec, A. F. L. & R. O. Brinkhurst, 1988b. The Fowlkes-Mallows statistic and the comparison of two independently determined dendrograms. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 45: 971–975.Google Scholar
  51. New Mexico (State of New Mexico), 1995. Standards for Interstate and Intrastate Streams. New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission, Santa Fe, NM.Google Scholar
  52. Ornes, W. H., K. S. Sajwan, M. G. Dosskey & D. C. Adriano, 1991. Bioaccumulation of selenium by floating aquatic plants. Wat. Air Soil Pollut. 57–58: 53–57.Google Scholar
  53. Peterson, J. A. & A. V. Nebeker, 1992. Estimation of waterborne selenium concentrations that are toxicity thresholds for wildlife. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 23: 154–162.Google Scholar
  54. Phillips, R. D., H. P. Hotto & J. C. Loftis, 1989. WQSTAT II. A water quality statistics program. User's Manual. Colorado State University.Google Scholar
  55. Pratt, J. R. & N. J. Bowers, 1990. Effect of selenium on microbial communities in laboratory microcosms and outdoor streams. Tox. Assess. 5: 293–307.Google Scholar
  56. Price, E. E. & M. C. Swift, 1985. Inter-and intra-specific variability in the response of zooplankton to acid stress. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. ci. 42: 1749–1754.Google Scholar
  57. Riedel, G. F., D. P. Ferrier & J. G. Sanders, 1991. Uptake of selenium by freshwater phytoplankton. Wat. Air Soil Pollut. 57–58: 23–30.Google Scholar
  58. Saiki, M. K., 1986a. Concentrations of selenium in aquatic foodchain organisms and fish exposed to agricultural tile drainage water. In: Selenium and Agricultural Drainage: Implications for San Francisco Bay and the California Environment. Proceedings of the second selenium symposium. The Bay Institute of California, Tiburon, California, USA.Google Scholar
  59. Saiki, M. K., 1986b. A field example of selenium contamination in an aquatic food-chain. In: Proceedings, First Annual Environmental Symposium: Selenium in the Environment. California Agricultural Technology Institute Publication No. CAT1/860201, California State University, Fresno, California, USA.Google Scholar
  60. Saiki, M. K. & T. P. Lowe, 1987. Selenium in aquatic organisms from subsurface agricultural drainage water, San Joaquin Valley, California. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 16: 657–670.Google Scholar
  61. Saiki, M. K., M. R. Jennings & W. G. Brumbaugh, 1993. Boron, molybdenum, and selenium in aquatic food chains from the lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries, California. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 24: 307–319.Google Scholar
  62. Sandholm, M., H. E. Oksanen & L. Pesonen, 1973. Uptake of selenium by aquatic organisms. Limnol. Oceanogr. 18: 496–499.Google Scholar
  63. Schuler, C. A., R. G. Anthony & H. M. Ohlendorf, 1990. Selenium in wetlands and waterfowl foods at Kesterson Reservoir, California, 1984. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 19: 845–853.Google Scholar
  64. Schultz, R. & R. Hermanutz, 1990. Transfer of toxic concentrations of selenium from parent to progeny in the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas). Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 45: 568–573.Google Scholar
  65. Stephan, C. E., D. I. Mount, D. J. Hansen, J. Gentile, G. A. Chapman & W. A. Brungs, 1985. Guidelines for deriving numerical national water quality criteria for the protection of aquatic organisms and their uses. National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Virginia, USA, PB-85–227–049.Google Scholar
  66. Swift, M. C., N. H. Troelstrup, Jr., N. E. Detenbeck & J. L. Foley, 1993. Large artificial streams in toxicological and ecological research. J. North Amer. Benthol. Soc. 12: 359–366.Google Scholar
  67. Systat, 1992. Systat for Windows: Statistics, Version 5 Edition. Evanston, Illinois, USA, Systat, Inc., 750 pp.Google Scholar
  68. Thompson-Eagle, E. T. & W. T. Frankenberger, Jr., 1991. Selenium biomethylation in an alkaline saline environment. Wat. Res. 25: 231–240.Google Scholar
  69. Thorpe, J. H. & A. P. Covich (eds), 1991. Ecology and Classification of North American Freshwater Invertebrates. Academic Press, Inc. San Diego, California, USA.Google Scholar
  70. U.S. EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1979. Methods for Chemical Analysis of Water and Wastes. EPA 600/4–79–020. Environmental Monitoring and Support Laboratory, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.Google Scholar
  71. U.S. EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1980a. Ambient Water Quality Criteria for DDT. EPA 440/5–80–038. National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA.Google Scholar
  72. U.S. EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1980b. Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Polychlorinated Biphenyls. EPA 440/5–80–068. National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA.Google Scholar
  73. U.S. EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1980c. Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Selenium. EPA 440/5–80–070. National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA.Google Scholar
  74. U.S. EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1987. Ambient Aquatic Life Water Quality Criteria for Selenium. EPA 400/5–87–006. National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA.Google Scholar
  75. Van Derveer, W. D. & S. P. Canton, 1997. Selenium sediment toxicity thresholds and derivation of water quality criteria for freshwater biota of western streams. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 16: 1260–1268.Google Scholar
  76. Waters, T. F. & J. C. Hokenstrom, 1980. Annual production and drift of the stream amphipod Gammarus pseudolimnaeus in Valley Creek, Minnesota. Limnol. Oceanogr. 25: 700–710.Google Scholar
  77. White, A. M., F. D. Moore, N. A. Alldredge & D. M. Louckes, 1985. The effects of natural winter stresses on the mortality of the eastern gizzard shad, Dorosoma cepedianum, in Lake Erie. Report No. 78. John Carroll University and Environmental Resource Associates, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio, USA.Google Scholar
  78. Wiederholm, T. (ed.), 1983. Chironomidae of the Holarctic Region: Keys and Diagnoses, Part 1. Larvae. Entomol. Scand. Supplement No. 19.Google Scholar
  79. Winger, P. V., C. Sieckman, T. W. May & W. W. Johnson, 1984. Residues of organochlorine insecticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and heavy metals in biota from Apalachicola River, Florida, 1978. J. Assn. Offic. Agric. Chem. 67: 325–333.Google Scholar
  80. Woock, S. E., W. R. Garrett, W. E. Partin & W. T. Bryson, 1987. Decreased survival and teratogenesis during laboratory selenium exposures to bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 39: 998–1005.Google Scholar
  81. Wu, L. & Z. Z. Huang, 1991. Selenium accumulation and selenium tolerance of salt grass from soils with elevated concentrations of selenium and salinity. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 22: 267–282.Google Scholar
  82. Wu, L., J. Chen, K. K. Tanji & G. S. Banuelos, 1995. Distribution and biomagnification of selenium in a restored upland grassland contaminated by selenium from agricultural drain water. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 14: 733–742.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael C. Swift
    • 1
  1. 1.Monticello Ecological Research StationUniversity of MinnesotaMonticelloU.S.A

Personalised recommendations