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Interactive effects of nutrients and contaminants from pulp mill effluents on riverine benthos

Abstract

Bleached kraft mill effluents (BKME) contain both nutrients(nitrogen and phosphorus) and contaminants that can have a stimulatoryor inhibitory effect on riverine food webs. For the Northern RiverBasins Study (NRBS), separation of the effects of nutrients andcontaminants in BKME was an important issue because field biomonitoringwas unable to isolate these impacts. We addressed this problem by usingriverside mesocosm experiments, along with field observations, todetermine the effects of BKME on benthic food webs of the upperAthabasca River near Hinton, Alberta, Canada. Response variablesincluded periphyton biomass, benthic insect density and composition, andthe biomass of abundant invertebrates (i.e., caddisfly, mayfly andstonefly taxa). Experiments were conducted during autumn when nutrientenhancement was hypothesized to increase autochthonous primaryproduction as a result of low river discharge and high water clarity.Treatments included reference river water, 1% BKMEconcentrations, and nutrients (nitrogen plus phosphorus) equivalent tothe 1% BKME treatment. Although pulp mill effluents can inducesublethal toxicity in benthic biota, BKME concentrations equivalent tolevels in the Athabasca River did not cause measurable toxicity.Relative to reference water treatments, BKME-associated increases inavailable phosphorus produced enrichment effects including increases inperiphyton and insect biomass, and invertebrate abundance. Insect familyrichness was not affected by the treatments. The development andapplication of a field-based artificial stream system for the NRBSimproved our mechanistic understanding of the effects of BKME on benthicbiota of nutrient and contaminant stressors. By combining artificialstream results with field observations, we were also able to link thismechanistic understanding of stressor effects directly to impacts in theriver. We conclude that the response to BKME in the Peace-AthabascaBasin is largely one of nutrient enrichment rather than that oftoxicity.

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Correspondence to Joseph M. Culp.

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Culp, J.M., Podemski, C.L. & Cash, K.J. Interactive effects of nutrients and contaminants from pulp mill effluents on riverine benthos. Journal of Aquatic Ecosystem Stress and Recovery 8, 67–75 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1011452108483

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1011452108483

  • Athabasca River
  • community
  • contaminants
  • macroinvertebrates
  • mesocosm
  • nutrients
  • periphyton
  • pulp mill effluent