Ecology and Field Studies

  • Pilar RodriguezEmail author
  • Trefor B. Reynoldson


In this chapter we have attempted to provide the reader with an overview of the ecological response of aquatic oligochaetes to anthropogenic disturbance. There is a long history of the use of oligochaete community structure in assessment studies which has demonstrated that distribution patterns exist that are associated with pollution. There is a considerable range in species response both to nutrient contamination and metals and organic chemicals. Some species assemblages have been correlated with stressors, but species assemblage composition can change regionally. Recent multivariate statistics are particularly useful in identifying those responses to disturbance and synthesizing them in an easily presented and understood way. The traditional view of oligochaetes as a group associated with ­polysaprobic conditions needs reconsideration, as most oligochaete species are associated with oligo- and β-mesosaprobic conditions and the species are distributed along the entire range of ecological classes of water quality. The use of tolerance values to weight relative abundance data fails to distinguish between stress factors, and the values correspond primarily to organic enrichment tolerance. Worm species do not respond in the same way to all types of contaminant which is implied by the general use of the tolerance value approach. To identify specific causative agents and causality requires tailored site specific studies and will often require an experimental approach. We do not see focussing on oligochaetes alone in field community based approaches to be a useful strategy, as information on the entire ­community can just as easily be obtained and provides richer information. However, neither do we recommend ignoring oligochaetes or treating all the species as a single group because of the great response range exhibited within the group, and the fact that in many habitats they comprise the major part of the community. It is ­necessary to improve the training, at present largely neglected, of benthic zoologists to include knowledge on the most common oligochaete species.


Benthic Community Trophic Condition Index Organic Enrichment Trophic Gradient Trophic Index 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Animal Cell Biology Faculty of Science and TechnologyUniversity of the Basque CountryBilbaoSpain
  2. 2.Acadia Centre for Estuarine Research National Water Research Institute Environment CanadaAcadia UniversityWolfvilleCanada

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