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Stable isotopes as indicators of wastewater effects on the macroinvertebrates of urban rivers

Morrissey, Christy A., Boldt, Alyosha, Mapstone, Alyson, Newton, Jason and Ormerod, Stephen James 2013. Stable isotopes as indicators of wastewater effects on the macroinvertebrates of urban rivers. Hydrobiologia 700 (1) , pp. 231-244. 10.1007/s10750-012-1233-7

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Rivers in urban locations frequently receive contaminated wastewater and particulate waste either directly from storm overflows or from sewage treatment facilities. Although many urban streams are now recovering from wide-scale historic pollution, lower-level effects on water chemistry, nutrients and biotic composition are still widespread. We aimed to determine whether such effects could be detected using stable isotope ratios (δ15N, δ13C and δ34S) in macroinvertebrates alone or in conjunction with traditional biomonitoring. Macroinvertebrates were collected upstream and downstream of 11 different secondary wastewater treatment works (WwTW) in South Wales and the Welsh borders (United Kingdom). Overall, mean invertebrate δ15N signatures downstream of the WwTW were significantly enriched despite variation amongst sites. Moreover, changes between upstream and downstream macroinvertebrate δ15N values were highly correlated with patterns in macroinvertebrate community composition, increased total macroinvertebrate abundance, and reduced Shannon Diversity and other biomonitoring indices (% EPT, % shredders and ASPT scores). Changes in invertebrate δ15N values also paralleled the consented discharge volumes and population equivalents from each WwTW. In contrast, isotopic ratios of δ13C and δ34S were unable to distinguish or quantify wastewater input into the rivers but differences were apparent amongst study streams. Overall, these results suggest that macroinvertebrate δ15N signatures can detect and quantify the effects of secondary sewage treatment inputs to riverine ecosystems. Moreover, the method potentially provides a sensitive means for tracing sewage-derived nutrients into food webs while inferring effects on aquatic communities where sewage-loads are subtle or confounded by other stressors.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General)
Publisher: SpringerLink
ISSN: 0018-8158
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 04:37

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