The effects of elevated metals on benthic community metabolism in a Rocky Mountain stream

Brian H Hill, James M. Lazorchak, Frank H. McCormick, W. Thomas Willingham

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46 Scopus citations


The effects of elevated metals (dissolved Zn, Mn and/or Fe) in a Rocky Mountain stream were assessed using measures of primary productivity, community respiration and water-column toxicity. Primary productivity was measured as rates of O2 evolution from natural substrates incubated in situ in closed chambers. Oxygen depletion within these chambers, when incubated in the dark, provided estimates of periphyton community respiration. Sediment community respiration on fine-grained sediments, collected and composited along each stream study reach, was measured on-site by incubating these sediments in closed chambers and measuring O2 depletion. Toxicity was measured as per cent mortality of Ceriodaphnia dubia during 48 h acute tests. Gross (GPP) and net primary productivity (NPP) decreased significantly with increasing metal concentrations, from 10.88 ± 1.46 g O2 m-2 day-1 to 0.83 ± 0.20 g O2 m-2 day-1 and 9.85 ± 1.43 g O2 m-2 day-1 to 0.81 ± 0.20 g O2 m-2 day-1, respectively for the reference and most impacted site. Community respiration (CR) declined from 0.65 ± 0.08 g O2 m-2 day-1 to 0.02 ± 0.01 g O2 m-2 day-1 with increasing metal concentrations. Sediment community respiration (SCR) decreased from 0.26 ± 0.02 g O2 m-2 day-1 to 0.01 ± 0.01 g O2 m-2 day-1 at these same sites. Ceriodaphnia dubia mortality increased from 0% at the reference site to 95 ± 5% at the most impacted sites. Net daily metabolism, quantum yield and assimilation ratio all decreased with increasing metal concentrations, suggesting that both autotrophic and heterotrophic components of the periphyton community were impaired. Overall, functional measures were able to discern sites receiving greater metal impacts from less-impacted sites, with combinations of dissolved metals explaining between 25 and 92% of the variance in the regression models. Using these regression models we were able to calculate lethal and inhibition concentrations of dissolved Zn in the Eagle River. The lethal concentration (LC50) of Zn for Ceriodaphnia dubia is 123 mg liter-1. The concentrations of Zn which inhibited respiration (IC50) were 177 mg liter-1 for CR and 199 mg liter-1 for SCR. These results indicate functional measures may be as sensitive to metal concentrations as acute toxicity tests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-190
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 21 1997


  • Benthic metabolism
  • Ceriodaphnia toxicity
  • Chambers
  • Metals


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