Incidence of Stress in Benthic Communities Along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Coasts within Different Ranges of Sediment Contamination from Chemical Mixtures

NOAA National Ocean Service, Charleston, SC. USA.
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment (Impact Factor: 1.68). 01/2003; 81(1-3):149-61. DOI: 10.1023/A:1021325007660
Source: PubMed


Synoptic data on concentrations of sediment-associated chemical contaminants and benthic macroinfaunal community structure were collected from 1,389 stations in estuaries along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts as part of the nationwide Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP). These data were used to develop an empirical framework for evaluating risks of benthic community-level effects within different ranges of sediment contamination from mixtures of multiple chemicals present at varying concentrations. Sediment contamination was expressed as the mean ratio of individual chemical concentrations relative to corresponding sediment quality guidelines (SQGs), including Effects Range-Median (ERM) and Probable Effects Level (PEL) values. Benthic condition was assessed using diagnostic, multi-metric indices developed for each of three EMAP provinces (Virginian, Carolinian, and Louisianian). Cumulative percentages of stations with a degraded benthic community were plotted against ascending values of the mean ERM and PEL quotients. Based on the observed relationships, mean SQG quotients were divided into four ranges corresponding to either a low, moderate, high, or very high incidence of degraded benthic condition. Results showed that condition of the ambient benthic community provides a reliable and sensitive indicator for evaluating the biological significance of sediment-associated stressors. Mean SQG quotients marking the beginning of the contaminant range associated with the highest incidence of benthic impacts (73-100% of samples, depending on the province and type of SQG) were well below those linked to high risks of sediment toxicity as determined by short-term toxicity tests with single species. Measures of the ambient benthic community reflect the sensitivities of multiple species and life stages to persistent exposures under actual field conditions. Similar results were obtained with preliminary data from the west coast (Puget Sound).

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    • "At the individual level, stress is considered as a sub-lethal effect on the physiology of an organism, e.g., a decline in feeding, growth, or fecundity, or a biochemical change. At the community or ecosystem level, stress denotes an acute or chronic disturbance that causes a decline in the number of organisms affecting biotic interactions and integrity (e.g., Hyland et al., 2003; Pilière et al., 2014). "
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    • "Some taxa have been identified as useful bioindicators e species whose abundance or condition reflects environmental quality (Carignan and Villard, 2002). However, most of this research has focused on soft-sediment infaunal communities (Borja et al., 2008; Hewitt et al., 2009; Hyland et al., 2003; Van Dolah et al., 1999), which are physically separated from water column disturbances and may respond differently to other ecosystem components. "
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