Patterns of fish community structure in a long-term watershed-scale study to address the aquatic ecosystem effects of pulp and paper mill discharges in four US receiving streams

Camille A Flinders, Renee L Ragsdale, Timothy J Hall
Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 2009, 5 (2): 219-33
Physiological changes have been seen in individual fish exposed to pulp and paper mill effluent (PPME), but it is unclear whether community-level changes are seen in fish in PPME receiving waters. We conducted a study of 4 PPME receiving streams (Codorus Creek, PA, USA), the Leaf River (Forrest and Perry Counties, MS, USA), and the McKenzie and Willamette rivers (Lane County, OR, USA) over 9 y to assess temporal patterns in the type and relative abundance of fish species and measures of community structure and function related to PPME discharge. We used boat and backpack electrofishing to sample large- and small-bodied fish from the McKenzie and Willamette rivers, boat electrofishing to sample large-bodied fish from the Leaf River, and backpack electrofishing to sample the entire fish community from Codorus Creek. Study streams represented different ecoregions, warm- and coldwater systems, gradients of PPME concentration (<1%-33%), and mill process types. Bray-Curtis similarity and nonmetric multidimensional scaling showed high variation in fish communities across sites, seasons, and years. Significant site differences in fish communities were seen in most streams and community types, but distinct separation of sites was seen only in Codorus Creek and unrelated to PPME discharge. No seasonal differences were seen in fish community structure in any stream, with only weak annual patterns in large-bodied fish in the Leaf River and small-bodied fish in the McKenzie River. General linear models were used to examine spatial and temporal variation in fish metric response (abundance, species richness, Simpson's diversity, % dominant species, standing crop, % DELT, % intolerant, % omnivore, % piscivore). Significant site differences in metric response were largely limited to Codorus Creek and unrelated to PPME. Significant reductions of % dominant taxa of small-bodied fish and % large-bodied piscivores were also observed downstream of the PPME discharge on the McKenzie River relative to upstream sites. Seasonal changes in fish metric response were rare, and changes with year were variable. The relationship between fish community structure and water quality variables (pH, color, conductivity, total phosphorus, total nitrogen) was weak in all streams for all community types. The results of this study show that PPME exposure has little effect on fish communities in these streams and aid in addressing management strategies. The high spatial and temporal variability reiterate the importance of long-term studies to elucidate patterns in receiving waters.

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