The effects of a mixture of copper, nickel, and zinc on the structure and function of a freshwater planktonic community.Environ Toxicol Chem. 2018 09; 37(9):2380-2400.ET
It is generally assumed that as long as the majority of species experiences no direct adverse effects attributable to a single substance (i.e., potentially affected fraction [PAF] <5%), no significant structural or functional effects at the community level are expected to occur. Whether this assumption holds for mixed metal contamination is not known. In the present study, we tested this by performing a microcosm experiment in which a naturally occurring freshwater planktonic community was exposed to a copper-nickel-zinc (Cu-Ni-Zn) mixture for 8 wk and various structural and functional community-level traits were assessed. In the low mixture concentration treatments (i.e., Ni-Zn mixtures, because there was no difference in Cu concentrations in these treatments with the control), community-level effects were relatively simple, only involving phytoplankton species groups. In the high mixture concentration treatments (Cu-Ni-Zn mixtures), community-level effects were more complex, involving several phytoplankton and zooplankton species groups. Multisubstance PAF (msPAF) values for all mixture treatments were calculated by applying the concentration addition model to bioavailability-normalized single-metal species sensitivity distributions (SSDs). Consistent effects on the structural traits community composition, abundance of zooplankton species groups, species diversity, and species richness and on the functional trait dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration (as a proxy for the microbial loop and pelagic food web interactions) were only observed at msPAF values >0.05 (i.e., in the Cu-Ni-Zn mixture). However, consistent effects on the abundance of various phytoplankton species groups (structural traits) and on 2 measures of community respiration, overnight Δ dissolved oxygen (ΔDO) and ΔpH (functional traits), were already observed at msPAF values of ≤0.05 (i.e., in the Ni-Zn mixture). This indicates that the threshold msPAF value of 0.05 was not protective against metal mixture exposure for all community-level structural and functional endpoints in the present study. A possible explanation for this result is the mismatch between the species in the SSD and those in our microcosm community. Indeed, our data suggest that the presence of one single dominant and very Zn- and/or Ni-sensitive species in the investigated community (i.e., a cyanobacteria of the genus Oscillatoria), which is not represented in the SSD of these metals, was probably the driver of all observed effects at or below an msPAF of 0.05. Overall, the present results show that SSDs are not necessarily a good predictor of community-level effects for all types of communities and that the presence of dominant sensitive species may result in significant, consistent effects on certain structural and functional community-level endpoints at msPAF values ≤0.05, which is generally considered protective in many regulatory frameworks. Environ Toxicol Chem 2018;37:2380-2400. © 2018 SETAC.