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Hydropsychid (Trichoptera, Hydropsychidae) gill abnormalities as morphological biomarkers of stream pollution

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1. The use of morphological gill abnormalities of hydropsychid larvae was assessed in Hydropsyche siltalai larvae exposed to cadmium in the laboratory and Cheumatopsyche lepida and H. pellucidula larvae collected from a polluted river. Two biomarkers were evaluated: (1) Hydropsychid abnormality incidence (HAI), referring to the proportion of individuals with at least some abnormalities, and (2) Hydropsychid gill abnormality indice (HYI), referring to the average number of abnormal gill tufts for all individuals.

2. Abnormality–contaminant relations for both biomarkers were established by studying gill responses along gradients of increasing cadmium and organochlorine concentrations. A cadmium gradient was verified in laboratory exposures, whereas the concentrations of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin (PCDD), dibenzofuran (PCDF) and diphenyl ether (PCDE) of the aquatic moss Fontinalis antipyretica were used as measures of an organochlorine gradient in the field.

3. Morphological abnormalities were easily distinguished as heavy darkening, malformation and/or reduction of single gill tufts. Darkening of the gills appeared to start either at the basal or distal ends.

4. A marked increase of HYI values with increasing Cd concentration reflected a clear abnormality-contaminant relation, whereas the mere dicotomic classification of larvae as normal or abnormal (HAI) was less informative. High values of both HAI and HYI were associated with high contamination. A significant positive correlation was found between organochlorine concentration in mosses and biomarker values for H. pellucidula, but not for C. lepida.

5. We conclude that HAI indicates deleterious effects, but fails to quantify the severity of degradation. Use of individual gill tufts, as response units in deriving HYI, revealed a simple solution to the quantification problem. Further research into the ecological meaning, physiological background and patterns of gill abnormality is recommended for assessing the applicability and relevance of hydropsychid gill biomarkers.
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Keywords: Hydropsychidae; gill abnormality; impact assessment; stream pollution

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: North Karelia Regional Environment Centre, Joensuu, Finland, 2: Department of Biology, University of Joensuu, Joensuu, Finland

Publication date: 2002-07-01

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