Metal bioavailability and toxicity to aquatic organisms are greatly affected by variables such as pH, hardness, organic matter, and sediment acid-volatile sulfide (AVS). Sediment AVS, which reduces metal bioavailability and toxicity by binding and immobilizing metals as insoluble sulfides, has been studied intensely in recent years. Few studies, however, have determined the spatial variability of AVS and its interaction with simultaneously extracted metals (SEM) in sediments containing elevated concentrations of metals resulting from natural geochemical processes, such as weathering of black shales. We collected four sediment samples from each of four headwater bedrock streams in northcentral Arkansa (USA; three black shale-draining streams and one limestone-draining stream). We conducted 10-d acute whole-sediment toxicity tests using the midge Chironomus tentans and performed analyses for AVS, total metals, SEMs, and organic carbon. Most of the sediments from shale-draining streams had similar total metal and SEM concentrations but considerable differences in organic carbon and AVS. Zinc was the leading contributor to the SEM molar sum, averaging between 68 and 74%, whereas lead and cadmium contributed less than 3%. The AVS concentration was very low in all but two samples from one of the shale streams, and the sum of the SEM concentrations was in molar excess of AVS for all shale stream sediments. No significant differences in mean AVS concentrations between sediments collected from shale-draining or limestone-draining sites were noted (p > 0.05). Midge survival and growth in black shale-derived sediments were significantly less (p < 0.001) than that of limestone-derived sediments. On the whole, either SEM alone or SEM-AVS explained the total variation in midge survival and growth about equally well. However, survival and growth were significantly greater (p < 0.05) in the two sediment samples that contained measurable AVS compared with the two sediments from the same stream that contained negligible AVS. ?? 2007 SETAC.