A history of hard-rock mining has resulted in elevated concentrations of heavy metals in Prickly Pear Creek (MT. USA). Remediation has improved water quality; however, dissolved zinc and cadmium concentrations still exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water-quality criteria. Physical habitat, salmonid density, fish health, and water quality were assessed, and metal concentrations in fish tissues, biofilm, and macroinvertebrates were determined to evaluate the existing condition in the watershed. Cadmium, zinc, and lead concentrations in fish tissues, biofilm, and invertebrates were significantly greater than those at the upstream reference site and an experimental site farther downstream of the confluence. Fish densities were greatest, and habitat quality for trout was better, downstream of the confluence, where water temperatures were relatively cool (16??C). Measures of fish health (tissue metal residues, histology, metallothionein concentrations, and necropsies), however, indicate that the health of trout at this site was negatively affected. Trout were in colder but more contaminated water and were subjected to increased trace element exposures and associated health effects. Maximum water temperatures in Prickly Pear Creek were significantly lower directly below Spring Creek (16??C) compared to those at an experimental site 10 km downstream (26??C). Trout will avoid dissolved metals at concentrations below those measured in Prickly Pear Creek; however, our results suggest that the preference of trout to use cool water temperatures may supersede behaviors to avoid heavy metals. ?? 2009 SETAC.
Additional publication details
Trout density and health in a stream with variable water temperatures and trace element concentrations: does a cold-water source attract trout to increased metal exposure?