Iron is an important micronutrient found in aquatic systems that can influence nutrient availability (e.g., phosphorus) and primary productivity. In streams, high iron concentrations often are associated with low pH as a result of acid mine drainage, which is known to affect fish and invertebrate communities. Streams in the Black Hills of South Dakota are generally circumneutral in pH, yet select streams exhibit high iron concentrations associated with natural iron deposits. In this study, we examined relationships among iron concentration, priphyton biomass, macroinvertebrate abundance, and fish assemblages in four Black Hills streams. The stream with the highest iron concentration (~5 mg Fe/L) had reduced periphyton biomass, invertebrate abundance, and fish biomass compared to the three streams with lower iron levels (0.1 to 0.6 mg Fe/L). Reduced stream productivity was attributed to indirect effects of ferric iron Fe+++), owing to iron-hydroxide precipitation that influenced habitat quality (i.e., substrate and turbidity) and food availability (periphyton and invertebrates) for higher trophic levels (e.g., fish). Additionally, reduced primary and secondary production was associated with reduced standing stocks of salmonid fishes. Our findings suggested that naturally occurring iron deposits may constrain macroinvertebrate and fish production.
Additional publication details
Associations between iron concentration and productivity in montane streams of the Black Hills, South Dakota