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This 3-year study (2015-2017) was designed to characterize benthic communities (macroinvertebrates) and physical habitat in an agriculturally dominated waterbody in the Central Coast area of California (Santa Maria River). Benthic communities as represented by various metrics that represent richness, composition, tolerance/intolerance and trophic measures were used as response variables for the various stressors described below. Concurrent water quality evaluations, physical sediment parameters (grain size and total organic carbon [TOC]), pyrethroids, bulk metals—including simultaneously extracted metals (SEM) and acid volatile sulfides (AVS) ratios—and nutrients were measured. The relationship of various benthic metrics to physical habitat metrics, pyrethroids, metals, nutrients and sediment characteristics was evaluated for the 3-year data set. Total physical habitat scores in this watershed were considered to be poor. Samples collected for various sediment chemistry measurements were from depositional areas (fine grain areas primarily silt and clay) where hydrophobic chemicals such as pyrethroids could be found if sources exist. Dominant benthic taxa collected were generally considered to be tolerant to moderately tolerant of environmental stressors and rated as impaired based on a benthic index. Potentially toxic sediment concentrations of arsenic, cadmium and nickel were reported at various sites based on a comparison with existing threshold effect levels. Pyrethroid concentrations interpreted by using a highly protective toxics units approach with a laboratory sensitive taxon (Hyalella) suggested potential toxicity at various sites. Nutrient concentrations could not be interpreted within the context of potential impairment because the State of California has not developed nutrient criteria. The results of the stepwise linear regression models comparing benthic metrics with all environmental variables showed that TOC was the most important variable shaping the benthic communities. In contrast, pyrethroids, metals and physical habitat were not shown to be significant factors shaping benthic communities. The summary multivariate canonical correlation analysis indicated that less stressed, more diverse benthic communities tended to be associated more with TOC-rich finer sediments and lower concentrations of phosphorous-based nutrients, and more stressed, less diverse benthic communities tended to be associated with less organically rich, somewhat less fine sediments and higher phosphorous concentrations.

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Originally published in Air, Soil and Water Research, 11, 1-18. The original material can be found here.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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