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Aquatic insects as environmental monitors of trace metal contamination: Red River, New Mexico


Discontinuous sampling of water for toxic chemicals is unreliable in lotic ecosystems or in systems subjected to sporadic discharges. Such sampling either fails to detect the contaminants or seriously underestimates their concentrations. This study explored the use of resident aquatic insects as biomonitors of trace metal contamination in a river subjected to episodic spills of Mo mill tailings. Aquatic insects at sites downstream from the mill accumulated more Mo and Cu than upstream insects. Due to a prolonged shutdown at the mine, no tailings spills were recorded during this study and Mo and Cu levels in water and bottom sediments declined to near background levels. However, concentrations of these metals in insects declined only slightly. This study indicates that aquatic insects are useful biomonitors of trace metal contamination in an intermittently impacted system. Reduction of elevated trace metal concentrations from the insects occurred at a slower rate than from the non-living components of the river ecosystem thereby facilitating detection of the spills.

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Lynch, T.R., Popp, C.J. & Jacobi, G.Z. Aquatic insects as environmental monitors of trace metal contamination: Red River, New Mexico. Water Air Soil Pollut 42, 19–31 (1988).

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  • Metal Concentration
  • Trace Metal
  • Bottom Sediment
  • Background Level
  • Toxic Chemical