, Volume 544, Issue 1, pp 241–247 | Cite as

Effects of pulsed and pressed disturbances on the benthic invertebrate community following a coal spill in a small stream in northeastern USA

Primary Research Paper


In September 1999, a coal-carrying train derailed and spilled 180,000–270,000 kg of coal into the Cayuga Inlet near Ithaca, New York. This study determined the immediate effects of the coal spill and the clean up procedures on the aquatic invertebrate community, and whether the stream recovered from this event after 2 years. Benthic invertebrate samples were taken both upstream and downstream of the coal spill immediately following clean-up efforts and two years later. Just after the coal spill, the total abundance and species richness of aquatic invertebrates were significantly lower downstream of the spill, suggesting that the disturbance caused increased mortality and/or emigration compared to a reference site upstream. Taxa affected most were grazers and turbidity-susceptible invertebrates. Two years later the invertebrate communities were similar upstream and downstream of the spill, except for an increase in the percent of the dominant genus, Hydropsyche(Trichoptera: Hydropsychidae). We speculate that long-term effects of channelization of the stream that occurred during the clean-up prevented the invertebrate assemblage from returning to the conditions observed in a reference site upstream of the coal spill. We propose that large scale environmental clean-ups should be designed to avoid altering ecosystems permanently, and that streams should be allowed to recover naturally without destructive human intervention.


Cayuga Inlet channelization coal spill human disturbance long-term recovery stream invertebrates 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Entomology, Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Rocky Mountain Biological LaboratoryCrested ButteUSA

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