, 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

  • Matthew P. Harper
  • Barbara L. Peckarsky
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 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Cherry, D. S., Guthrie, R. K. 1977Toxic metals in surface waters from coal ashWater Resource Bulletin1312271236Google Scholar
  2. Cherry, D. S., Guthrie, R. K., Sherberger, F. F., Larrick, S. R. 1979aThe influence of coal ash and thermal discharges upon the distribution and bioaccumulation of aquatic invertebratesHydrobiologia62257267Google Scholar
  3. Cherry, D. S., Larrick, S. R., Guthrie, R. K., Davis, E. M., Sherberger, A. F. 1979bRecovery of invertebrate and vertebrate population in a coal ash stressed drainage systemJournal of Fisheries Research Board Canada3610891096Google Scholar
  4. Duchrow, R.M. 1982Effects of barite tailings on benthos and turbidity of two Ozark streamsTransactions of the Missouri Academy of Science165566Google Scholar
  5. Eaton, L. E., Lenat, D. R. 1991Comparison of a rapid bioassessment method with North Carolina’s qualitative macroinvertebrate collection methodJournal of the North American Benthological Society10335338Google Scholar
  6. Forbes, A. M. & J. J. Magnuson, 1981. Decomposition and microbial colonization of leaves in a stream modified by coal ash effluent. In Krumholz L. A. (ed.), The Warmest Streams Symposium. Southern Division, American Fisheries Society: 241–249Google Scholar
  7. Georgian, T. J., Thorp, J. H. 1992Effects of microhabitat selection on feeding rates of net-spinning caddisfly larvaeEcology73229240Google Scholar
  8. Guthrie, R. K., Cherry, D. S., Singleton, F. L. 1978Responses of heterotrophic bacterial populations to pH changes in coal ash effluentWater Resource Bulletin14803808Google Scholar
  9. Haynes, J. M., Makarewicz, J. C. 1982Comparison of benthic communities in dredged and undredged areas of the St. Lawrence River, Cape Vincent, NYOhio Journal of Science82165169Google Scholar
  10. Larrick, S. R., Clark, J. R., Cherry, D. S., Cairns, J.,Jr. 1981Structural and functional changes of aquatic heterotrophic bacteria to thermal, heavy and fly ash effluentsWater Research15875880Google Scholar
  11. Poff, N. L., Allan, J. D., Bain, M. B., Karr, J. R., Prestegaard, K. L., Richter, B. D., Sparks, R. E., Stromberg, J. C. 1997The natural flow regimeBioScience47769784Google Scholar
  12. SAS Institute2001JMP IN Statistical Discovery Software; Version 4SAS Institute Inc.Cary, North Carolina, USAGoogle Scholar
  13. Scullion, J., Edwards, R. W. 1980The effects of coal industry pollutants on the macroinvertebrate fauna of a small river in the South Wales coalfieldFreshwater Biology10141162Google Scholar
  14. Specht, W. L., Cherry, D. S., Lechleitner, R. A., Cairns, J.,Jr. 1984Structural, functional, and recovery responses of stream invertebrates to fly ash effluentCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences41884896Google Scholar
  15. VanHassel, J. H., Wood, K. V. 1984Factors affecting aquatic macroinvertebrates below a fly ash pond dischargeJournal of Freshwater Ecology2571586Google Scholar
  16. Vinikour, W. S. 1979Coal slurry observed as habitat for semiaquatic beetle Lanternarius brunneus (Coleoptera: Heteroceridae) with notes on water quality conditionsEntomology News90203204Google Scholar
  17. Whitaker, G. A., McCuen, R. H., Brush, J. 1979Channel modification and macroinvertebrate community diversity in small streamsWater Resources Bulletin15874879Google Scholar
  18. Yount, J. D., Niemi, G. J. 1990Recovery of lotic communities and ecosystems following disturbance: theory and applicationsEnvironmental Management14515762Google Scholar
  19. Zimmer, D. W., Bachman, R. W. 1978Channelization and invertebrates in some Iowa streamsWater Resources Bulletin14868883Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations