Multiple-stressor effects of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen on stream macroinvertebrate communities

Multiple-stressor effects of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen on stream macroinvertebrate communities
Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication

Davis SJ, Ó hUallacháina D, Mellander PE, Kelly AM, Matthaei CD, Piggott JJ, Kelly-Quinn M

Science of The Total Environment
ISBN Number

Agricultural stressors, Mesocosm experiment, Invertebrate drift, Nutrients, Europe


Multiple stressors affect stream ecosystems worldwide and their interactions are of particular concern, with gaps existing in understanding stressor impacts on stream communities. Addressing these knowledge gaps will aid in targeting and designing of appropriate mitigation measures. In this study, the agricultural stressors fine sediment (ambient, low, medium, high), phosphorus (ambient, enriched) and nitrogen (ambient, enriched) were manipulated simultaneously in 64 streamside mesocosms to determine their individual and combined effects on the macroinvertebrate community (benthos and drift). Stressor levels were chosen to reflect those typically observed in European agricultural streams. A 21-day colonisation period was followed by a 14-day manipulative period. Results indicate that added sediment had the most pervasive effects, significantly reducing total macroinvertebrate abundance, total EPT abundance and abundances of three common EPT taxa. The greatest effect was at high sediment cover (90%), with decreasing negative impacts at medium (50%) and low (30%) covers. Added sediment also led to higher drift propensities for nine of the twelve drift variables. The effects of nitrogen and phosphorus were relatively weak compared to sediment. Several complex and unpredictable 2-way or 3-way interactions among stressors were observed. While sediment addition generally reduced total abundance at high levels, this decrease was amplified by P enrichment at low sediment, whereas the opposite effect occurred at medium sediment and little effect at high sediment. These results have direct implications for water management as they highlight the importance of managing sediment inputs while also considering the complex interactions which can occur between sediment and nutrient stressors.

Date of Published
Accession Number
Type of Article
Alternate Journal