Evaluation of the relationships between watershed-scale land use and contaminants in aquatic environments and the use of freshwater snails as indicators of impairment
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The use of manure from animal feeding operations (AFOs) as fertilizer on agricultural land may introduce contaminants to aquatic environments that can negatively affect the health of aquatic organisms. This study utilized a landscape-scale regression-based design to assess the effects of AFOs on contaminant concentrations and resident populations of a pleurocerid snail, Leptoxis carinata, in streams within the Shenandoah River watershed (Virginia, USA). Individual characteristics of L. carinata were also evaluated to provide further understanding of observed population characteristics. In streambed sediment and mollusk tissue, concentrations of the trace element arsenic, used as an additive in poultry feed, were not directly related to watershed densities of AFOs. In-stream concentrations of dissolved nutrients and estrogenic compounds, measured as estrogenic activity, were directly related to watershed densities of AFOs. Population sex ratios of L. carinata varied across study sites, from balanced to female-biased, but were not related to concentrations of estrogenic compounds. However, the spatial variation in population sex ratios, coupled with little variation in site-specific sex ratios across seasons and generations, suggest an influence of site-specific environmental conditions. Individual-level studies of L. carinata revealed that there is an eight month lag between hatching and gametogenesis which could allow disruption of sexual differentiation by environmental contaminants, but further study of the effects of specific contaminants on sexual differentiation in this species is needed. Population densities of L. carinata were related to in-stream nutrient concentrations and landscape sources of nutrients, including AFOs, but none of these factors were directly related to the infection prevalence of digenetic trematodes in L. carinata populations. Although trematode infection rates in L. carinata populations do not appear to be viable indicators of the influence of eutrophic conditions on disease incidence in aquatic organisms, the identification of five types of trematodes in L. carinata populations highlights the utility of this snail species for further investigation of transmission dynamics of trematode parasites in lotic systems.
- Doctoral Dissertations