Environmental stressors as a driver of the trait composition of benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages in polluted Iberian rivers

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Abstract

We used the trait composition of macroinvertebrate communities to identify the effects of pesticides and multiple stressors associated with urban land use at different sites of four rivers in Spain. Several physical and chemical stressors (high metal pollution, nutrients, elevated temperature and flow alterations) affected the urban sites. The occurrence of multiple stressors influenced aquatic assemblages at 50% of the sites. We hypothesized that the trait composition of macroinvertebrate assemblages would reflect the strategies that the assemblages used to cope with the respective environmental stressors. We used RLQ and fourth corner analysis to address the relationship between stressors and the trait composition of benthic macroinvertebrates. We found a statistically significant relationship between the trait composition and the exposure of assemblages to environmental stressors. The first RLQ dimension, which explained most of the variability, clearly separated sites according to the stressors. Urban-related stressors selected taxa that were mainly plurivoltine and fed on deposits. In contrast, pesticide impacted sites selected taxa with high levels of egg protection (better egg survival), indicating a potentially higher risk for egg mortality. Moreover, the trait diversity of assemblages at urban sites was low compared to that observed in pesticide impacted sites, suggesting the homogenization of assemblages in urban areas.

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