Cleansing our waters: How riffle fish communities in the Spring River of Kansas responded to pollution legislation and remediation


Alexandria King

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Metal pollution from mining is a threat to lotic fishes, although legislation has been enacted to combat this stressor. The Spring River in southeastern Kansas historically received tributary inputs of cadmium, lead, and zinc from the Tri-State Mining District, but long-term reductions in these toxic metals have occurred since the 1990’s. It is presently unknown how riffle fish communities have responded to improved water quality, so the objective of our research was to quantify changes in community structure across 1993-1995 and 2019-2021. Responses were quantified using univariate analyses to examine the interactive effects of time period, tolerance classification as intolerant, moderately-intolerant, moderately-tolerant, and tolerant of pollution, and site position above versus below historical metal inputs from tributaries. We also used multivariate analyses to examine contemporary and historic community structure above and below pollution inputs. Our findings indicate that intolerant fish species abundance and occupancy increased between the 1990’s to 2020’s, while tolerant species declined. There were similar patterns in species richness as intolerant species increased above and below pollution and tolerant species decreased, though these results were more pronounced below pollution where water quality had improved the most. The riffle fish community structure was significantly different across time periods as more intolerant fish species dominated riffle communities in the 2020’s compared to the 1990’s, which was predominantly composed of tolerant fish species (P= <0.0001). Furthermore, pollution intolerant riffle fishes have responded positively to water quality improvements and are recolonizing the Spring River of Kansas despite other pollutants of emerging concern.

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