Selenium dynamics in headwater streams of the central Appalachian coalfield

Keridwen M. Whitmore, Stephen H. Schoenholtz, David J. Soucek, William A. Hopkins, Carl E. Zipper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coal mining can cause selenium (Se) contamination in US Appalachian streams, but linkages between water-column Se concentrations and Se bioaccumulation within Appalachian headwater streams have rarely been quantified. Using elevated specific conductance (SC) in stream water as an indicator of mining influence, we evaluated relationships between SC and Se concentrations in macroinvertebrates and examined dynamics of Se bioaccumulation in headwater streams. Twenty-three Appalachian streams were categorized into 3 stream types based on SC measurements: 1) reference streams with no coal-mining history; 2) mining-influenced, high-SC streams; and 3) mining-influenced, low-SC streams. Selenium concentrations in macroinvertebrates exhibited strong positive associations with both SC and dissolved Se concentrations in stream water. At 3 streams of each type, we further collected water, particulate matter (sediment, biofilm, leaf detritus), and macroinvertebrates and analyzed them for Se during 2 seasons. Enrichment, trophic transfer, and bioaccumulation factors were calculated and compared among stream types. Particulate matter and macroinvertebrates in mining-influenced streams accumulated high Se concentrations relative to reference streams. Concentrations were found at levels indicating Se to be a potential environmental stressor to aquatic life. Most Se enrichment, trophic transfer, and bioaccumulation factors were independent of season. Enrichment factors for biofilm and sediments and bioaccumulation factors for macroinvertebrate predators varied negatively with water-column Se. Our results increase scientific understanding of Se bioaccumulation processes in Appalachian headwater streams. Environ Toxicol Chem 2018;37:2714–2726.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2714-2726
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Benthic macroinvertebrates
  • Bioaccumulation
  • Bioconcentration
  • Conductivity
  • Enrichment
  • Trophic transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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