Temporal dynamics of benthic macroinvertebrate communities and their response to elevated specific conductance in Appalachian coalfield headwater streams

Elizabeth A. Boehme, Carl E. Zipper, Stephen H. Schoenholtz, David J. Soucek, Anthony J. Timpano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coal mining in central Appalachia USA causes increased specific conductance in receiving streams. Researchers have examined benthic macroinvertebrate community structure in such streams using temporally discrete measurements of SC and benthic macroinvertebrates; however, both SC and benthic macroinvertebrate communities exhibit intra-annual variation. Twelve central Appalachian headwater streams with reference quality physical habitat and physicochemical conditions (except for elevated SC in eight streams) were sampled ≤fourteen times each between June 2011 and November 2012 to evaluate benthic macroinvertebrate community structure. Specific conductance was recorded at each sampling event and by in situ data loggers. Streams were classified by mean SC Level (Reference, 17-142 μS/cm; Medium, 262-648 μS/cm; and High, 756-1535 μS/cm). Benthic macroinvertebrate community structure was quantified using fifteen metrics selected to characterize community composition and presence of taxa from orders Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera. Metrics were analyzed for differences among SC Levels and months of sampling. Reference streams differed significantly from Medium-SC and High-SC streams for 11 metrics. Medium-SC streams had the most metrics exhibiting significant differences among months. Relative abundances of Plecoptera and Trichoptera were not sensitive to SC, as the families Leuctridae and Hydropsychidae exhibited increased relative abundance (vs. reference) in streams with elevated SC. In contrast, Ephemeroptera richness and relative abundance were lower, relative to reference, in elevated-SC streams despite increased relative abundance of Baetidae. Temporal variability was evident in several metrics due to influence by taxa with seasonal life cycles. These results demonstrate that benthic macroinvertebrate communities in elevated-SC streams are altered from reference condition, and that metrics differ in SC sensitivity. The time of year when samples are taken influenced measured levels and differences from reference condition for most metrics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-180
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Coal mining
  • Conductivity
  • Headwater streams
  • Temporal variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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