Characterizing coal and mineral mines as a regional source of stress to stream fish assemblages


Wesley M. Daniel, Dana M. Infante, Robert M. Hughes, Yin-Phan Tsang, Peter C. Esselman, Daniel Wieferich, Kyle Herreman, Arthur R. Cooper, Lizhu Wang, William W. Taylor

Journal or Book Title: Ecological Indicators

Keywords: Threshold analysis; Fish functional traits; Landscape influences; Game fishes; Mining; Rivers

Volume/Issue: 50

Page Number(s): 50-61

Year Published: 2014


Mining impacts on stream systems have historically been studied over small spatial scales, yet
investigations over large areas may be useful for characterizing mining as a regional source of stress to
stream fishes. The associations between co-occurring stream fish assemblages and densities of various
“classes” of mining occurring in the same catchments were tested using threshold analysis. Threshold
analysis identifies the point at which fish assemblages change substantially from best available habitat
conditions with increasing disturbance. As this occurred over large regions, species comprising fish
assemblages were represented by various functional traits as well as other measures of interest to
management (characterizing reproductive ecology and life history, habitat preferences, trophic ecology,
assemblage diversity and evenness, tolerance to anthropogenic disturbance and state-recognized game
species). We used two threshold detection methods: change-point analysis with indicator analysis and
piecewise linear regression. We accepted only those thresholds that were highly statistically significant
(p  0.01) for both techniques and overlapped within 5% error. We found consistent, wedge-shaped
declines in multiple fish metrics with increasing levels of mining in catchments, suggesting mines are a
regional source of disturbance. Threshold responses were consistent across the three ecoregions
occurring at low mine densities. For 47.2% of the significantthresholds, a density of only 0.01 mines/km2
caused a threshold response. In fact, at least 25% of streams in each of our three study ecoregions have
mine densities in their catchments with the potential to affect fish assemblages. Compared to other
anthropogenic impacts assessed over large areas (agriculture, impervious surface or urban land use),
mining had a more pronounced and consistent impact on fish assemblages.

DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.10.018

Type of Publication: Journal Article