Impacts of wastewater treatment plants on benthic macroinvertebrate communities in summer and winter
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Treated effluent from municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) is a major source of contamination that can impact population size, community structure, and biodiversity of aquatic organisms. However, because the majority of field research occurs during warmer periods of the year, the impacts of wastewater effluent on aquatic communities during winter has largely been neglected. In this study, we assessed the impacts of wastewater effluent on aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate (benthos) communities along the effluent gradients of two WWTPs discharging into Hamilton Harbour, Canada, during summer and winter using artificial substrates incubated for 8 weeks. At the larger of the two plants, benthic macroinvertebrate abundance was higher and diversity was lower at sites downstream of the outfall compared to upstream sites in both seasons. Whereas at the smaller plant, the opposite was observed, abundance increased and diversity decreased with distance from the outfall in both seasons. While the impacts of wastewater on benthic communities were largely similar between seasons, we did detect several general seasonal trends - family diversity of macroinvertebrates was lower during winter at both WWTPs and total abundance was also lower during winter, but only significantly so at the smaller WWTP. Further, benthic macroinvertebrate community composition differed significantly along the effluent gradients, with sites closest and farthest from the outfall being the most dissimilar. Our contrasting results between the WWTPs demonstrate that plants, with different treatment capabilities and effluent-receiving environments (industrial/urban versus wetland), can dictate how wastewater effluent impacts benthic macroinvertebrate communities.
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