Effects of enhanced bioturbation intensities on the toxicity assessment of legacy-contaminated sediments
Many benthic communities within estuarine ecosystems are highly degraded due to the close proximity of urban and industrial contamination sources. The maintenance of recolonised, healthy ecosystems following remediation is a challenge, and better techniques are required for monitoring their progressive recovery. Rates of ecosystem recovery are influenced by the changes in the concentrations and forms of contaminants, the sensitivity of recolonising organisms to bioavailable contaminants, and a range of abiotic and biotic factors influencing the exposure of organisms to the contamination. Here we investigate the influence of bioturbation by an active amphipod (Victoriopisa australiensis) on the bioavailability of metals and hydrocarbons in highly contaminated sediments. Changes in contaminant bioavailability were evaluated by assessing sublethal effects to a smaller cohabiting amphipod (Melita plumulosa). For predominantly metal-contaminated sediments, the presence of V. australiensis generally increased survival and reproduction of M. plumulosa when compared to treatments with only M. plumulosa present (from 42 to 93% survival and from 3 to 61% reproduction). The decrease in toxic effects to M. plumulosa corresponded with lower dissolved copper and zinc concentrations in the overlying waters (14 to 9 μg Cu L-1, and 14 to 6 μg Zn L-1 for absence to presence of V. australiensis). For sediments contaminated with both hydrocarbons and metals, the increased bioturbation intensity by V. australiensis resulted in decreased reproduction of M. plumulosa, despite lower dissolved metal exposure, and indicated increased bioavailability of the hydrocarbon contaminants. Thus, the presence of a secondary active bioturbator can enhance or suppress toxicity to co-inhabiting organisms, and may depend on the contaminant class and form. The results highlight the need to consider both abiotic and biotic interactions when using laboratory studies to evaluate the ability of organisms to recolonise and reproduce within benthic environments degraded by contamination, or for more general extrapolation for sediment quality assessment purposes.