Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) from legacy mines can negatively impact the biota in sediments and waters for tens of kilometers downstream. Here we used environmental (e)DNA metabarcoding to assess the impacts of metal contaminants on biota in sediment and water downstream of a legacy base metal sulfide mine in southeastern Australia, as exemplar of similar mines elsewhere. Concentrations of metals in water were below Australian water quality guideline values at 20 km downstream for copper (Cu), 40 km downstream for zinc (Zn) and 10 km downstream for lead (Pb). Sediment metal concentrations were below national guideline concentrations at 10 km downstream for Cu, 60 km downstream for Zn and 20 km downstream for Pb. In contrast, metabarcoding showed that biological communities from sediment samples at 10 km and 20 km downstream were similar to sites close to the mine and thus indicative of being impacted, despite metal concentrations being relatively low. As we illustrate, when combined with sediment and water chemistry, metabarcoding can provide more ecological robust perspective on the downstream effects of legacy mines, capturing the sensitivities of a diverse range of organisms.
- Anthropogenic contaminants